Cats need to pass urine regularly, to rid their body of toxins and to remove the urine stored in the bladder, which can only expand so much. The minimum an adult cat will pass urine is once or twice daily, though each cat will form their own habits. How often a cat passes urine will depend on their daily routine, diet and whether or not they go outside. Try to monitor what is the norm for your cat.
If you’ve noticed your cat is not passing urine or their tray seems dry, this is something to be taken very seriously. We need to monitor them closely, to see if they may be going somewhere else to pee. We also want to watch closely for any accompanying symptoms such as restlessness, straining or food refusal.
How long can a cat normally go without peeing (assuming your cat is otherwise acting normal)?
If your cat seems ok, you may be wondering how long is too long without passing urine. While not done often, cats can hold their urine in. This can be seen in a cat who is new to the home and too nervous to pass urine, or in a cat who is kept indoors but usually has outdoor access.
For these cats, we’d want them to pass urine at least once in a 24 hour period. Holding urine for too long can lead to problems such as urinary infections and urinary crystal formation.
Is your cat not peeing a reason to call your vet if your cat is acting normal?
Medical reasons that can mean a cat won’t pass urine can include acute kidney failure, severe dehydration or a urinary blockage. However, in these instances, cats tend to be quite unwell. We’d expect other signs such as a change in thirst levels, lethargy, dry gums, straining or a bloated abdomen.
If your cat is acting completely normally, it may be that they have passed urine somewhere other than their tray; such as the bath or on a bed. Have a good look around the home for any suspect smells or puddles.
For any cat, even if not showing signs, if you think it has been over 24 hours without urination, contact your local clinic.
Medical conditions that can keep your cat from peeing – but you have not noticed any other signs
UTI (urinary tract infection)
UTIs (bacterial urinary infections) are actually not that common in cats, although do become more frequent in older kitties. For most, we would see an increased frequency in urination and their urine might be cloudy, smelly or bloody.
However, some cats may hold their urine, particularly if it is uncomfortable to pass. Subtle signs that can be missed include genital licking, spending more time in the litter tray and mild lethargy. Learn more about UTI in cats.
Feline Interstitial Cystitis and Feline Idiopathic Cystitis
A much more common issue than UTIs, cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder that is not associated with an infection. Cystitis is extremely prevalent in our furry friends, particularly those who live inside, are over weight, are fed a dry diet and are prone to stress.
Again, signs are subtle and easily overlooked, particularly in the earlier stages of the condition. They can include passing small drops of urine, genital licking and a cat who is ‘just not acting right’. Learn more about feline cystitis.
Acute kidney failure
The kidneys can suddenly fail, for example, after a cat has eaten a toxin like human medicine, antifreeze or a lily plant. In this instance, the kidneys may stop filtering urine and a cat suddenly won’t pass any urine. These cats will be quite unwell, but owners can miss the signs as some cats will hide away. While they’re weak, lethargic and nauseous, this can be confused with a cat who is sleepy. As acute kidney failure progresses, signs will worsen and can include vomiting, mouth ulcers and even seizures.
A blocked bladder
One of the better known causes for a cat who is not passing urine, is the blocked bladder. Typically, these cats are in their tray and straining, so some owners may not realise they aren’t passing urine. However, on inspection the litter will be dry, or there will just be a few scant drops of urine.
This condition is often confused with constipation by owners who notice their cat straining in the tray. As the straining can lead to small pellets of poo being produced, this can add to the owner’s assumption that their cat is constipated. Worryingly, owners may delay seeking vet care, instead trying to manage their cat at home with laxatives. As the cat gets more agitated, signs that will develop include restlessness, vocalizing, genital licking and vomiting.
When very dehydrated, the body will try to maintain fluids inside, and less and less urine will be produced and eliminated. As cats may be lethargic and hiding away, initial signs can go unnoticed. Dehydrated cats will have tacky or dry gums, as well as a prolonged skin tent. They may seem weak and will lack interest in their food.
Are the top causes different for male and female cats?
