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Urinary Crystals in Cats: O’Reilly’s Story

By Colleen Williams
published: March 21, 2019 - updated: February 22, 2023 • 3 min. read
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Key Takeaways

  • Cats frequently suffer from UTIs, urinary blockages, and kidney issues.
  • O’Reilly is a cat that suffered from pain while using the litter box.
  • O’Reilly’s pet parent took him to an emergency vet hospital multiple times due to the issue.
  • A serious blockage caused O’Reilly to be admitted to a four-day hospital stay.
  • O’Reilly recovered after medication, and his pet parent saved tremendously on vet bills because he had a Healthy Paws plan.

Cats suffer from urinary tract infections, blockages, and kidney issues rather frequently, and their symptoms can sometimes all seem similar. Blockages can be life-threatening; if a cat has a urinary blockage, this condition can be fatal within 7 days, so any symptoms of urinary distress should be brought up to your vet at once.

When pet parent Thomas noticed that his kitty O’Reilly was in pain after using the litter box, he suspected it might be a foreign body obstruction or possibly a bladder issue. “O’Reilly was straining and in deep pain after using the litter box, and he’d limp out with a painful meow. The first visit to the ER resulted in a urinary catheter being placed, but despite this initial visit, his urinary issues persisted.”

Thomas was well aware that any urinary issue with cats is serious business and should be addressed immediately. He brought O’Reilly back to the emergency vet hospital on two more occasions, “he was straining but not blocked the first time. The last time, however, O’Reilly was in a terrible state, hardly drinking water with his head dipped in the water fountain. I felt his abdomen/groin area and his bladder felt like a rock.”

O’Reilly was immediately rushed to treatment at the vet hospital; “any further delay and he would have passed.” They found a serious blockage and was admitted to a four-day hospital stay where, after stabilization, he had his bladder flushed of stones and crystals in a cystotomy (surgery to clear out any foreign objects or blockages).

What Causes Urinary Tract Issues?

Urinary crystals fall under the larger scope of feline urinary concerns which can include kidney conditions as well. Most of these can be attributed to:

  • Congenital abnormality
  • Stones or accumulated debris in the bladder or urethra
  • Physical obstructions like kidney stones and bladder crystals, like O’Reilly
  • Poor diet
  • Incontinence or weak bladder
  • Injured urinary tract or spinal cord
  • Stress
  • Endocrine diseases (hyperthyroidism and diabetes)

Diagnosis and Treatment

After a physical exam, if it’s possible, your vet may attempt a urinalysis and urine culture, but if there is a blockage or pain, they may skip right to blood work, x-rays, and an ultrasound. Once the source of pain or obstruction has been identified, your vet will either request surgery or a treatment plan as well as prescribe antibiotics and painkillers. If surgery is necessary, it’s good to know that these complications are very common, so the procedure will be routine. Please note that crystals and stones are usually repeat-offenders, meaning this can become a chronic condition.

O’Reilly’s Recovery

Bentley (left) and O’Reilly (right)

“O’Reilly made an extraordinary recovery post op,” says Thomas. “He was medicated with painkillers and a urinary anti-spasm agent and given an e-collar. After two weeks, he eventually came back to his regular self! With his incision healed and his follow up appointment complete, his e-collar was removed and he was ready to play with his brother cat Bentley again!”

O’Reilly and his buddy Bentley (both adopted from the ASPCA) have returned to chasing each other across Thomas’s apartment, “up the shelving and watching pigeons on the balcony.” While O’Reilly may seem like the more introverted of the two cats, he is trained to hi-five for his urinary prescription treats. “Bentley will always follow me around, stopping to politely stare, inquiring if he could have his playtime already,” explains Thomas. “O’Reilly enjoys being pet and at nights is close by. Their bond to me is therapeutic and provides a reprieve to the transition back into civilian life from the military.”

The Cost of Care

“Being at a premier animal hospital in New York, the bill was substantial,” says Thomas. “Concerned about this expense I called Healthy Paws before O’Reilly’s last ER admission to which you provided comfort by affirming to immediately take him in and be concerned about him and not the final cost.” O’Reilly’s five claims for recurring urinary crystal conditions have totaled $11,116 and Thomas has been reimbursed $9,199 (90% reimbursement rate; $250 deductible). “Without Healthy Paws Pet Insurance,” confirms Thomas, “our family would not have been able to sustain such a financial obligation.”

The claim scenarios described here are intended to show the types of situations that may result in claims. These scenarios should not be compared to any other claim. Whether or to what extent a particular loss is covered depends on the facts and circumstances of the loss, the terms and conditions of the policy as issued and applicable law.

Insured people providing testimonials in this report have not received compensation for their statements.

If you are a Healthy Paws pet parent with a recovery story to tell, we’d love to hear it! Send your pet’s story along with photos of your four-legged family member to

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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