February 15, 2023 Everyday Medicine

My Pet is Trying to Urinate and Nothing is Coming Out. What is Wrong?

Cat in litterbox

My Pet is Trying to Urinate and Nothing is Coming Out. What is Wrong?

Difficulty urinating is a common reason to visit the animal ER. When a pet is urinating frequently or with blood, we worry about a urinary tract infection. In male cats, the potential for a urinary blockage is a special concern. When your pet is having difficultly urinating, observe them carefully for clues to the problem. Explaining exactly what you see will help your veterinarian distinguish between two major problems: a urinary obstruction or a problem with the bladder.

Bladder Problems

While both dogs and cats suffer from bladder problems, the most common disease is different in each of the two species. Cats typically develop feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). FLUTD does not have a single cause. Urinary blockage, bladder stones, bladder cancer or hind end injuries can all result in signs of FLUTD. Bladder infections can be a cause of FLUTD, but occur much less commonly in cats than in dogs. Feline interstitial cystitis, the most common cause of FLUTD, does not have an identifiable cause. Cats with FLUTD tend to be male and urinate outside the box, making it easy to determine if they have blood in their urine.

On the other hand, dogs, especially females, commonly have bladder infections. Bladder infections cause frequent urinations producing only a few drops of bloody urine at a time. Dogs with urinary tract infections may ask to go out more frequently or have accidents while waiting to be taken outside.  Urinary tract infections in dogs cause a type of bladder stone composed of a mineral called struvite.

Urinary Obstruction

The most serious manifestation of FLUTD in male cats is obstruction. The tube from the bladder to the outside of the body is called the urethra. In male cats, the tube is longer and narrower than in female cats. The long narrow urethra can easily block with an accumulation of mucus, stones or conglomerations of urine crystals. Obstructed male cats run in and out of the litter box and making a distressing meow because they are so uncomfortable. Prolonged urinary obstruction can be fatal due to a build up of potassium in the bloodstream. Given how common urinary blockages are in male cats, veterinarians are proficient in passing a urinary catheter and relieving the obstruction. Urinary obstruction is less common in dogs, but can occur in both male and female dogs. The causes vary and include bladder stones, an enlarged prostate and bladder tumors.

X-ray of a cat with a urinary obstruction due to multiple struvite bladder stones
An x-ray of a cat with a urinary obstruction due to multiple struvite bladder stones. The cat has a catheter in place in the bladder to relieve the obstruction.

Not a Urinary Problem at All

When you find your cat straining in the litter box or take your dog for a walk and notice them posturing to urinate and nothing is coming out, consider the possibility that the problem is not urinary at all. You may simply be interpreting their body language all wrong. Dogs and cats can be constipated just like people. Maybe your pet is trying to poop, not pee. A simple physical examination in cat sized pets or an abdominal x-ray in a larger pet can quickly answer that question and lead to resolution of the problem.

To learn more about the causes of blood in your pet’s urine or FLUTD in cats check out the Usdan Institute’s Pet Health Library.

Tags: bladder stones, dogs, feline lower urinary track disease, pet emergency, pets, veterinary, veterinary emergency,

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