What to Do if Your Cat Can't Pee

Brown and white cat sitting inside litter box

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Do you suspect your cat is having trouble peeing? A urinary obstruction, or blockage, is an emergency situation. Learn how to recognize the signs of a urinary blockage so you can help your cat before it's too late.

What Is a Urinary Obstruction?

A urinary obstruction occurs when the urethra becomes blocked and urine cannot pass. This may be caused by sediment or crystals in the urine and/or inflammation in the urinary tract. Urinary obstructions are far more common in male cats than in female cats. This is because males have a longer and narrower urethra. The tiny amounts of sediment, mucus, or tissue inflammation can obstruct the urethra and make urination difficult or even impossible.

If a cat cannot urinate, the kidneys cannot perform their essential function of filtering toxins out of the blood and excreting them in the urine. Toxin levels in the body increase, making the cat very sick. Without medical attention, a blocked cat will eventually die.

Cats with urinary obstruction may or may not also have concurrent urinary tract infections. A urinary tract infection may be the cause or the result of the obstruction.

Signs Your Cat Is Having Trouble Urinating


  • Multiple trips to the litter box, but no urine
  • Urinating in small amounts
  • Straining to urinate
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Increased water intake
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vocalizing or pacing
  • Hiding and avoiding contact
  • Blood in urine

Cats are generally masters of hiding illness; this is a survival instinct for them. However, there are certain signs that can help you determine whether or not your cat is having trouble urinating.

The most obvious sign of a urinary obstruction is when a cat takes multiple trips to the litter box. If you see this happening, take a closer look. Observe your cat in the litter box. Is he straining to urinate, but not passing any urine? Is he urinating small drips only (no stream)? Look for signs of urine in the litter box. If your cat has been to the box several times but the litter is dry or has no clumps, then it's likely he is not passing urine. If you see your cat straining with little or no urine coming out, then he is probably blocked.

Other signs of urinary blockage include extreme lethargy, increased water intake, loss of appetite, and general discomfort. Cats may display restlessness by vocalizing or pacing. Or, they may hide and avoid contact with people and other pets because they are in pain.

Cats with urinary problems may show certain signs before becoming fully obstructed. If your cat has been urinating outside the litter box for the last few days or you notice blood in the urine, bring your cat to the vet. This can help prevent an obstruction.

Brown and white cat hiding under bed

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

What to Do If Your Cat Can't Pee

If you suspect your cat is having trouble urinating on his own, it's essential that you bring him to a veterinarian immediately. If your regular veterinarian is closed, you should bring your cat to the nearest open veterinary hospital, even if it means going to an emergency clinic. A blocked cat will die, possibly within 24 hours, without veterinary treatment.

Treatment of Urinary Obstructions in Cats

Cats with urinary obstructions typically need to stay in the hospital for a few days for treatment and observation.

When you arrive at the vet, be sure to let them know right away that your cat can't urinate. They will quickly feel your cat's kidneys to determine if they are enlarged. A cat with a urinary obstruction typically has a large, firm bladder that can be felt easily by a professional. The bladder feels this way because it is overfilled with urine that has no way out. Without treatment, the bladder may rupture. Or, the toxin buildup and kidney dysfunction will lead to death.

If your cat is indeed obstructed, then the team must begin work immediately. The veterinarian will draw blood to check for electrolyte imbalances. Next, the vet will typically sedate the cat and attempt to place a rigid urinary catheter. This can be very difficult to do when there is material blocking the urethra. It can take several attempts to pass the catheter.

Once the rigid urinary catheter is in, the vet will collect a urine sample and then flush out the bladder with sterile saline. The urine will be analyzed for signs of infection, blood, crystals, and other abnormalities. Most vets will switch out the rigid catheter with a flexible one for the cat's comfort. This will be sutured in place and attached to a closed collection system (tubing and a bag to collect the urine). The cat will also get an intravenous catheter to provide fluids. Intravenous fluids will flush toxins out and clear debris from the bladder. The urinary catheter allows this to take place more efficiently and prevents re-obstruction.

During hospitalization, the vet may treat your cat with pain medications, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and/or other medications to help with recovery. The exact treatment depends on the cat's signs and the results of lab tests. A special urinary diet may be started when necessary.

After one to three days of fluids and urinary catheterization, the vet will remove the urinary catheter and observe the cat, making sure he can urinate on his own before sending him home.

Male cats that continue to get blocked may need special surgery to enlarge the urethra. This surgery is called a perineal urethrostomy. It involves the removal of the penis and the creation of an opening for urination. As gruesome as it may sound, this surgery can majorly improve a cat's health and quality of life if he struggles with obstructive urinary issues.

How to Prevent Urinary Obstructions in Cats

Some cats are genetically predisposed to urinary problems. However, there are steps you can take to prevent a urinary obstruction.

  • Bring your cat to the vet for annual or biannual exams as recommended by your vet. Subtle problems may be discovered on a routine exam and handled before your cat actually gets sick.
  • Contact your vet at the first sign of a urinary problem (or really any health issue).
  • Feed your cat a balanced moist (canned) food because it maintains hydration and minimizes mineral content.
  • Make sure your cat has fresh, clean water available at all times.
  • Keep the litter box clean and fresh so your cat won't hold his urine longer than necessary.
  • Prevent your cat from becoming obese.
Brown and white cat eating balanced canned food from bowl

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Feline Lower Urinary Tract DiseaseCornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine.