Persistent Erection (Priapism and Paraphimosis) in Cats

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Key takeaways

Persistent erection, known as priapism, is when a male cat’s penis remains erect for at least 1 hour in the absence of sexual stimulation.

  • If the penis is extended, but not erect, this is known as paraphimosis
  • Both priapism and paraphimosis can obstruct the passage of urine, which is painful and potentially dangerous
  • Priapism and paraphimosis are rare in cats, but both are a medical emergency
  • Continued congestion of the urinary tract can cause necrosis (tissue death), and inability to pass urine at all is a medical emergency
  • The most common causes include injury, certain drugs, urinary tract disease, and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
  • Diagnosis is made through physical examination and ultrasound
  • Conservative treatment with cold compresses, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and diuretics may be attempted, but cats may require penile amputation and surgery to reconstruct the urethral opening in severe cases
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A closer look: Persistent Erection (Priapism and Paraphimosis) in Cats

Priapism and paraphimosis are uncommon in cats and can be a sign of serious underlying disease or injury. Both are emergencies and immediate veterinary care is required before life-threatening complications develop.

Possible causes

Risk factors

The longer both priapism and paraphimosis are left untreated, the higher the risk of permanent tissue damage. Penile tissue that becomes quickly swollen is a more severe presentation, leading to severe pain and tissue death.

Testing and diagnosis

Physical examination confirms presentation of priapism or paraphimosis. To determine the cause, ultrasound may be recommended, as well as blood tests and urinalysis.

Conservative treatment may be attempted first to restore normal blood flow and decrease swelling. Examples of conservative treatment are cold compresses, lubrication, massage, anti-inflammatories, diuretics, aspiration of blood from the engorged penis, and injection of adrenaline-containing saline into the penis.

Failure of conservative treatment can occur, and cats may need surgery to remove the penis and reconstruct the urethral opening (perineal urethrostomy), especially in cases of severe tissue damage and death. Prognosis following surgery is good. Persistent erection and persistent extension of a non-erect penis are difficult to distinguish. These symptoms are self-evident and not likely to be confused with other symptoms.

Associated symptoms


Autumn P. Davidson , DVM, MS, DACVIM - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
David Godfrey BVetMed PGDip CertSAD CertSAM DipABVP (feline) FRSB FRCVS - Writing for Vetlexicon
Zülfükar kadir sarıtaş / Musa Korkmaz / Fatma Görücü / Sefa Celik - Writing for Ankara Üniversitesi Veteriner Fakültesi Dergisi
Autumn P. Davidson , DVM, MS, DACVIM - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
PetMD Editorial - Writing for PetMD

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