My Cat Has No Bladder Control
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Cats are well-known for their personal hygiene. They spend many hours of the day grooming to ensure a spotless coat which helps maintain overall health. In the wild, this is still very important. Their hygiene routine is not limited to their coat. They will also go to great lengths to ensure they urinate away from where they live and eat. In the wild, they will decide where this place will be. If you have a domestic cat, we need to guide them where might be the best place for them to do their business. Learning to go in a litter box takes time, but once it is learned, it should stay with the cat. This is why it can be so worrying when a cat loses control of their bladder.
If you are saying to yourself, ‘my cat has no bladder control’, you will want to not worry by finding out the reason behind it. At AnimalWised, we will see that a cat losing bladder control might have various things wrong, but not all are physical.
What is urinary incontinence in cats?
We need to start looking at the causes of a loss of bladder control in cats by explain urinary incontinence. It can happen that even trained cats will stop urinating in their litter box. Peeing everywhere in the home is not exactly the same as incontinence, although there is crossover. The difference depends on whether the cat has any control over whether they pee outside the litter box.
A cat will choose to pee outside of the litter box for various reasons, usually because there is some deficiency with the box itself. This could be due to:
- Not cleaned enough: if you don't clean out the cat's litter box regularly, they will repay the favor by urinating on the rug. A cat's high hygiene standards need to be respected.
- Another cat uses the box: if you have more than one cat, but only one litter box, the cat is unlikely to use it. Cats are also territorial, so having another cat's scent in their box will put them off.
- Wrong litter: if the litter in the tray is not to their liking (whatever the reason may be), they may refuse to use it.
- Box is wrong size: if the litter box is too small and they cannot turn around, the cat may not use it. Change their litter box to fix the problem.
- Wrong location: if the box is in an inaccesible location, then they may not even be able to use it even if they wanted to. If it is located somewhere inappropriate, such as too close to their food, they may also choose to go somewhere else.
Urinary incontinence is different from choosing not to urinate in their litter box. An incontinent cat does not have a choice. Either due to a physiological problem or psychological issue, the cat urinates where they are. This is what we mean by losing control of their bladder. The different types of incontinence are:
- Urge incontinence: where an overactive bladder means the cat cannot control the flor of urine.
- Stress incontinence: the bladder has insufficient strength to close over, resulting in urine flowing down the urethra.
- Overflow incontinence: this could be due to a blockage in the urethra or when the muscles which empty the bladder are too weak, resulting in the bladder overfilling.
- Functional incontinence: when a health condition, both mental or physical, means the cat cannot control the bladder. This also occurs as the side effect of certain medications.
Many of these problems may be caused by dysfunction of any of the parts of the genitourinary system. This is often sphincter muscles or valves which do not work, resulting in the cat being unaware they need to urinate until it is too late. The reasons one or more parts of the genitourinary system don't work are varied.
How to know if a cat is incontinent
When deciding whether a cat has truly lost control of their bladder or is simply choosing to urinate somewhere else, we need to look at the context of the situation. Unfortunately, research into urinary incontinence in cats can be difficult as many cat owners do not know what to look out for. This is compounded by an inability to keep track of a cat's behavior. This means we need to look out for the signs of urinary incontinence in cats:
- Drops of urine when the cat rises
- Wet abdomen and legs
- Strong urine odor
- Urine stains in strange places
- Dermatitis around genitals
- Inflammation or skin diseases
- Penis or vulva swelling
While it can be difficult to differentiate true urinary incontinence, if we suspect this is the case we can monitor their habits. One study suggests using video recorders to look at the cat's behavior. If we see the cat tries to use the litterbox or goes towards it before relieving themselves, it is likely incontinence since they were at least attempted to go in the right place.
Causes of urinary incontinence in cats
Looking at the difference causes of urinary incontinence in cats, we need to know there are different factors involved. Firstly, although it may lead to prevalence in certain lower urinary tract disease, castration in males does not increase the risk of urinary incontinence in general. However, spaying does seem to lead to increased risk of urinary incontinence in females, depending at what age the procedure was carried out.
Causes of urinary incontinence in cats fall under two main categories; congenital and acquired. This means some cats will have a genetic predisposition toward having urinary incontinence, while some may acquire the problem through a disease, infection or other source. The causes of urinary incontinence in cats include:
- Age related disorders: in senior cats, lost bladder control is generally a problem which arrives with old age. Tissues which have been used throughout the cats life simply lose strength.
