Male or female, purebred or domestic shorthair, any cat can develop a urinary condition like Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC), stones, or infection. But when the cat in question is a neutered male, BEWARE! They are at the highest risk for developing a much dreaded veterinary emergency: urinary obstruction.
Neutered male cats have incredibly narrow urethras (the tube that drains the bladder to the outside world through the penis). In fact, a neutered male’s urethra is so narrow that involuntary muscular contractions called urethral spasms can be enough to cause an obstruction. A small stone or a plug made of proteinaceous material and/or crystals can easily become lodged inside the urethra and completely block the outflow of urine.
When a cat is "blocked," he will usually posture to urinate, but nothing — or just the tiniest dribble — will come out. As the condition progresses, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Eventually the pain is excruciating, and the bladder may even rupture due to the buildup of pressure. Also, the chemicals that should be exiting his body through urination quickly begin to accumulate in the blood stream, wreaking havoc on the body. Without rapid intervention, death will follow from this self-poisoning.
Treating a blocked cat involves emptying his bladder, relieving the urethral blockage, and dealing with the biochemical abnormalities that have developed. This is typically done by placing a catheter through the urethra and leaving it in place until the bladder has had a chance to remain empty and recover.
A recent study has shown that in some cases, draining the urine from the bladder via needle and syringe (often repeatedly) can also work. Intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy, pain relief, medications that promote normal function of the urinary tract, and providing a quiet, stress-free environment are necessary as well. If a cat never regains the ability to urinate normally, surgery can be performed to create a hole in the urethra above the blockage, through which urine can be expelled.
Unfortunately, cats that have experienced a urethral obstruction are at higher than average risk for developing the problem again. If a definitive cause for the blockage has been found, prevention strategies should be concentrated there. For example, a cat with struvite stones can be fed a diet that is known to dissolve this material and prevent the development of these stones in the future.
When no specific cause has been diagnosed, veterinarians differ in what they recommend. Some prescribe diets like those mentioned above because they generally promote a healthy urine pH and bladder environment. Others focus on water consumption, with the purpose being to dilute the urine enough to discourage crystals or other materials from clumping together. Owners can increase water consumption in their cats by feeding canned food, using a kitty "fountain," and/or letting a cat’s favorite faucet drip. Research has shown that decreasing stress in the home also plays an important role in prevention.
What constitutes kitty stress, you might ask? In my opinion, boredom and dirty litter boxes are the top two stressors for indoor-only cats.
So, playing with your cat, providing him with lots of toys — and perhaps some catnip — placing a comfy perch in front of the window, turning on some music and keeping the litter boxes clean might just help prevent another panicked rush to the veterinary hospital.
Dr. Jennifer Coates