Cat Crying in Litter Tray – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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 be investigated urgently.

Other symptoms you may notice along with crying can include:

What are the causes of a cat crying in the litter tray?

Common causes of crying in the litter tray include bladder stones, cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), urinary tract infection, bladder infection, urinary blockage, bladder tumour, kidney stones, anal sac disease, constipation, and megacolon.

As you can see, almost all of the above causes relate to the urinary system. However, anal sac disease, constipation, and megacolon are also reasons your cat may cry in the litter tray due to pain and discomfort.

The most serious of all is a complete urinary blockage, this is seen more frequently in male cats than female due to their longer, narrower urethra.  Urinary blockage is life-threatening and needs immediate medical intervention. 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 commonly seen 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.

How is the cause diagnosed?

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.

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 – 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.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on the underlying cause and may include:

  • Antibiotics to treat urinary tract/bladder infections.
  • Increasing 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.
  • A prescription diet may be recommended for a cat with bladder stones, this will help to dissolve the stones. Large stones may need to be surgically removed.
  • Laxatives, stool softeners and increasing fibre to treat constipation.
  • 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.
  • Anal gland problems are treated by emptying the anal glands and treating with antibiotics. If the problem comes back, your veterinarian may recommend removing the anal glands.
  • Your veterinarian may be able to manually express a urinary blockage, otherwise, a catheter will need to be inserted. IV fluids will be required to address electrolyte imbalances. Painkillers may be required at this time.
  • Bladder tumours are treated by surgical removal of the affected area along with chemotherapy.

Also see:

Cat symptoms   Home remedies for constipation in cats

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