- Spaying or neutering: due to suppression of hormones, either estrogen or testosterone, the cat may lose bladder control.
- Kidney stones: build up of minerals, usually calcium, lead to blockages further down the genitourinary tract. This leads to overflow incontinence.
- Bladder tumor: whether benign or cancerous, the pressure a tumor places on a cat's bladder can generate an almost endless need to urinate. There may be blood in the cat's urine if a tumor is present.
- Congenital deformations: as we stated earlier, some genetic issues may relate to urinary incontinence. A deformed bladder or urethra can mean the cat cannot control their bladder.
- Disease: urinary incontinence is a side effect of many diseases, including feline leukemia or diabetes.
- Urinary infection: UTIs such as cystitis cause the cat to continue urinating, often as a desire to release the discomfort. This usually goes away once the infection is cleared up.
- Stress: changes in a cat's routine, moving home, having a new member of the family or many of the other stressors in a cat's life can lead to them losing bladder control.
- Trauma: if the cat is in an accident or attack, they nay receive physical trauma to the pelvis which can block the urinary tract and lead to a lack of bladder control.
- Obesity: a side effect of being overweight can be seen when a cat has lost bladder control.
- Overactive bladder syndrome: this is when a cat urinates too often, but the cause is unknown.
- Neurological problem: a blow to the head, infection or another neurological disorder can lead to a loss of bladder control.
If your cat not only urinates outside their litter box, you may want to take a look at our article on why a cat defecates outside also.
Diagnosis urinary incontinence in cats
When your cat has lost control of their bladder, it can be very difficult to determine the cause. The different causes we have listed above each have their own concurrent systems, many of which are shared between them. We need to monitor the cat as best we can and provide any observations to the veterinarian whenever we go to them for a diagnosis.
Once we bring the cat to the veterinary clinic, the vet will need to give the cat a complete physical examination. They will also likely need to provide blood tests and urinalysis. These will help point in the right direction, but further diagnostic tests such as x-rays and ultrasounds may be required. If there is a possibility of cancer, a biopsy will need to be performed to determine whether a growth is benign. Once the veterinarian has achieved the correct diagnosis, they will let us know the right course of treatment.
Treatment of urinary incontinence in cats
Treatment of the cat's incontinence will depend on its initial cause. For example, if sterilization is a factor, then a cat may need hormone therapy to help them regain control over their bladder. In the case of urinary infections, antibiotics will be used to fight the infection and restore urinary control. For tumors, surgery is most likely the treatment required with follow-up chemotherapy if necessary.
If obesity, kidney stones, diabetes or other dietary problems related to incontinence, a low-fat diet is recommended. When the reason for a loss of bladder control is serious and no other solution can be found, it is possible the cat will need a catheter or cystosomy tube inserted for the rest of their life. This is used to drain the urine if it cannot pass through the genitourinary tract. However, it should be noted, feline incontinence is not as common as it is in dogs and most cases respond well to treatment.
Much patience is require on the part of a cat guardian when dealing with these issues. If the cat has chronic incontinence, then these tips may help manage the situation:
- Place a greater number of litter boxes in the home to provide the cat with easier access.
- Use waterproof or absorbent incontinence pads in any place where the cat spends much time.
- Be patient and don't scold the cat, it is not their fault.
- Protect your cat against their own urine to avoid skin infections. Clean their fur when it is wet or dirty.
If you are unsure, ask your veterinarian for any other help specific to your cat's problem. While it can be difficult, a cat may be able to still live a happy life with the right management of their urinary incontinence.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Has No Bladder Control, we recommend you visit our Other health problems category.
1. Dulaney, D. R., et al. (2017). Quantification of Urine Elimination Behaviors in Cats with a Video Recording System. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 31(2), 486-491.
2. Lekcharoensuk, C., Osborne, C. A., & Lulich, J. P. (2001). Epidemiologic Study of Risk Factors for Lower Urinary Tract Diseases in Cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 218(9), 1429-1435.
3. Pegram, C., et al. (2019). Spaying and Urinary Incontinence in Bitches Under UK Primary Veterinary Care: A Case–Control Study. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 60(7), 395-403.
4. Silverman, S., & Craig, D. (2000). The Diagnosis of Urinary Incontinence and Abnormal Urination in Dogs and Cats. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 30(2), 427-448.