I remember the day in January 2005 I found Ripley, my two-year-old male tuxedo cat, groaning on the cool tile floor next to the litter box. I feared the worst.

The anesthesia. The catheterization. The intravenous fluids.

Leaving the emergency hospital, I felt relieved, but also pangs of guilt and shame.

My career was on overdrive—a large-scale product launch consumed my days, nights, and weekends, and I missed the obvious-in-hindsight signs that my cat needed me.

You’ve probably come across the term cat crystals before now…but what are they, and how do you know if your cat has them?

Crystals in cat urine aren’t like semi-precious stones that some people believe have healing powers. It’s a painful condition that blocks your cat’s urinary tract and prevents them from urinating. Dogs are vulnerable too.

They’re called crystals because they look like small particles of crystals or sand. Commonly caused by poor diet, dehydration, and stress, they may lead to kidney failure and, ultimately death, if not caught in time.

Spotting the signs of crystals in cat urine is not as difficult as it may seem.

You don’t need to become a cat behaviorist. You don’t need to install a pet camera and monitoring system.  A simple observation of your cat daily is enough to reveal an aberration.

Want to know how?

Sitting in the sink

We used to think it was adorable when seemingly out of the blue Ripley started to sit in our farmhouse-style kitchen sink. But the truth is, crouching on hard, cold surfaces helps ease pain and is something to keep an eye on.

Frequent urination

I had noticed less urine in the litter box but wasn’t worried because he was an indoor-outdoor cat. I figured he took care of business outside. What was unusual was that he peed only a bit in the litter box, yet fully relieved himself on the basement floor—splashing my fabric and craft supplies. When cats associate pain and struggle with the litter box they look to eliminate elsewhere.

See related:

How to Get Rid of Cat Urine Smell: 3 Remarkably Easy Tips

Litter Box Avoidance As a Sign of Crystals in Cat Urine

Soon after going to bed one night, Ripley jumped up and urinated on my husband. Shocked, we sequestered him outside. Cats are adept at concealing pain to their own detriment. But one way they communicate is with scent. He tried to tell us he was in agony but we didn’t understand.

cat stress and urinary issues

Crying out for help

The next morning, Ripley came inside after his night of banishment. That’s when I discovered him crying in misery next to the litter box. He got up and went downstairs into the living room and collapsed on the floor, still moaning.  And we immediately scooped him up and took him to the emergency vet hospital. They said if we had arrived an hour later…

Bad breath

The emergency vet told us our cat had uremic breath. It’s an ammonia-like odor that can indicate a problem with the kidneys. To be honest, we had done little to care for our cat’s teeth and just assumed he had bad breath. After surviving this scare, he received proper dental care, and we paid more attention to unpleasant odors in his mouth.

Skip the blame

Next time your cat is peeing outside the litter box on your bed, in the sink, or on a pile of clothes, pay attention. Don’t punish your cat. He might have something serious to say.

Inspect the litter boxes and keep them clean. Notice changes in the frequency and amount of waste in each box. And examine any recent changes in your cat’s behavior and routine.

how to spot cat urinary blockage caused by cat crystals

Now, when I have a lot going on, I create a paper log to track behavior changes. It’s easier to see patterns and to get everyone in the house involved.

If you have the right litter box set up, have eliminated cat urine smell around your home, and your cat continues to urinate outside the litter box it’s time to schedule an immediate check-up with your vet. Your cat’s life depends on it.

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  1. avatar
    Kat says:

    I had this problem with my ginger cat, a male. He was in the litter box screaming. I called around to find a vet that was open at 9:30PM. The one in my village had 24 hour emergency care but when I called the vet told me, “I’m just closing up for the night. If your cat is still having a problem in the morning bring him in.”
    Needless to say, this was absolutely unacceptable! I found a vet and off we went. The vet took my cat in and I waited. He came out and said my cat had crystals in his bladder and it needed to be expressed. He explained that he would use a syringe to introduce water to the bladder and it would help clear the blockage. I gave my consent. A few minutes later I heard my cat scream. Then it was quiet again.
    When the vet returned he said that my cat’s bladder was full of sand-like crystals. He said he cleared them out and rinsed the bladder and wanted to keep my cat overnight to keep an eye on him. My cat spent two nights and I visited him during the day. Each day he peed on me but did not use the litter the vet provided. On my third visit the vet said that since my cat would pee for (and on) me, he could go home.
    Now, the truth of the matter was that I shared my grapes with this cat, which I didn’t know was a big no-no. I nearly killed him! My message is that you need to be sure of what foods your cat can and can’t have or you could kill your cat!
    Thank you!

    1. avatar
      traci says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. After our cat had the blockage we had to put him on a prescription diet (& it was expensive). We only feed wet food now because dry food can also contribute to the issue.

      1. avatar
        Ashley Mailer says:

        We have a similar story. Tygo is our two year old beautifully striped orange Kitty. We woke up one morning to find him hiding in pain underneath our red couch, our cats favorite hiding spot. But he was yowling with every touch and was walking as if his back legs was hurt. His back was arched and was walking gingerly as if every step was excruciating. Whenever we took him out from under the couch he would hide in a box, or in the corner or under another couch.

        We took him to the vet and sure enough he had crystals and a blockage and was in quite alot of pain. He had his surgery, came home and we watched him for two weeks. He seemed to be back to himself! At 3 weeks however, he began to show his distress signs, hiding/ walking gingerly/ yowling/ obsessively licking his nether regions & especially moaning when touched.

        Not but an hour ago, we had him in our room on the bed with all his wet food/ water/ comfy cage nearby (he likes to hide in it when in pain) he worked up the courage to gingerly walk over to where we lay and curled up next to my husband (he has a special bond with him). Not a second after doing this, he howled and took a pee all over him! The sheet was soaked! He had also passed a small piece of what looked like tissue from his anus. He immediately went back into his cage for hiding. We are still taking the poor guy into the vet again & giving him his metacam but in the morning but are hoping this good sign continues!!

        1. avatar
          traci says:

          Thank you for sharing your story. We took our guy home and had to bring him back a few days later but then all was fine especially after we changed his diet. I hope your kitty is doing well now.

      2. avatar
        Dawn says:

        My cat has suffered with crystals in his urine bless him. He now only eats purina urinary wet food, and a small portion of purina urinary dry food. He has been on this food for 4 years now, thankfully without any urinary problems.

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