If you've ever had to deal with a urinary tract infection, or UTI, you know it burns and hurts like crazy. Luckily for us, as painful as it is, a UTI isn't usually a serious medical emergency. For a male cat, however, it can turn into a life-threatening situation.
Male vs. Female
Just like people, in the cat world female cats end up with more urinary tract infections than males; however, in male cats infections often are caused by dangerous blockages. This is because the urethra in a male cat is much narrower than in a female. If the urethra gets blocked, the bladder doesn't empty all the way, or sometimes at all, and bacteria builds up, creating an infection.
For a male cat obstructions are serious. If he isn't treated right away, he could become seriously ill and die. Obstructions are caused by urinary stones or crystals, called uroliths, and also by a build-up of cellular debris and mucus in the narrow urethra. Male cats who have urinary tract infections over and over may need a special diet that will help prevent blockages.
Besides being in pain, a male cat also can cause plenty of problems if he has a urinary tract infection. He might start spraying, even if he's never sprayed before, or he might pee in different parts of the house because he associates the litter box with the pain of urination. He also might lick excessively at his penis, have a constantly extended penis or what appears to be grains of sand around the penis. He might yowl or cry out in pain when he does pee, have blood in his urine, refuse to eat, or will try to urinate frequently and might vomit. Some cats also will become depressed and will try to hide or sulk. A male cat with an obstruction usually is in severe pain, even if he's trying not to show it. He probably will cry or yowl for no apparent reason, walk or sit hunched up like his belly hurts, and he will not want you to touch his abdomen.
Like some men, male cats try not to let anyone know that they're sick. By the time your cat shows signs of a urinary tract infection, it usually is pretty serious. He should be seen by a veterinarian who can give proper treatment. A urinary catheter may be needed to help him pass urine and to remove any obstructions. Antibiotics probably will be necessary to help fight the infection and he may be treated with intravenous fluids to help keep the bladder flushed clean. A special diet may be prescribed if he has repeated urinary tract infections or obstructions.