cat in litter boxCat Straining To Urinate? How To Tell If Your Cat Has A Blocked Bladder & What Steps To Take

One of the most important aspects of being a pet owner is knowing what is an emergency and when to call the vet. A cat straining to urinate is a true emergency that can result in the death of your cat if you are not aware of the signs.

How To Tell If Your Cat Has A Blocked Bladder

Is your cat showing any of the following signs? If he is, it is time to contact a vet immediately for more advice. You can contact Your Vet Online anytime, day or night our vets are available 24/7. Remember that a blocked urethra that is left without treatment will always be fatal.

1. Your cat looks like it is straining to go to the toilet. You might think he is constipated.
2. Your cat is licking his bottom a lot.
3. Your cat is scratching at the litter tray but isn’t urinating.
4. Your cat is posturing like they are urinating, but nothing comes out.
5. Your cat is dribbling urine around the house.
6. Your cat has blood in his urine.
7. Your cat is very flat, vomiting and unwilling to move – he might look comatose.
8. Your cat is a male. Male cats are more prone to getting a blocked bladder.

 how to tell if your cat has a blocked bladder

Why Is My Cat Struggling To Pee?

Many cats struggle to urinate due to a problem called FLUTD or ‘feline urinary tract disease’. It is a common problem for many cats and is a term used to describe a number of different problems that may be caused by:

  • Inflammation of the bladder or urethra “cystitis”
  • Uroliths: Stones and crystals in the urine
  • Infection (cat urinary tract infections are very rare, especially in those < 10 years old)
  • Neoplasia (cancer)
  • Urethral plug (mucoproteinaceous plug)
  • Idiopathic – (it ‘just happens’ and we don’t know why)

If your cat is showing signs of straining to urinate, blood in the urine or urinating in unusual places, your cat may be struggling with this problem.

Many cats who struggle to pee, have an underlying anxiety or stress problem.

It is sometimes hard for us as owners to understand what might be causing this stress, as it seems like our cat has everything it needs.

Common Causes Of Stress For A Cat

  • New cats in the neighbourhood.
  • Cats peering in the window at them.
  • A new cat in the household.
  • New people in the household – could be visitors, or a boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • A change in diet or sleeping arrangements.
  • A litter tray that is not in a place where they feel safe.
  • A change in litter tray substrate.
  • A dirty litter tray

How Will The Vet Treat A Blocked Bladder?


cat straining to urinate how to unblock the bladder

This cat has had a catheter inserted into the urethra so that the bladder is unblocked. You can see the blood-tinged urine indicating severe inflammation.


While asking you about your cat’s history and symptoms, your vet will palpate your cat’s abdomen checking the size of the bladder.

They will also perform a complete physical, checking the heart, lungs, temperature and blood pressure.

Cats that have been blocked for a while will have a low body temperature and heart rate and possibly will be comatose.

Before attempting to unblock a bladder, blood tests are required to check your cat’s electrolytes and haematology and cardiac stabilisation is required.

Cats with a blocked bladder get increased levels of potassium in their blood (hyperkalaemia) that depresses the heart and will make your cat comatose.

Because urine can’t be voided, the level of urea and creatinine increases in the blood. This is called azotaemia.

Before your cat is anaesthetised to unblock the bladder, Your vet will give aggressive fluid therapy to correct electrolytes and perfusion and gently warm him up. If this is not performed promptly your cat may die.

The bladder is unblocked under general anaesthesia.  Sometimes this can be quite difficult to do!

An indwelling catheter is placed in the urethra and the bladder is thoroughly flushed to remove any crystals and stones. This catheter is sutured in place to help maintain patency of the urethra for about 24-36 hours.  When the catheter is removed your cat will be watched closely to ensure that he doesn’t reblock (about 14% do reblock).

During this time, your cat will be on lots of pain relief, urethral relaxants to prevent spasm and anti-stress medication. We don’t want to see your cat straining to urinate.

What To Do If You See Your Cat Straining To Urinate?

A cat with a blocked bladder is at risk of death.

Please get in touch with our emergency vets or head straight to your local clinic. After taking a thorough history, if our vets suspect that there is a blockage, you will need to take your cat to a local vet clinic.

Make sure you share this article with friends who have cats, it may just save their cat’s life.

Tell us below if your cat has had a blocked bladder and what signs you noticed. Let’s help others recognise the signs of a blocked bladder. 


cystitis and flutd in cats