SYMPTOM: Difficulty Urinating

**A dog or a cat who is having difficulty urinating is in real trouble.**

A dog or a cat who is completely obstructed and unable to urinate is dying - go to your vet now.

What is a Urethral Obstruction?

This is a situation where the urethra - the tube that leads from the bladder to the outside world, that allows you to pee - is somehow closed off, or "blocked", or "obstructed". This can be from something inside of the urethra, or from something outside of the urethra and pushing it closed.

For example, a very common cause of urethral obstruction in cats is having crystals in their urine . This would be an example of a blockage from inside the urethra. A common cause of partial urethral obstruction in dogs is from an enlarged prostate. The prostate pinches the urethra closed from outside of the "tube". Prostates can be enlarged because the dog is not neutered, or from cancer or infection in the prostate.

Whatever the cause, a urethral obstruction IS a life threatening situation.

What Does Urethral Obstruction Look Like?

A dog or a cat that is having difficulty urinating will look as if they are repeatedly trying to pee. Sometimes a small amount of urine is produced, sometimes none is produced. It is far more common for boys to obstruct than for girls.

Cats may be repeatedly straining to pee either in or outside of a litter box. They may be repeatedly licking at their penis, and may be vocalizing or growling. Some cats hide, some demand that you notice them. If your cat is either hiding or seems to be in the litter box frequently, watch and see just what is going on.

Dogs also will try over and over to pee, and either pass very little urine or none at all. Sometimes they too are trying to pee in the house, or they are asking to go outside very frequently. If your dog is asking to go outside a lot and you don't normally go with him, go outside to watch and make sure that he is in fact able to urinate.

It can be easy to mistake straining to defecate for straining to urinate. While constipation or obstipation are situations that a pet will need help with, it is not as immediately life threatening as a urinary obstruction. If you can't tell if your dog or cat is trying to pee or poop, just go to the vet. Better to be a bit overly cautious than to assume nothing is wrong and to lose a pet!

Both dogs and cats will also seem to have difficulty urinating if they have a very inflamed bladder - like with a bladder infection . Most usually will be able to pass small amounts of urine if this is the problem.

Unfortunately, a partial obstruction will appear the same.

The best way to know if you have a real but less life-threatening problem (bladder infection), or a seriously life-threatening problem (urethral obstruction), is to goto your vet and let them sort it out. A combination of a physical exam and a urinalysis is often all that is needed to get to the bottom of the situation.

How is it Treated?

The ability to pass urine must be restored. Many times a urinary catheter is placed, and sometimes left in place for a period of time. Pets cannot go home with a urinary catheter in place - they are hospitalized. Usually they are also quite sick from the urinary obstruction, and so are receiving many other treatments as well.

How long they need to remain hospitalized depends upon the cause of the obstruction, how rapidly the obstruction can be removed, and how ill they were from their obstruction. For instance, a cat with a crystal urethral plug who is having difficulty urinating, but whose owner was observant enough to notice his difficulty early on, may only need temporary urinary catheter placement (this done under sedation) and an overnight stay.

Compare this to a cat or dog who has urinary stones lodged in his urethra and requires a surgery to remove them, and then needs to heal and recover a bit before he can go home again - his stay could be much longer.

Of course either scenario can happen in either dogs or cats.

How Can it be Prevented?

By doing your best to prevent what we know can lead to an obstruction. Repeated bouts of bladder problems should be looked into. If crystals or stones are the cause, then this needs to be addressed before they build up to a level where difficulty urinating becomes an issue. This problem is usually managed with prescription diets.

If you have an un-neutered male dog, then neuter him and significantly decrease his chances of having prostate related problems.

Some situations can't be prevented. Some cats will make protein globs in their urine, which can cause a blockage if they are large enough. I don't know of a way to stop them from making this excess protein, and they sometimes give no warning that they may be in danger of obstructing.

Both dogs and cats, but it seems like more dogs, can grow a tumor in their bladder. If the tumor gets large enough it too will cause difficulty urinating. There is no way that I know of to ensure that cancer won't happen...

Know the signs of a urinary obstruction! If your pet is having difficulty urinating, get it checked out!

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Page last updated 12/10/12.


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