My Cat Can’t Pee – Now What?

A ginger cat with green eyes sits inside a gray and white covered litter box. The cat is looking directly at the camera, and the scene is set on a wooden floor with a white wall in the background.

You’ve noticed that your cat can’t pee and you are wondering – what are some steps you should take next? He is going back and forth to the litter box and when you check it, there is no urine. 

This can be a pretty serious situation, particularly for a male cat.

I’m going to go in-depth at explaining what exactly could be going on with your cat, and what you should do next to get him the help that he needs.

What Is A Urinary Obstruction?

A urinary obstruction is the blockage of the lower portion of the urinary tract. This phenomenon is very common in young to middle-aged male cats, mainly because males have a narrower urethra than females.

There are a few causes that can be related to a urinary blockage:

  1. Cystitis, or a bladder infection
  2. Abnormal urine pH levels
  3. Mineral imbalance – this type of imbalance can lead to microscopic crystals forming in the urine within the bladder. Crystals tend to stick or clump together, and form stones or grit (sand-like material) that can pass into the urethra and block the passage of urine. 

This is a serious medical emergency. If your cat cannot urinate for an extended period of time (think 24 hours or more), he could pass away.

Let me explain a little more….

When a cat is unable to pass urine out of the body, toxins can build up in their system, and begin to affect their appetite, behavior and even electrolyte levels in their blood. The kidneys become affected and potassium levels will be higher than normal, possibly causing a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm. Your cat may stop eating and start vomiting. Some cats will vocalize or have visible abdominal cramps.

Signs and Symptoms That Your Cat Is Not Urinating Normally

How can you tell if your cat is not urinating normally? Well let’s break down a cat’s normal urinary patterns first.

An average cat will urinate two to three times a day. Of course, every feline is different, but there are some factors that affect how much a cat will pee in one day:

  • Age – older cats tend to drink more water
  • Weather – warmer weather may influence a cat’s drinking habits
  • Medical conditions – diabetes or kidney disease
  • Current diet – If a cat is fed dry food, he or she may drink more water than a cat that is fed wet food as kibble has a lower moisture content than canned food.
  • Water intake

How will you know if something is up with your cat? These are some signs to watch for if you cat can’t pee or is having trouble peeing:

  • Odd grooming behavior
  • Scratching at the litter box
  • Frequent trips to the litter box with little to no urine production
  • Urinating or dribbling small drops of urine or blood in or outside of the litter box

Or you may observe that your cat is hiding in places they never go to, vomiting, acting generally lethargic or being vocal (like I mentioned above). 

cat can't pee

What To Do If Your Cat Can’t Pee

What should you do if you think your cat is having trouble urinating?

Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done at home once the symptoms have been noticed. If you have a male cat and see that he is acting abnormally and is having trouble urinating, he should be seen IMMEDIATELY. If you have a female cat, ideally she should be seen within the next 24 hours, especially if she is vomiting, lethargic or you notice blood in her urine.

  1. Call your veterinarian. Verify that they are open and have a doctor present who can see and treat your pet. If you have become aware of your cat having trouble urinating after hours, contact your nearest veterinary emergency hospital.
  1. Start gathering their carrier, your wallet or purse, and of course the cat – and head directly to a veterinary clinic. 
  1. Try to remain calm. Most veterinary professionals are trained to handle this specific emergency, so know that your cat will be in good hands.

Treatment of a Urinary Blockage in Cats

Assessment and Confirmation

A Veterinarian will perform a physical exam or assessment, which includes palpating the bladder. In a cat with a urinary blockage, the bladder is typically large and firm. Gentle pressure may be applied in an attempt to express urine. When this is unsuccessful, a diagnosis of urinary obstruction is made. The doctor will recommend the following tests and treatment:

  • Labwork to assess toxin build up, kidney function and electrolyte levels
  • Urinalysis to check for evidence of infection, inflammation and crystals (struvite crystals are most common)
  • Abdominal x-rays to check for bladder stones

The goal of treatment is to unblock a cat as fast as possible. Your cat will be given a sedate and possibly placed under general anesthesia, then a urinary catheter is passed into the bladder to relieve the obstruction. 

