Loss of bladder tone and urinary control in cats is common after pelvic or spinal injury, if there's damage to nerve networks. Cats may seem to dribble urine, or be unable to pass urine. Owners should seek immediate veterinary help, as there will be a serious underlying cause. According to the Washington State College of Veterinary Medicine, a pet unable to pass urine will die inside three to four days so prompt intervention is critical.
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Inability to control the passage of urine is often confused with inappropriate messing behaviour. Cat owners must realise their pet may have no control over its functions if it appears to be wetting around the house. It is also important to know that although a cat may be constantly dribbling urine, there exists a potentially fatal risk of bacterial infection caused by inability to fully empty the bladder--the dribbling is the bladder overflowing, rather than emptying.
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Traumatic spinal injury, often caused by car trauma or falling from heights, is often to blame for nerve-damage urinary incontinence. Veterinarian Mike Richards says in his online article "Urinary Problems in Cats," "Trauma is the most common cause of inability to empty the bladder in cats. This is most commonly associated with spinal cord injury, often due to a condition referred to as 'tail jerk' in which the tail is pulled or held still while the cat continues to move (such as when it is caught under a rocking chair)." Spinal degeneration or cancer may be a rarer cause.
Besides the symptoms of involuntary urine dribbling or inability to urinate, a cat may display muscle weakness or paralysis of its hind legs. The tail may be hanging limp, or the cat may have a strange, unsteady walk. These are likely to indicate spinal injury. Serious injury may also mean the cat is quiet, hides away, or is drowsy, lacks appetite or is unresponsive. Seizures may occur. There may also be loss of bowel control or inability to pass faeces, and a constant dribble of diarrhoea is also a common related issue.
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Your veterinarian will explore all possible causes of incontinence, performing full diagnostic tests. These may include collecting urine for analysis, taking blood tests to examine kidney function, X-rays with or without contrast agents and ultrasound to examine the urinary tract. CT and MRI scans of the brain and spine are a possibility too. Your pet may need referral to a specialist neurological treatment centre since suitable equipment may be unavailable locally.
Treatment and Prognosis
Often, seriously spine-injured cats cannot fully recover--time is the critical factor. Administration of painkillers and anti-inflammatories is likely ongoing treatment, together with surgery for injuries. A cat may remain partially paralysed and not regain full bladder function. Speak with your veterinarian about the chances for bladder function recovery. Owners may need to live with the incontinence or consider euthanasia as the only humane solution. However, there are cases where cats retain quality of life and owners can be taught to empty a cat's bladder, although this needs to be carried out at least three times daily to prevent infection. Nerve-damage induced incontinence may still be accompanied by other issues, so there are multiple considerations.
- Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine
- "Urological Disorders of the Dog and Cat"; Peter E. Holt; 2008