Crying in the litter tray can be a sign that a cat is experiencing pain or difficulty going to the toilet. There are several medical reasons a cat may be experiencing pain, they are all serious and need immediate veterinary care.
There are several causes of crying in the litter tray which may be due to pain or an inability to urinate or painful defecation. A cat who is unable to urinate is a life-threatening crisis that needs immediate veterinary attention.
Complete urinary obstruction
A serious and life-threatening condition in which a blockage prevents the cat from urinating. The condition affects male cats mostly, due to their longer and narrower urethra. As the cat can no longer urinate, toxic levels of nitrogenous waste build up in the bloodstream which causes toxicity as well as the death of the kidney cells.
Inflammation or infection of the bladder. Cystitis occurs more often in females due to their shorter ureter which makes it easier for bacteria to ascend into the bladder from the perineum. Diabetic cats and cats who hold onto their urine for too long are also at greater risk.
Rock-like crystals or stones which form in the bladder develop when the minerals in concentrated urine crystallise. Struvite is the most common type of stone to develop in the bladder followed by calcium oxalate and urate.
Urinary tract infections
Any infections that affect the urinary tract which may include the bladder (see above), kidneys, ureters and the urethra.
A partial or complete inability to pass feces, which feels extremely uncomfortable. Left untreated, constipation can lead to megacolon in which the colon becomes abnormally stretched and loses its ability to contract.
Anal sac disease
This disease develops when the anal glands (two pea-sized glands located at the 5 and 7 o’clock position on the anus) become impacted and/or infected. When the defecates, a foul-smelling substance is secreted. If impaction or infection is present, pain occurs when defecating.
Foreign object in the colon
Bones (particularly cooked), and other indigestible products can make their way through the gastrointestinal tract and cause pain as well as trauma anywhere along the way including the colon (the last part of the GI tract before the anus).
Other symptoms you may notice along with crying can include:
- Blood in the urine (hematuria)
- Cloudy urine
- Excessive genital licking
- Frequently visiting the litter tray but only passing a small amount of urine
- Abdominal swelling
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Going to the toilet outside the litter tray
The veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you including the onset of symptoms. Abdominal palpation may reveal a full bladder or hard and full colon (if constipated).
- Urinalysis: A test of the cat’s urine may reveal bacteria, urinary crystals, red blood cells, or white blood cells.
- Complete blood count and biochemical profile: To evaluate blood cell count and how the kidneys and liver are functioning.
- Diagnostic imaging: X-ray or ultrasound to evaluate the urinary tract for stones, tumours, and colon to look for signs of impaction and/or blockage.
- Bacterial culture and sensitivity: This may be performed if bacteria are found in the urine so that a suitable antibiotic can be selected.
- Intravenous Pyelogram (IVP/excretory urography): To see very small or radiolucent (transparent to x-ray) stones may require contrast radiography. This is where a contrast medium (dye) is injected into a vein and is excreted via the kidneys into the urine. This enables the technician to view the structures of the urinary tract.
- Analysis of any stones which may be found.
The goal of treatment is to address the underlying cause and in the event of a urinary blockage, stabilise the cat before further treatment.
- Bladder/urinary tract infections: Oral antibiotics based on culture and sensitivity.
- Bladder stones: A prescription diet to dissolve the stones. Large stones may need to be surgically removed.
- Constipation: Laxatives, stool softeners and increasing fibre to treat constipation.
- Anal sac disease: Where necessary, empty the anal glands and administer antibiotics. If the problem comes back, it may be necessary to remove the anal glands.
- Urinary obstruction: Stabilise the cat with fluids to correct electrolyte imbalances. Insert a urinary catheter under heavy sedation. Maintain fluids to help the kidneys flush out toxic wastes.
- Bladder tumours: Surgical removal of the affected area along with chemotherapy as a follow-up.
- Administer medications as prescribed.
- Keep litter trays clean at all times to encourage regular urination/defecation. Cats don’t like dirty litter trays and can hold on if they aren’t happy. This causes urine to become concentrated and encourages the formation of constipation. Regular water/fibre in the diet and voiding all go a long way to reducing the chances of constipation and urinary problems occurring.
- Increase water consumption by encouraging the cat to drink and/or switching over to a wet diet that has a higher water content than dry. Increased fluids result in dilute urine which discourages the formation of crystals and stones.