Chuckie’s FLUTD – Or, Why I Watch my Cat Use the Litterbox

Hairballs, litter box messes, spraying, tearing up the furniture, fleas – these are normal challenges that we expect we might experience when we get cats. So we put down some plastic covers around the boxes, neuter and spay our cats, put them on preventative flea medication and don’t become too attached to any furniture or carpet fixtures. These are the things that we do.

What we don’t expect is for our cat to suddenly stop urinating.

I noticed it by chance. It was a Saturday night a few weeks ago and I was getting ready to go play Catan with some of my friends. I was cleaning the litterboxes in the basement when little Chuckie pranced over to pee. At least, I thought he peed, but then as soon as he got back out, he entered a different litter box and tried to go again. Then again. Then again. After five or six attempts, he gave up and walked away. And not once did he pee at all.

Of course, as any 21st century cat mom would do on a Saturday night when the actual vet is closed, I took to the Internet. I sat down on the basement stairs and started googling versions of “cat won’t pee” and “male cat can’t pee.” The sites said it might be a UTI, but very likely it could be a blocked urethra – something male cats are very prone to, and something that is quickly fatal.

The websites also listed another symptom of Chuckie’s that I hadn’t realized was related to a urinary block: excessive penis licking. I had noticed him licking his penis for the past few days. I thought it was really strange because I had never seen him or Barry lick their actual penis before, but I just figured he was trying to stay clean. But nope. It was a symptom of a urethra block.

I had to make the decision: monitor Chuck for a while, or pack him up and take him to the hospital?

I took him to the hospital.

I was much calmer than I was when Barry had his injury for some reason – maybe because although I knew Chuckie might have been facing a fatal illness, he didn’t physically look as bad. In fact, he seemed completely fine – not lethargic or acting funny at all. In typical fashion, he yelled at me the whole drive to the vet hospital.

As soon as we got there, Chuck was admitted and I told the triage nurse what had been going on. I waited around a few hours until the vets were able to confirm my suspicions: Chuck had a urinary block, but we caught it early and it should be okay. He needed to get a catheter and stay at the hospital for a few days.

I got to say goodbye to Chuckie. I almost cried seeing my poor, little, pitiful, shy Chuckie sitting in his cage, facing the corner and burying himself under a blanket. The emergency room of the vet hospital was just one large room, and he was being caged next to a bunch of different loud animals. I knew my skittish little cat wasn’t happy with it at all. I told him I loved him a bunch and gave him pats and then I went home and sulked.

The vet called the next day and gave me an update – he was doing well, but needed to stay another night. I tried to visit him that night, but after waiting in the waiting room for an hour, they told me that they were too busy to get me back. I was bummed, but I understood.

The next day I got a phone call that Chuck was urinating on his own and I could go pick him up! The poor little thing had a chunk of fur shaved near his tail and also on his leg. The hospital diagnosed him with feline lower urinary track disease – which also meant that he was a great risk of his urethra reblocking again sometime in the future. Male cats are at a huge risk of FLUTD because their urethras are so thin and it’s easy for crystals to form and block them. The vet at the hospital sent me home with some pain killers, urethra relaxers, and different prescription foods for Chuck to try out.

When I brought Chuck home, I was a paranoid mess. I kept him locked in my room, away from Barry, because I wanted to make sure he was using the bathroom. Even in the middle of the night, when I would hear him in the litterbox, I would jump out of bed to stare him down to make sure he was urinating – and since he was on relaxers and had some trauma from the catheter, he was peeing almost constantly.

Chuck wanted out of my bedroom, though, so I started relaxing my watch on him, telling myself I couldn’t keep him locked up forever just out of fear he might block again. This was something he would deal with for the rest of his life, so I would have to be diligent in observing him, but he couldn’t just live in my bedroom.

Eventually, I ran out of the food that the vet hospital sent me home with (Hills Science C/D and Royal Canin S/O, both formulas specially made for cats with FLUTD), so I took a trip to PetSmart. Of course I had just gone a few days earlier and stocked up on food, so I brought that along to return.

I picked out a month’s worth of the Royal Canin S/O and brought it to the register. After I rang it up, the checkout woman asked me for my prescription card.

And here is where I made the dumbest mistake of my life. The C/D and S/O diets were referred to as prescription diets…but nobody told me I had to actually go to the vet and get a prescription. Why did this not occur to me? I have no idea! Maybe because I didn’t actually realize that pets needed to get prescriptions for food, something that seemed so weird to me. Either way, I didn’t have a prescription!

Embarrassed, I left PetSmart empty-handed. I called my vet, and they told me to come in the next day to get some dry food and the prescriptions. The next day, I returned to PetSmart to get some wet food. At the register, I proudly handed Chuck’s prescription to the checkout lady. Nope, I had to go all the way in the back to get a special PetSmart card verifying the prescription. On my third try, I was finally able to get the food to feed my poor cat.

A few weeks after his block, Chuck and Barry went in for their annual check-up and shots. The vet wanted to check Chuck’s urine for crystals, which meant I had to hold a tray underneath Chuckie while the vet massaged his bladder through his abdomen to encourage him to go. I don’t know how many times we tried – over and over – until finally Chuckie peed. The vet said the consistency looked normal, and called the next week to say that his urine still had some red blood cells but otherwise was fine.

Ever since his block a few weeks ago, Chuckie has been doing fine. His bald spot on his back still hasn’t grown in yet and I’m still following him to the litterbox whenever I notice him about to go, but it’s all the price of being a mom. Whatever it takes to make sure I have a happy, healthy Chuckie!

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