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Urinary retention in cats

If your cat cannot urinate, it is most likely a blockage in the urethra. Urinary retention is life-threatening and you must contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Urinary retention in cats

Urinary retention is very serious. You should always go to the vet urgently with a cat that cannot urinate.

How do you know if your cat has problems emptying their bladder?

  • Squealing noises when attempting to urinate (due to pain)
  • Licking on and around the genitals more often
  • Limp, lethargic and shows a deteriorating general condition
  • Urinating more often and in smaller quantities
  • Bloody, discoloured, or foul-smelling urine
  • Urinating in places other than the litter box, for example on the furniture or floor

What causes urinary retention in cats?

Cats that drink very little can have highly concentrated urine, this can increase the risk of urinary tract problems and lead to blockage of the urinary tract.

The food a cat eats can also affect the formation of crystals and stones. Inflammation of the urinary tract can cause cells and crystals to form a plug that blocks the urethra. Genetic factors and other diseases can sometimes play a role.

A plug in the urethra is usually caused by an accumulation of proteins, cells and crystals. A small stone (urolith) or an accumulation of very small stones can form in the bladder and then get stuck in the urethra.

Swelling and spasms of the urethra

Inflammation of the bladder and urethra, regardless of the cause,  can lead to swelling of the wall of the urethra, which can lead to blockage. The inflammation and irritation can cause the muscles at the bladder neck to spasm and thus not open to release urine into the urethra.

Greater risk of urinary retention in male cats

Male cats run a greater risk of urinary retention as the urethra is narrow and can become blocked more easily. It is very rare for female cats to experience urinary retention as they have a larger urethra. The same causes that stop urinating in male cats instead produce symptoms such as blood in the urine and urinary urgency.

Drinking is important!

Cats have concentrated urine, which increases the risk of urinary tract problems. It is therefore important to ensure that your cat gets enough water.

Water should be changed daily, and kept fresh and clean because cats are clean animals. Water bowls should be displayed in several places and not near their food, as cats like to eat in one place and drink water in another.

A cat's food can affect the formation of urinary stones

Some factors that can affect the formation of urinary stones and urinary plugs are the composition of the cat's food and how much water the cat drinks. Cats that only eat dry food may be at a higher risk of urinary tract diseases. Cats with urinary tract problems are preferably fed with wet food as it increases fluid intake.

Treatment of urinary retention

To treat urinary retention, the bladder must be emptied and the blockage in the urethra corrected so the urine can pass through. This is done by flushing the urethra under anaesthesia.

If stones were the cause of the stoppage, a subsequent operation is needed to extract stones from the bladder.

Urinary retention requires veterinary care

If your cat does not urinate for several hours despite trying, you must seek veterinary care urgently. It can be stones in the urethra or accumulation of inflammatory cells and crystals that block the urethra.

A blockage in the urinary tract can be life-threatening, as the kidneys can be damaged. If the urinary retention has started to affect the function of the kidneys, your cat will show signs of lethargy and food refusal, among other things.

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