Vet 101: Feline Urinary Red Flags


This week’s Vet 101 with our vet, Dr. Rich Goldstein of Mobile Vet Squad answers a reader’s email on a sadly too common feline issue: urinary tract health.

Have a Vet 101 question? Sent it to with Vet 101 in the subject line.

Question: My six year male, Mocha, had one bout of cystitis last year. I’m worried every time he licks around his urethra. I brought him to the vet once and it was a false alarm. I know these infections can be dangerous so how can I know for sure when it’s serious enough to go to the vet?

Answer:For as hearty as cats are, their Achilles heel seems to be the urinary tract. Whether it’s chronic renal disease in older cats, or lower urinary tract disease in male cats, it’s important to constantly be aware of your cat’s urinary tract health.

The “lower urinary tract” includes the bladder, urethra, and penis/vagina. There are many factors that can contribute to lower urinary tract disease (LUTD) in cats (in fact, we used to call it “feline urologic syndrome” because there were so many contributing factors).  Infection, crystals, stones, inflammation, diet, change in season, tumors, and stress can all lead to signs of lower urinary tract disease.

Male cats can be more susceptible to the signs of lower urinary tract disease, mostly because of their anatomy. As the urethra travels from the bladder to the tip of the penis, it becomes very narrow. So, anything that causes the urethra of male cats to become inflamed can lead to difficulty urinating or complete urinary obstruction. Obstruction is an emergency in male cats! (The urethra in females is a little larger and more pliable. So, while females can show signs of LUTD discomfort, complete obstruction is less likely, although it can occur.)

The signs of lower urinary tract disease include: frequent trips to the litter box, small amounts of urine production, blood in the urine, lethargy, yowling in the litterbox, an extended stay or straining in the litterbox, urinating outside the box,  loss of appetite, difficulty walking, abdominal discomfort, licking at the penis or vagina, vomiting. If your cat is obstructed, you can sometimes  feel a “hard ball” when you pet his belly.

So, how can you tell the difference between “normal” licking/grooming, and an impending problem? That can be tricky. Any combination of the above signs is definitely a warning flag. A change in your cat’s normal urinary habits can also be a flag. If kitty normally produces 2 big urine clumps in the box every day, and now you see 6 tiny clumps, that may indicate an impending problem. But the bottom line is: urinary obstruction in male cats can be a life-threatening emergency. So, there are no false alarms. If you are concerned, have your vet check him out. Better safe than sorry. Yowling in the box, non-productive trips to the box, and abdominal pain are definite indications for an immediate exam.

Since there are many potential contributors to lower urinary tract disease in cats, determining a precise cause may difficult. Tests may need to be run to rule out specific causes, including a urinalysis, urine culture, bloodwork, xrays, and ultrasound. Specific treatments depend on the causes determined or suspected, and can include antibiotics, special diets, pain medications, anti-anxiety medications, and stress reduction. But the MOST IMPORTANT aspect of managing cats with LUTD is to increase water consumption. By encouraging your kitty to drink plenty of water, the urine will become more dilute, and he will urinate more frequently, to flush out the system. Cat fountains, and canned food are excellent ways to increase water intake.

And the most important book for your kitty to read: “Yellow River”, by I.P. Freely, because he should always pee freely (Editor’s note: this is a joke).

Editor’s note: We’ll be pissed off (bad joke) if you don’t vote for us. We’re Pettie Award Finalists for Best Cat Blog. Vote here. Meows of thanks!


12 thoughts on “Vet 101: Feline Urinary Red Flags”

  1. I think every cat should come with full information about urinary issues, especially male cats! I’ve known several people whose male cats died from an obstruction, and they had no idea the cat was suffering. It’s hard to tell, and often by the time an inexperienced person sees there might be a problem, it’s too late. I had a few boy cats who taught me well.

  2. Thanks for more good info. My Izzy has had two UTIs and both times I knew quickly because of the sudden frequency of litter pan trips and the lessened amout of urine out put and both times we were able to stop it fast. Its just another one of those things with cats where observation is one of the key things in knowing when something isn’t right.
    We luv the great Vet info here… Skeeter and Izzy >^–^<

  3. Thank you for the great information. I am very scared of feline lower urinary tract disease as it’s life-threatening. I try not to miss the signs in case my boys get it…I hope they don’t!

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