Constipation in cats
Constipation can be a common issue among cats with most cat owners seeing this condition at least once in their cat. Cats should typically pass a stool approximately every 24 to 36 hours. If your cat is defecating less frequently, or you find them straining when attempting to have a bowel movement or doesn’t leave any feces in the litter box, constipation could be the problem. It’s a common problem in cats that’s usually mild enough to be remedied with at-home treatments.
Occasional constipation shouldn't be anything to worry about and should be easy to treat, but you should contact your vet if it becomes a common problem or if it’s been more than 48 to 72 hours since your cat had a bowel movement.
It is possible that constipation can be a symptom of a serious underlying health issue and may be causing your cat considerable discomfort - or even severe pain in some cases.
What are some causes of constipation in cats?
Constipation happens when your cat is unable to pass food waste through their intestines normally. Some of the most common causes of constipation in cats might include:
- Pain or other issues in the spine
- Anxiety or stress
- Arthritis pain
- Dry food diets (can predispose cats to constipation and dehydration)
- Not enough fiber in her diet
- An obstruction such as bones or string blocking the colon
- Kidney issues
- Excessive grooming (leads to extra hair in the digestive tract)
- Feline megacolon (colon gets large enough that the muscles no longer squeeze, leading to a buildup of hard, dry stool inside)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Nerve problems
- Narrow places, tumors or other problems inside the colon
- Chronic diseases such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes or kidney disease
- Ruptured or impacted anal sacs (can also cause pain with defecation)
- Perianal disease
Though elderly cats experience constipation more often than kittens, the condition can develop in cats of any breed or age who eat a low-fiber diet or don’t drink enough water.
What are some common symptoms of constipation?
Normal feces from a healthy cat will be solid, rich brown in color and slightly wet to the touch.
Hard, dry stools which your cat may end up leaving outside the litterbox are a main sign of constipation - the discomfort of trying to pass these stools may have your cat leaving the litter box before actually being finished.
Other common symptoms of constipation may include:
- Entering and exiting litter box multiple times when needing to go
- Straining or crying in the litter box
- Avoiding litter box
- Not being able to poop at all
If your cat is audibly in discomfort while attempting to use the litter box you should make an appointment with your vet immediately as this could be a sign of a urinary tract infection.
Constipation is commonly a symptom of other conditions and disorders and your cat may also have other symptoms such as:
- Decreased appetite
- Drinking more or less water
- Difficulty jumping up
- Muscle loss
- Weight loss
- Peeing more
- Walking stiffly
If your cat is displaying any of these symptoms with or without constipation, you should book an appointment to see your vet immediately.
How can constipation in cats be treated?
Mild constipation may occasionally happen and can easily be treated at home, but if your cat is having more severe symptoms or its been a couple of days then you should see your vet immediately as constipation can quickly become a veterinary emergency.
Constipation must be treated as soon as possible to decrease the risk of permanent damage as a result of prolonged distension of the colon.
In order to thoroughly and fully treat constipation in cats, the root causes of constipation must be diagnosed in order to treat it.
Your cat will most likely have impacted feces which will need to be removed. The inability to pass urine or feces, or pain when passing urine or feces, is considered a veterinary emergency. Your veterinarian may first run any applicable diagnostic tests, then provide fluids or an enema for immediate relief, and prescribe medications or recommend over-the-counter meds.
A qualified veterinary professional can safely and effectively perform an enema for your cat - NEVER attempt to do this yourself as the human versions are usually toxic to cats.
If your cat’s constipation is long-term or if your kitty is suffering from obstipation (the inability to empty her colon on her own), they may have a megacolon, which is an enlarged intestine due to a defect in the colon’s muscle strength.
As a last resort for cats that suffer from chronic constipation or megacolon and have not responded well to medical treatment may need to have the section of the large intestine that’s affected removed.
How to help your cat at home
Here are some treatment options that you can try at home to help relieve your feline friend.
- Minimize stress and anxiety
- Increase exercise to help with weight loss, reduce anxiety and promote normal movement of intestines
- Try a new diet (lamb, chicken, special limited ingredients or hypoallergenic diets) to reduce inflammation and allow intestines to move things normally
- Try fiber-rich foods, a teaspoon of canned, pureed pumpkin once or twice a day, or ginger as natural remedies
- Provide probiotics
- Help your cat maintain a healthy weight
- Over-the-counter laxatives (consult your vet, as these may worsen symptoms in cats with underlying or chronic diseases)
What should I watch for?
You should always monitor your cat's litter habits, watching for frequency and consistency. Keeping track of this will help you to identify possible issues sooner.
If you see hard, dry feces, or if you notice that your cat is straining while defecating or exhibiting other symptoms of constipation, contact your veterinarian - especially if diarrhea is a factor since dehydration can quickly become a problem.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.