Going in and out of the litter box? Urinating around the house? In the planter? On the bed? Sound familiar?

This is actually quite common amongst cats. While they are well equipped to fight off urinary tract infections (think of normal cat urine, who would want to grow anything in that!) – their bladders are weak when it comes to stress. When a cat is experiencing stress, they will develop a thickening of the bladder wall that looks and acts like a sterile urinary tract infection. It can be this inappropriate response to the stress that makes them feel like they need to go! It can also be life-threatening, so let’s get through this chapter in cat health.

I have now seen cats have urinary symptoms from the following (sometimes ridiculous) causes:

  • Construction for your new kitchen
  • Construction for the neighbors new kitchen
  • A new neighborhood cat yowling outside
  • Lightning storms
  • Uncle benny comes to visit
  • Uncle benny passes table scraps to all his furry friends
  • Uncle benny leaves from his visit
  • Rain
  • Wind
  • Packing for a trip
  • Really anything different to their secure little universe

Common causes of urinary tract signs include:

  • Change in food
  • Change in litter
  • Change in where the litter box is located
  • Moving
  • New kitten
  • New baby

So what this means, is when a cat comes in for urinary signs like straining, we need a long arduous history of all your personal affairs. #joking #notreallyjoking Cats are sensitive unique creatures who urinate to the beat of their own drum!

So why do we care so much about these symptoms?

Well, since the theme lately is emergency veterinary medicine, if you call and tell us your cat is straining to urinate, having trouble urinating or urinating in abnormal areas in the house, we are going to want you to come in ASAP. This is because this thickening of the bladder (or crystals, stones, infection, tumors which are also possible) cause a blockage of the urinary system which is life-threatening. Let’s just review so that it’s clear: swelling in the bladder, regardless of the cause, can cause an accumulation of debris, which then causes a plug or a blockage and the cat cannot urinate.


When a cat (or really any animal) cannot urinate, it is because a life-threatening emergency – not only because it is painful and can cause bladder and kidney damage, but because the normal toxins in your bladder, primarily potassium (K+) is reabsorbed into the bloodstream. Potassium can cause life-threatening arrhythmias and sudden death!

Emergency Care

So if you pet is not urinating or struggling to urinate, we are going to have you come down for an examination right away – this is so a veterinarian can put hands on the patient, and determine if this is a blockage or not, and regardless, start treatment and/or preventative measures to avoid a hospitalization stay and treatment for a blockage. That’s right – it doesn’t have to be blocked yet to get our attention – we really really really want to avoid you having to deal with a blockage so we need you here so we can work on testing and treatment to try and prevent an issue in the next 24-72 hours.

Preventative care

The general instructions for avoidance are to reduce the stress of the cat and treat the underlying condition. There are several ways we accomplish this (and would need an exam/consult to determine the best plan for you since cats are so *special*. However, in general we will recommend the following:

  • One litter box per cat, plus one ***THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE OF ALL – it is the advice that no one really wants to hear, but this is the recommended first step to avoiding stress at the litter box.
  • Feliway(TM) plug-ins will do wonders for reducing stress for your cats – this is a pheromone that is released by a diffuser or other source.
  • Special food – since this is so common, there are many urinary formulas on the market. If this is a common issue for your cat, you would benefit from a consultation to determine the best type, but typically you can start with the urinary stress formulas available from your veterinarian. Minimally, wet food is going to increase the amount of water going through the kidneys and flushing their systems.
  • Multiple water sources – the water fountains are so helpful! This is another non-medication fix that increases your cat’s water intakes without you needing to do much more than “add to cart” on amazon. You can also leave coffee mugs with water, or a dripping faucet – whatever your cat needs to increase the water intakes.

We can address all the treatments that happen when a cat is blocked at another time, because it is both interesting and one of the most satisfying diseases to treat, but what I really want to accomplish is making sure none of my patients need to be seen for a urinary blockage if at all possible.
Thank you as always for following along with me while we get the word out about veterinary medicine & treatments!

In love and health,
Dr. Jenna Cooper