Sounds painful, right?

Don’t worry – your cat will be given pain medication so he will be comfortable after the procedure. He will be hooked up to intravenous fluids to help flush out his kidneys and bladder, and need to stay in the hospital for at least 48 hours with the urinary catheter. 

The veterinary team will monitor your cat’s urine production, and start him on medications like antibiotics and anti-inflammatories if necessary.

Once your cat is showing signs of improvement (kidney values are back to normal, electrolytes are normal, urine color is normal), the urinary catheter is removed and he is observed for urination on his own. 

As soon as he uses the litter box he can go home.

So what’s next?

You’ll want to know what to do so this doesn’t happen to your kitty again. 

Keep reading to see what things can be done to keep your cat urinating normally.

Preventive Measures for Urinary Obstruction

Unfortunately, some cats are just prone to developing urinary obstructions. Below are some tips to follow that may help prevent your cat from going through this again:

  • Feed wet food only, as it has a higher water content. Consider a prescription diet for urinary health recommended by your Veterinarian.
  • Clean out the litter box frequently, or purchase an automatic litter box.
  • Keep your cat well-hydrated. Be sure to always have clean fresh water for your cat. Have several bowls of water around your space, or consider buying a for your cat, that will provide a fun source of flowing water.
  • Contact your Veterinarian at any sign of a urinary problem. Getting ahead of any health issues (especially a urinary one) is always best. Don’t wait a few days to finally take your cat in for a problem. 

Last but not least…

Limit stressful situations. Do you know how some people get an upset stomach or even have anxiety attacks from stress? Cats may become stressed too and it can manifest as a urinary issue. 

Some potential stressful situations include:

  • Family gatherings around the holidays
  • New furniture
  • Construction in the home or outdoors 
  • Change in family dynamics (someone moving in or out, sickness, arguments)
  • Change of food (new brand or flavor)

Cats are very sensitive and can have a flare-up of urinary symptoms that need attention. Limiting stressful times for them can definitely be beneficial and help keep them out of the Vet’s office.

You can also try to enrich your cat’s environment. Providing a stress-free comfortable lifestyle with plenty of food, water, litter boxes, toys, an elevated space, and a consistent schedule can be effective at preventing future episodes of urinary issues.

Useful Resources

The American Academy of Feline Practitioners made this nifty guide on how to enrich your cat’s environment. It’s pretty long so I’ll provide a few of their tips below:

  • There should be a little box for each cat, plus one. If your dwelling is multiple stories, there should be a box on every floor.
  • Toys should be rotated and checked weekly to make sure they are in good condition and no pieces are missing. If they are not in good condition, replace them.
  • Make scratching posts available.
  • Provide an elevated space like a cat tree for your cat to climb and have some alone time.
  • Each cat should have their own water and food bowls. If you have a feeding or watering station, it should be away from any noisy appliances and safe from other pets like dogs.

Please remember, if you suspect that your cat can’t pee because you have noticed frequent trips to the litter box, straining to urinate, or showing other abnormal behavior, seek veterinary care immediately. 

I hope you are now familiar with information about cats and urinary obstructions. I pray that it doesn’t happen to your cat, but if it does, you will know what to do and what to expect.

For the love of pets, 

Dr. Gina

Dr. Georgina Ushi is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctorate from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. She currently works in the Tampa Bay area, providing compassionate care to dogs and cats. Alongside her clinical work, Dr. Ushi consults for pet well-being brands and writes health articles for her blog, Pet Health Love. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge to educate and inspire fellow pet owners. Dr. Ushi’s professional interests include emergency and critical care, wildlife medicine, nutrition, and hospice and palliative care.

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