Ask the Vet: How do I prevent my cat from getting a blockage?

Q: My sister’s cat, Benny, is at his veterinarian’s office and is being treated for being “blocked.” She said he was crying for a few days and going to the litter box more. She thought he might have been constipated by the way he was straining all the time and licking himself. I have a male cat, Benny’s brother, Bobo. Should I be worried about him too? How do vets treat this and how can I prevent this from happening to Bobo?

A: I hope it doesn’t happen to Bobo, because these cats suffer greatly. If left untreated, they will die of acute renal failure after only a few days.

I have seen a few cases of this and it really is sad for both owner and cat. The cats are unable to pass urine out of their urethra. It then backs up into the bladder, which gets bigger and harder with each passing hour. All they can do is keep trying to urinate until at some point their kidneys fail, and they become quickly debilitated and sick.

The first thing a veterinarian would do would be to palpate the cat’s belly. That familiar feeling of a large, round and hard ball in the abdomen is most suggestive of an obstructed cat. An X-ray would be done to confirm the large bladder and to look for any bladder stones that might be contributing to the obstructive process. Bladder stones would need to be surgically removed.

The next part of the treatment plan would be to sedate the cat and work to alleviate the obstructive structure. This is done by flushing saline through a urinary catheter that is placed in the tiny urethra of the cat. The catheter is advanced by moving it back and forth until it can be safely and completely passed into the bladder. We actually push the plug back into the bladder where we will dilute it with fluids so it can safely pass at a later time.

Usually, the obstructive structure in these male cats is a sandy plug of mucus and grit. It is formed in the bladder over time based on their diet. The anatomy of the end of a cat’s urethra is very narrow, so it does not take a lot if debris to cause a problem.

Once that catheter is in place, all that backed up urine is able to flow out of the bladder once again through the catheter. Now we flush fluids into that cat through and IV catheter and monitor the fluids coming out through the urinary catheter. This encourages all debris to be flushed out safely, and it does take several days.

These cats are also treated with antibiotics and pain medicines. Most of the time, a light sedative is added in to relax the urethra to keep it from contracting and blocking the flow of urine.

After a few days, we pull the urinary catheter out and observe the cat to see if he can urinate on his own. If he can, then he gets to go home with close supervision so he does not re-block again. If that happens more than three times in his life, there is a surgical procedure that we can do to create a bigger opening just before the end of his urethra that they urinate through.

After surgery, there is typically no concern of ever blocking again. But it is a big procedure, and we try to treat medically as much as possible. If the cat cannot urinate on his own, the veterinarian would then replace the urinary catheter and continue treating for a few more days.

Prevention is the best medicine of all for Bobo. Just because his littermate has blocked does not mean that he will too. But you must stay watchful over him.

The best thing we can do to try to prevent a blockage is to offer as much liquids in his diet as possible. That would entail a canned-only diet with extra liquid added. I would encourage extra drinking with a cat water fountain, or regularly invite them up on a counter to drink out of a spare bathroom sink. Some cats will even drink out of the faucet in the bathtub. See what your cat likes best.

That is probably the treatment that Benny is going through and the recommendation for when he gets out. I hope he does well and gets to come home soon. As for Bobo, watch him close and definitely increase the liquid parts of his diet. With any luck, he will never block and live a long happy life with you.

Send questions for Dr. Allison Dascoli to “Ask the Vet,” Charleston Gazette-Mail, 1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston, WV 25301 or email them to Comments or suggestions can be submitted the same way.

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