***My wish is that everyone in the world who owns a male cat reads this article. You can help by showing it to your cat-owner friends who in turn can send it to their cat-owner friends, who can then send it on to their cat-owner friends.***

Treasured readers, urethral obstruction is such an important topic that—HOLD ON TO YOUR HATS—I’m gonna get right to the point; no stories, no rambling, no bull poop, not even any presidential jokes! Well, maybe a short story first, just to set the mood.

Across the exam table from me stood Mrs. T.

Doing all she could to hold back her tears, she said, “Doctor, something is terribly wrong with Little Fifi (her eleven year old white toy poodle). I’m worried to death about her!”

As I looked at Little Fifi standing there on my exam table, eyes clear and alert, hair bright and shiny, and tail a wagging to beat the band, I couldn’t help but think that her owner could possibly be imagining things. But I knew her to be a very calm person and not the type to panic over the smallest things. Gently, I asked, “Mrs. T., what is it that makes you suspicious that something is wrong with Little Fifi?”

“Well, Doctor, this morning, when I let her outside to do her business, she circled around three times before she pooped. Something must be terribly wrong. I just know it! She always, always, always spins around only two times before she goes. Doctor, what’s the matter with her?”

As I stood there, my first reaction was that she was trying to put one over on me. But again, the tears that were welling up in Mrs. T’s. eyes as she recounted these intimate details of Little Fifi’s bowel habits told me more than words ever could that she was dead serious.

“Well,” I said, “I’m not sure yet what Little Fifi’s problem could possibly be, but let me just give her a good physical examination, and I’m sure I’ll find something.” After a careful and very meticulous exam, the only abnormal finding I could discover was that the scent glands in Little Fifi’s rear end were abnormally enlarged. I explained to Mrs. T. how, when these glands are overfull, they cause small dogs like Little Fifi a great deal of discomfort. This pain, in turn, leads to a reluctance to defecate. I then expressed (the medical term for emptying) the scent glands and gave Mrs. T. the prognosis that everything would be all right by morning.

And sure enough, when I followed up with a phone call the next day, Mrs. T. happily informed me that her Little Fifi had performed the perfect number of pirouettes that morning before pooping, and she was perfectly pleased with her performance.

I can hear it out there now: “Great story, Doc, but what’s your point? What does a dog diligently dancing before defecation have to do with urethral obstruction in cats?” My point dear readers is that even though as pet owners you don’t have to be quite as observant as Mrs. T. was with her Little Fifi, it is still important that you pay attention to your pets and how they normally behave, especially their eating and toilet habits.

There’s a disease out there that I often see in male cats (and, rarely in females) known as urethral obstruction. A common expression that we veterinarians use for this condition is “being blocked.” (Plugged-up, occluded, and obstructed are other words used to describe this disease.) In this disease, the male cat’s penis literally becomes blocked and then, because of this blockage, he can no longer pee.

Urethral obstruction (being blocked) is one of the few actual life-or-death emergencies that exist in veterinary medicine, and it can be diagnosed by your veterinarian in about a second just by feeling the poor guy’s abdomen. Sadly, however, because it’s such a very sneaky disease, most owners don’t recognize the problem until it’s too late. Death from urethral obstruction can occur within a day due to a ruptured bladder, metabolic disorders, kidney failure, or cardiac arrest. And this death is a painful, agonizing, death. These poor guts really hurt!

Symptoms of this disease show up in many ways. What most owners notice is that the cat seems to be spending a lot of time in the litter box and not actually doing anything. Sadly, many owners mistake this difficult elimination behavior for constipation or worms, and then waste precious hours trying to doctor the cat with laxatives or hairball or worming medicine. Sometimes the cat wants to just hide behind the refrigerator or be left alone under a bed. Most of the time, however, the owner’s only complaint is the cat “just ain’t acting right.” And to confuse the matter even more, these same symptoms can also be seen in simple bladder infections.

Treating this disease can be very challenging. The patient nearly always has to be put under anesthesia to be unblocked. Because of the possibility of damaged kidneys, this process alone can be life-threatening. Once under anesthesia, we will then try to dislodge the blockage through a combination of catheterizing and back-flushing. If this procedure is successful, an indwelling catheter (a tiny plastic or rubber pipe) is often inserted up the penis. This will allow the bladder to drain accumulated urine, which in turn will allow the bladder to heal itself.

Complications of this medical procedure are many. Some of these complications, but not all, are: not being able to unblock the poor kitty in the first place, becoming blocked again a day or two later, ending up with an atonic bladder (one that will no longer empty on its own), kidney failure, or urinary incontinence.
I can almost hear the question being asked, “So, Doc, what causes it?”And I know already that you’re gonna be unhappy with my answer.

Despite what the cat food ads say, what the popular press and cat care books all say, or, what all the Internet armchair veterinarians say, the truth is that there is no one single cause. Over the years, the ash content of the various cat foods (both wet and dry) has been blamed, obesity has been blamed, bladder and kidney infections have been blamed, too early neutering has been blamed, too late neutering has been blamed, too much salt or too little salt have been blamed, the mineral content of one’s well water has been blamed, and on and on. Again, no one knows for sure.

I knew you wouldn’t be happy with this answer.

So, what can you do? By far, the most important thing you can do is just be aware that the problem exists and be watchful for it. Pay attention to your cat’s habits. The earlier the treatment begins, the greater the chance of success. If you even vaguely suspect the problem, please don’t waste time messing around with the home remedies. Hours are precious with this disease.

And I’m running out of room. By the way, did you hear the one about the time former President Clinton saw the ghosts of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln . . .?

2 Comments on “Being Blocked: Urethral Obstruction in Tomcats.

  1. Our beloved Russian Blue had just that problem (and spent more than a few nights in the vet’s office as a result, including one memorable weekend where he almost died.) In fact, two years ago we had to have him put down because of that. And a friend recently had to have her cat put down for the same thing. Her whole family was devastated. I gave them a book, by Linda Mohr.
    I’d come across, written by a woman whose cat suffered kidney failure. It’s about their bond, their lives together, and the power of love between human and animal. OK, while it made them all cry, it was healing tears! She said they all loved it, because it bought back many memories of their pet and his effect on their lives.

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