As a vet, a male cat not peeing always rings louder alarm bells than a female cat not peeing. This is because urinary blockages (which can be life threatening) are far more common in males. The reason for this is that they have a longer and narrower urethra, which is more prone to blocking with things like sludge and urinary crystals.
While both male and female cats commonly develop cystitis, it is the male who is at much higher risk of serious complications like a urinary blockage.
At-home treatments to help a cat who is not peeing (assuming no other signs of illness)
If your cat is acting normally but you’re concerned it has been a while since they’ve passed urine, there are some things you can try.
- Flush them through with plenty of fluids. This means adding water to meals, feeding wet food and using a water fountain.
- Ensure they have access to at least two clean litter trays which are in areas of the home with low foot traffic. Many cats are ‘shy’ and don’t want an audience while passing urine.
- If you’ve only just got your cat, ensure they have privacy and have some time alone, rather than being watched at all times.
- Consider changing the litter tray type, if your new cat is not a fan of the one on offer. If they’re used to a certain type of tray, have this one available. Many cats prefer an enclosed litter box, for that little touch of privacy.
You’ll need to keep a very close eye on your feline friend. If they’ve gone more than 24-48 hours without passing urine, they should be seen by their veterinarian.
How fast will home treatments help?
As cats should pass urine at least once or twice a day, if we ensure they’re well hydrated and have a ‘safe’ place to pass urine, they should go within a few hours. However, if there is something more serious amiss, at home remedies may not lead to a cat passing urine.
Signs that you should not try home remedies – and take your cat to the vet asap
If your cat develops any symptoms alongside their lack of urine production, this is a red flag. We’d be keeping a close eye out for signs such as straining in their tray, vocalising, restlessness, genital licking, food refusal, lethargy or nausea.
Another consideration is your cat’s medical history. If your cat has ever had a urinary blockage before, any reduced urine output is a concern and would warrant an immediate vet visit.
Veterinary treatment options for feline urinary retention
How we treat a cat will depend on the reason they are not passing urine. For nervous cats, they may just need a little time and confidence building. For those with underlying medical issues, they’ll need to see a vet in order to make a treatment plan.
When your vet sees your cat, they will check them over and ask you about their medical history. They should check their hydration levels, palpate their bladder and kidneys, and analyse the urine.
In some cases, the kidneys and bladder will be scanned. This can be useful to diagnose issues such as urinary stones or masses.
Something like cystitis is treated with a mixture of medication and environmental changes. As well as encouraging drinking and reducing stress, these cats often benefit from bladder supplements and anti inflammatories.
A true UTI will need antibiotics to treat. Ideally, the urine is cultured, so the correct antibiotics are prescribed. This is especially important in a cat who is getting recurrent infections.
For a more serious issue like a blocked bladder, the therapy consists of unblocking the cat using a catheter and starting an IV fluid drip, to help support their kidneys. Most kitties will also require pain relief and anti-spasmodics.
Acute kidney disease needs to be treated quickly and aggressively, which usually means high rate IV fluids alongside other medicine such as antacids and anti nausea drugs.
The prognosis of conditions like UTIs and cystitis is excellent, although cats can be prone to future episodes, particularly if lifestyle and diet changes are not made.
The prognosis of a blocked bladder is good as long as the owner seeks immediate veterinary care. Delaying treatment by even a few hours could lead to a bladder rupture or kidney failure.
Sadly, the prognosis for acute kidney failure is poor, with up to half of patients not surviving. For some who do make it through the initial event, they can go on to develop chronic kidney disease, which will shorten their lifespan.
How can I encourage my cat to drink more water?
A good way to get more water into your cat is to keep them on a wet food diet. We can also add water to their meals. Ensure their water bowl is not near their food bowl or litter tray, and it should be filled right to the top, as some cats dislike getting their whiskers wet when drinking. Consider investing in a feline water fountain, which more closely mimics how cats would drink water in the wild.
Can I prevent my cat from getting a UTI? How?
To help prevent UTIs, we want to ensure our cats are well hydrated and regularly passing urine. This can be achieved by encouraging more water drinking, and giving them access to plenty of clean litter trays in quiet area of the home. Some cats will also benefit from nutritional supplements and urinary diets.