In the past month, BSAH has seen a certain scenario twice.
Both patients are cats.Both cats are male. Both cats were left at home while their owners traveled. Both cats had someone popping in to feed them.
Both owners came home to sick cats. Both cats were brought in for exams because they were lethargic, eating poorly, vomiting and straining in the litter box. Both owners suspected constipation, but the answer was much worse.
Both cats were suffering from urinary blockage.
Urinary blockage is an emergency situation that strikes male cats. When mucous, crystals or bladder stones clump together, they can block the urethra partially or completely. If the blockage is not removed, the cat will begin to strain in the litter box, vomit or stop eating. If the blockage persists, the kidneys will fail and the toxin buildup in the patient’s body will cause death.
Many owners notice their cats visiting the litter box more often or straining to produce urine (although this is often mistaken as constipation) and most owners will notice if their cats stop eating or start to vomit. The longer a cat stays blocked, the sicker he is and the more intense his treatment.
The problem with leaving cats largely on their own with a neighbor or even a pet sitter who comes once or twice a day to feed and clean the litter box is that a cat can be blocked for several days before the owner returns home and realizes something is wrong.
How do you prevent this? Take these steps.
1. Establish a baseline for how often your cat uses the litter box. Most cats urinate 3-5 times per day and have 1-2 bowel movements. Use clumping cat litter to make it easier to count urine frequency. If you have more than one cat, you will probably need to keep an eye on your cats to see which one visits the box.
2. Feed an appropriate diet. Cats that are well hydrated are less likely to become blocked. Find out how much water your cat should drink.
3. Ask your pet sitter if they know how to feel a cat’s bladder. A normal bladder feels soft, like a water balloon that is partially filled. The bladder of a cat that is obstructed is hard and may be the size of a peach or larger.
4. If your pet sitter does not know how to do this, or is uncomfortable trying, or your cat is prone to hiding or doesn’t like to be touched, make sure your pet sitter knows to watch for signs of illness: vomiting, not eating, urinating outside of the litter box, nonproductive straining in the litter box, or a lack of urine in the box. Again, clumping litter is helpful for tracking urine frequency in a cat that won’t come out.
If your cat sitter suspects a urinary blockage, this is an emergency situation that cannot wait to be treated when you return home. Be sure to leave your vet’s phone number and a carrier for transport.