When Your Pet Can’t Pee

When Your Pet Can’t Pee

Have you heard of a cat, or less frequently a dog, who can’t pee? This may sound funny, but it is an emergency situation!

Much like in humans, animal bladders are connected to their kidneys via ureters. Unfortunately, also like humans, our pets can get blockages in their urinary tracts that cause issues when trying to urinate. The most common types of blockages in dogs and cats are bladder stones, urethral stones, and even cancer. Males are also susceptible to blockages caused by the prostate gland. Even more specifically, male cats can also be subject to a mucus plug, which is a mixture made up of mucus, protein, and crystals that just doesn’t exit the body as it should naturally.

Signs of an Obstruction

If you notice your cat or dog making unusual noises or crying while urinating, needing to potty more often, attempting to potty but nothing comes out, repeatedly attempting to urinate with only small amounts of urine, or exhibiting bloody urine, lethargy, vomiting, or lack of appetite, you should take your pet to the veterinarian immediately. Cats who begin to urinate outside the litter box for no apparent reason may also be trying to let you know of an impending blockage.  If your dog or cat is unable to urinate, the obstruction build-up can become toxic quickly which is life-threatening.


A pet that’s unable to urinate will usually have an enlarged (and very painful) bladder. A professional can easily feel this in the back half of the belly, unless the bladder has ruptured. Your veterinarian may complete x-rays of your pet’s abdomen, and potentially an ultrasound if they suspect a tumor to be the cause of the issue. Your vet is also likely to take a blood sample to determine the severity of the blockage to the kidney.


So, you’ve got the diagnosis that your furbaby has an obstruction, what now? In order to properly get rid of a urinary obstruction, your vet will have to place a catheter, which will require anesthesia. Your pet will likely need to be hospitalized for a few days where they’ll be able to urinate using the catheter, get fluids, pain meds, and antibiotics. Surgery may or may not be necessary depending on the cause of the obstruction, but some pets are also able to pass the obstruction a little more naturally through a form of diet dissolution and special prescription diets.

In pets with repeated incidences of blockage, the urethra can be surgically widened (perineal urethrostomy) to create a permanent opening that allows crystals, mucous plugs, and stones to pass more easily.


There can be many causes of urinary obstruction. Identifying the most likely culprits for your pet can help focus your strategies for prevention. In general, PetMD and Banfield resources recommend the following general strategies:


Provide environmental enrichment and stress relief, such as many levels on which to climb toys that trigger the prey response;

Make the litter box œpleasant by keeping it clean and providing one more box than you have cats in your home.


  • Increase the number of trips outside. Male dogs, in particular, may benefit from long walks to provide opportunities for marking which will encourage them to completely empty their bladders.


  • Increase water intake by feeding canned food and placing several water bowls throughout the house. Consider providing a pet water fountain as pets are more likely to drink from sources of running water.
  • Explore specialized diets as certain prescription diets can help prevent bladder stones and other urinary tract issues. Of course, your vet can recommend the best options for your pet.

No matter the cause, not being able to properly urinate is a grave situation for your pet and should be taken very seriously. If you fear that your pet isn’t properly relieving themselves, always contact your preferred veterinarian or emergency vet for an exam right away. For more information about urinary obstructions, you can visit here, here, or here.