"If you have a male cat, pay heed to his litter habits, as it can be life-threatening if you don’t. Cats don’t usually lick 'down there' just for entertainment value. When you see cats licking down there, chances are it’s because they’re being hygienic. Since your cat can’t use toilet paper, and since you don’t want to wipe for him, it’s all he can do to stay spotless.
However, if your cat is spending too much time 'down there' it’s actually a medical problem, and it warrants a closer look. If his penis is sticking out, then something’s wrong, as cats rarely show their male parts until they have a feline urethral obstruction (FUO). An FUO is life-threatening because there’s something blocking your cat from urinating. The urethra, a tube from the bladder to the exterior body (eg. penis tip) is a narrow diameter, and grit, crystals, mucous plugs, or blood clots can obstruct it, resulting in an FUO. Untreated, an FUO results in toxic kidney poisons building up in the bloodstream. This causes a temporary acute kidney failure, and can cause severe electrolyte or salt abnormalities. Without prompt medical attention, these electrolyte abnormalities can result in a life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia (eg. abnormal rhythm).
Some other more benign causes for excessive licking 'down there' include irritation to your cat’s penis tip, a bladder or urethral (the tube from the bladder to the tip of the penis) stone, or even having a sterile cystitis. This last one is also called Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease.
If you notice any of the following signs, see your veterinarian or emergency veterinarian immediately. Your cat is doing all he can to make you realise he needs help.
Crying out (especially when picked up near the bladder)
Bloody urine (typically small drops throughout the house)
Inability to urinate for more than twelve to eighteen hours
Making multiple trips to the litter box with no obvious urine clumps there
Straining to urinate (or in your eyes, defecate)
Squatting to urinate in strange places (like in your tub, on your comforter, or in your large potted plant – “Hello! What do I have to do to get you to take me to a vet?”)
Treatment for FUO includes sedation (pain medication), having a sterile urinary catheter placed, blood work to monitor electrolytes and kidney function, aggressive IV fluids to flush out the kidneys, and a urinary catheter for a few days to relieve the obstruction."
(Text Contributed by Dr Justine Lee DVM, DACVECC, DABT)
The signs of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease are very similar:
Difficulty in urinating
Blood in the urine
Urinating outside the litter tray
Over-grooming around the perineum (bottom)
Aggression (this might occur during a painful episode if a cat is held around the area of his abdomen)
Making frequent trips to the litter box and producing very small amounts of urine, or no urine each time
If your vet has diagnosed your cat with an FLUTD, in addition to the medical treatment the following should be done to address it at home:
Increase your cat’s fluid intake to make his urine more dilute and therefore less of an irritant to the lining of his bladder
Address environmental stress through the availability of cat resources
Adjust the litter tray set up
Your vet should always be your first port of call and a referral to a Cat Behaviourist may be required depending on the nature and severity of the problem.