When the urethra – the thin tube through which urine is moved out of the body from the bladder – gets blocked, urine can no longer pass to the outside. As the urine builds up, it creates pressure and can lead to kidney failure, increased potassium and bladder rupture, all of which can be fatal.
Dogs and cats, males and females, can all experience urethral blockages. In dogs, it’s typically caused by stones – small, grit-like accumulations of minerals – that have passed through the bladder into the urethra. In cats, the urethra can be obstructed by mucous and blood clots as well as stones.
Male dogs and cats are more likely to get blockages because their urethras are very narrow and more easily obstructed than in females. And certain breeds of dogs, such as schnauzers and Dalmatians, are more prone to urinary blockages.
In addition to frequent attempts to urinate, cats may howl and pace because of the pain while dogs may whine, cry and lick their genitals. Another clue there may be a major issue: bloody urine. Additionally, your pet may start having accidents in the house.
Every time your pet does try to go, he may be able to produce only a tiny dribble or none at all. If you see any of these signs, immediately take your cat or dog to your family veterinarian or an emergency pet hospital.
If your pet has been diagnosed with bladder stones, there are multiple options for treatment depending on your pet’s situation. The doctor may put your pet on medication and a diet that works to dissolve the stones. But, a total blockage, from stones or other materials, creates a dire situation in which the veterinarian will likely place a urinary catheter in order to relieve the obstruction. This involves sedating your pet, placing a catheter in the urethra and using a flush of saline solution to push the stone and debris back up into the bladder. The catheter will remain in place until the material has safely passed and the urethra has had time to relax. This typically takes a couple of days. In some cases, surgery may be required to remove the stones.
After your pet has been treated, it will be important for you to follow preventative measures to try to avoid a reoccurrence. The veterinarian may prescribe a diet that helps dissolve stones and modifies your pet’s pH level.
You’ll also want to make sure you cat or dog has access to fresh water (changed at least daily). Canned food, which contains more moisture than dry food, and a water fountain can also be helpful in ensuring your cat stays properly hydrated. Also, since cats are particularly picky about where they do their business, clean the litter box frequently to encourage your cat to use it often rather than holding their urine.
Despite following these preventative measures, some cats and dogs will experience reoccurrences. If this is the case for your pet, you can ask your veterinarian about surgery that modifies the urethra path, potentially eliminating future blockages.