Cat Crying in Litter Tray – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Causes     Symptoms     Diagnosis     Treatment     Home care


Cat crying in litter tray

Is your cat crying when he or she goes to their litter tray? This is a sign that they are experiencing pain while going to the toilet. There are a number of medical reasons your cat may be experiencing pain, they are all serious and need to immediate veterinary care.


There are a number of 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 which 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, causing toxicity and kidney cells begin to die.
  • Cystitis/bladder infection is the inflammation or infection of the bladder. Cystitis is more common 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.
  • Bladder stones are rock-like crystals or stones which form in the bladder. The most common stones found in cats are struvite.
  • Urinary tract infections are any infections that affect the urinary tract which may include the bladder (see above), kidneys, ureters and the urethra.
  • Constipation is a partial or complete inability to pass feces, making your cat very uncomfortable. Left untreated it can result in megacolon in which the colon becomes abnormally stretched and loses its ability to contract.
  • Anal sac disease occurs 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.


Other symptoms you may notice along with crying can include:


Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you including the onset of symptoms. He will palpate the abdomen and may find a full bladder or hard and full colon (if constipated).

  • Urinalysis – 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.
  • 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. It is excreted via the kidneys & appears in 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.
  • 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.

Home care:

  • Administer medications as prescribed.
  • Ensure litter trays are 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 your cat to drink and/or switching over to a wet diet which has a higher water content than dry. This causes the urine to be more dilute, which discourages the formation of crystals and stones.