A cat licking his genitals is more than just grooming, it can be a sign of an underlying problem. Obviously, as urination and defecation occur in the genital area, any problems associated with going to the toilet can lead to your cat licking his or her genitals.
Genital licking may accompany other symptoms such as straining to go to the toilet, crying in the litter tray, urinating in unusual places. All of which should be a red flag to the pet owner. Any toileting issue needs to be seen by a vet immediately. So, what are the common causes of genital licking in cats?
Urinary blockage - This is a life-threatening situation in which your cat becomes blocked with crystals, stones or a matrix plug and urine is unable to pass out of the body. As the cat is unable to urinate, toxic nitrogenous levels build up in the bloodstream. Males are more commonly affected than females due to their longer, thinner urethra. Treatment includes catheterising your cat to assist with the removal of urine from the bladder, steroids to treat inflammation (if necessary), increasing water consumption, fluid therapy to correct electrolyte imbalances. Severe cases may require a perineal urethrostomy (PU), which involves removing a large portion of the penis.
Bladder stones - Bladder stones are rock-like formations which may be made up of calcium oxalate or struvite. Left untreated, bladder stones can lead to a urinary blockage (mentioned above), which is life-threatening. Treatment of bladder stones includes antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection (if one is present), dietary changes which can assist in dissolving any remaining stones, increasing water consumption which helps to dilute the urine. If necessary, surgical removal of the stones.
Cystitis/bladder infection - Inflammation or infection of the bladder, cystitis causes typical symptoms such as straining to urinate, crying in the litter tray, blood in the urine, urinating outside the litter tray. Treatment includes antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection, increasing water consumption and making sure litter trays are always clean and easily accessible.
Urinary tract infection - A UTI is a relatively common disorder characterised by an infection anywhere along the urinary tract. It is seen most commonly in middle-aged to senior cats and females are at greater risk of developing an infection due to their shorter urethra along with cats who hold on to their urine for too long (due to dirty litter trays, holding on due to rain outdoors etc). Typical symptoms include frequent trips to the litter tray without passing much urine, licking the genital area, blood in the urine, crying. Treatment of UTI's includes antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection, switching your cat to a wet diet to increase water consumption, making sure your cat always has access to a clean, fresh litter tray.
As you can see, all of the above conditions have very similar symptoms and treatment and all relate to the urinary tract in one way or another. Frequent urination, urinating only a small amount, crying in the litter tray, blood in the urine. All conditions are serious, however, a urinary blockage is life-threatening and needs urgent veterinary care.
Constipation - Constipation occurs when your cat has trouble passing feces. It can affect cats of any age, although middle aged to older cats are most commonly affected. There are a number of causes of constipation in cats such as dehydration, low fibre diet, pelvic injuries, certain metabolic disorders, pain (such as with an impacted anal gland). Symptoms include straining in the litter tray, passing small, hard feces, crying, abdominal pain, vomiting, lethargy. Treatment of constipation is aimed at increasing fibre, stool softeners, treating dehydration and in severe cases, an enema will be required.
Pyometra - Infection of the uterus in intact female cats. It can be open, allowing pus to drain out, or closed, in which the pus remains trapped in the uterus. Accompanying symptoms may include anorexia, fever, lethargy. Pyometra is a life-threatening condition and should be seen by a veterinarian urgently. Treatment includes removal of the infected uterus and antibiotics.
Impending labour - Female cats will lick their genitals as the are going into labour. Other signs of imminent labour include restlessness, drop in temperature, nesting.
Anal sac disease - The anal glands are located on either side of the anus and contain a foul-smelling substance which is excreted when your cat defecates. From time to time the anal glands may become blocked and/or infected. Treatment involves emptying out the affected gland(s) and antibiotics to treat the bacterial infection.