When a cat can’t urinate

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Today I want to share a special story that happened this week to a colleague and best friend of mine. Sadly, it happens all too often in veterinary medicine.

This past Saturday, an elderly couple took their cat to the vet with the complaint of having trouble urinating. The vet did an analysis of the urine and saw a plethora of crystals and white blood cells. I don’t know if the owners were wearing ear plugs, had their hearing aids turned off, denied all treatment, or if the vet was really that lousy, but the people went home with nothing but antibiotics–which is insane treatment to another vet.

Come Tuesday morning, the concerned couple again called the vet. Their beloved cat was doing worse, had vomiting and diarrhea, still had trouble urinating, and just seemed like a very sick cat.  They were told to bring him back in–for more fees of course. They declined, as they were on a fixed budget.

At 4:30 pm, they showed up at the vet’s office. Granted, they did not have an appointment, so I understand this can be difficult to squeeze them in as a vet, BUT, ethically, you are the active and current doctor overseeing this case which does put an legally arguable responsibility on you to see the pet.

This vet should have been thinking, “oh my goodness, this cat is probably blocked and could be about to die. I need to make this cat my #1 priority!”

Instead, the “compassionate” and “attentive” *sarcasm* veterinarian sent them away. They recommended they go to the clinic down the road, as they now did not have time to see them. Trust me, no vet is even thinking about getting out at 4:30. It is a profession of long hours, and oftentimes you don’t leave until 7, if you are lucky.

Fortunately for this cat, my friend was the next veterinarian to see this cat. Immediately realizing the cat’s sex (male) and clinical signs (trouble urinating, vomiting, acting ill and agitated), she feared the worst: a blocked cat. How long? Days.

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Male cat with urethral obstruction

She began talking to the client and explaining what a blocked cat is while taking the temperature of the cat. Waiting, waiting for the temperature to read.

Finally, a mere 94 F.

The cat was in the process of dying.

She rushed the cat to the treatment area to place an IV catheter and being treatment to ease the suffering of the cat, while she left the technician in the room to explain things. Time was of the essence if she did not act quickly, and still it may be too late.

In the midst of her treatments, the technician came back and revealed the bad news: the owners did not have enough money to treat, and wanted to euthanize.

Knowing this is a lose-lose situation, she could only provide them with comfort and kind words, and provide the kitty and his family with the kindest goodbyes possible.

It saddens me dearly thatsick cat, cat not urinating, ask a vet, online vet reviews, online vet this cat died because of a vet’s stupidity. Even if the vet did think of the chance the cat being blocked, they didn’t communicate it to the client. Let me explain, these clinical symptoms in a cat are the equivalent of thinking a child with a green snotty nose could have a sinus or upper respiratory infection (yes, it is THAT obvious).

You are just a plain moron if you didn’t learn that from vet school or your years of practice (I shudder to think of all the pets this vet has “treated”).

Even if the veterinarian did think of it, they still failed, as these people, which seemed like very caring concerned owners, had no clue what a blocked cat was.

I am glad they did go to a different vet instead of their cat slowly dying at home, and then carrying that guilt with them.

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Body language like this = PAIN

Many vets are on top of their game, but many are not. I believe some prey on people’s lack of knowledge about their pet’s health, and they inability to communicate with their pet’s verbally.

This story from my friend, who is a great vet, reminds me why we are here. You must get second opinions. Your vet must be current and well-read. You must not accept “no” when your gut is telling you something is wrong. If you can’t afford to see a vet in person, don’t have the time in your schedule, or feel your pet can’t wait weeks for an appointment, that is why we are here for you. Affordably and unbiased, your 24/7 veterinarians.

Blocked cats” happens when their is a urethral obstruction, most often in male cats. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder, through the penis and outside the body. The obstruction is usually caused from physical blockage, such as crystals from their urine.

Though it can be treated if caught early enough, it is fatal if left untreated. It is very painful to the cat, as their bladder may rupture, and makes them very ill. Left untreated, the cat will go into kidney failure and potassium levels will reach so high to stop the heart. It is a horrible way to die.

Straining to urinate, vocalizing abnormally, lethargy, staying hidden, being abnormally aggressive when touched, bloody urine, no urine, poor appetite, vomiting and diarrhea are all clinical signs of a blocked cat.

Have you ever had a blocked cat? Has your vet informed you of the dangers if you have a male cat?

Dr. Laci


Dr. Laci Nash Schaible, DVM

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January 19, 2011 at 22:51

Yes, I find that MANY owners are un-aware of the potential risk that can come with urinary blockages in male cats. My own brother was un-aware of this when he brought his cat to the vet for a “UTI” and was sent with antibiotics- I taked to him IN DEPTH about what to look for and he was able to realize that his cat had become blocked a few weeks later(I think his vet was even surprised) and that it was a true emergency, not something to “wait until tomorrow” to seek treatment for. My own cat(it still makes me tear up thinking of what COULD have happened to him) was a result of the same circumstance and his owners could not afford treatment- he re-blocked and had surgery to correct it and is good as new now:-) This is SUCH and important issue and one that is far too often overlooked!!

January 20, 2011 at 12:36

Thanks Dr. Sarah! It is quite sad to think about all the cats that have potentially died because their owners had no idea what the signs were. And imagine outdoor cats; you would never know!

I know, sweet sweet Romeo. I think it was meant to be though. He is a perfect addition in your family. I remember you holding him upside down at the clinic, how he was just so relaxed and tolerant! I miss him!

Glad you educated your brother! I know there are lots of things to educate pet owners about but this should really start being one of the core things for male cat owners. Even if they don’t fully absorb it all, at least it might ring a bell if it happens.

September 13, 2011 at 16:37

My cat is in the vet and had surgery 3 days ago due to blockage. The vet says that my cat still cant urinate on his own and needs to have an x ray. My cat was doing well yesterday but they say he looks down today. Will he be okay?

November 20, 2011 at 03:05

I just want to point out that sometimes owners will not listen even when you communicate clearly that a blocked kitty is in dire condition and must be treated immediately or they will die.

November 23, 2011 at 14:22

Crystal, there are certainly instances when pet parents don’t listen to what we have to say and let their pet suffer (or worse). I think it is horrible and maybe worse when vets dismiss symptoms–we have dedicated our lives to it after all! I do admit my friend was very upset after this happened, and she got me quite worked up as well when I wrote it.
Thanks for your input!

Kasie Rushmore
January 27, 2012 at 02:40

Thank Susan! We are honored to have you as part of our team!