Q: My cat has started to go to his litterbox and squat like he is going to the bathroom, but nothing is there when he’s finished. He is showing no signs of pain or sickness; his appetite is normal and he drinks water as well. He isn’t straining or crying and goes about his normal daily routine. He goes out at night and comes in every morning hungry and ready to go to sleep. If he passes by his litterbox, he acts like he is going to use it, but again, nothing is there when he leaves the box. He just started this two days ago. His belly feels to me as it always has. I was told he is only trying to please me by using his box. Can you help me with this matter?
A: In your letter, you didn’t mention whether there is any stool in the litterbox. It’s hard to tell from your description whether your cat is having difficulty urinating vs. defecating. Try to pay attention when your cat goes to the litterbox and see if he’s posturing himself as if he’s trying to urinate (penis and anus almost contacting the litter) vs. defecating (anus several inches above the litter).
Straining to defecate suggests that your cat might be constipated. If he’s constipated, it might be necessary to change his diet, or administer stool softeners.
If, on the other hand, he is straining to urinate, this is a bit more worrisome, especially in a male cat. Some male cats form crystals in their urine, and these crystals can irritate the bladder. This can result in a variety of clinical signs, such as frequent trips to the litterbox, straining to urinate, urinating in inappropriate places, and sometimes seeing blood in the urine. The crystals can grow in size and clump together, forming “sand,” and eventually a small stone, which can obstruct the flow of urine. This is a life-threatening emergency.
Regardless as to whether your cat is straining to urinate or straining to defecate, he needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian as soon as possible.