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Constipation in Cats: What To Do

Constipation in cats can be a sign of an underlying health issue and could cause your cat severe pain or discomfort. Today, our Newtown vets discuss some of the causes of constipation in cats and when a trip to the emergency vet may be necessary.

Constipation in Cats

Most cats will pass a stool approximately every 24 to 36 hours. If your cat poops less frequently, strains when attempting to have a bowel movement, constipation could be the culprit. Constipation is a fairly common problem amongst cats and usually, constipation that is mild in nature can be remedied at home with a few lifestyle changes. 

If your kitty becomes constipated infrequently there’s likely no cause for concern, 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.

Constipation can be a symptom of a serious underlying health issue and could cause severe discomfort or pain for your cat. 

What causes constipation in cats?

Constipation can occur if your cat's digestive system isn't able to move things through their intestines normally. Factors contributing to your cat’s constipation 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
  • Allergies
  • Nerve problems
  • Narrow places, tumors or other problems inside the colon
  • Cancer
  • 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 the symptoms of constipation?

Normally, cat feces is well-formed, rich brown in color, and moist enough that litter will stick to it.

Signs of constipation in cats include hard, dry stools which end up either inside or outside of the litter box. This is because when a cat is constipated the discomfort may cause them to leave the litter box before they are finished. 

Other 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 you notice signs of discomfort when your cat uses the litter box, contact your vet as this may also indicate serious urinary tract issues.

Since constipation can be a sign of another underlying health issue, you may also notice one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Drinking more or less water
  • Hiding
  • Difficulty jumping up
  • Muscle loss
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Peeing more
  • Walking stiffly

If your cat is displaying any of these symptoms with or without constipation, it's time to visit your vet.

How is constipation treated in cats?

Though some constipation issues are mild and can be treated with changes to diet and lifestyle, along with at-home remedies, some may be severe and need the attention of your vet. Serious issues may become emergencies.

Constipation must be treated as soon as possible to decrease the risk of permanent damage as a result of prolonged distension of the colon.

To treat constipation in cats, the underlying disorder must be identified and if possible, corrected.

Impacted feces should be removed and recurrences prevented. 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 - some types of enemas designed for humans are 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 megacolon, which is an enlarged intestine due to a defect in the colon’s muscle strength.

Cats with chronic constipation or megacolon that do not respond to medical treatment may need to have the section of the large intestine that’s affected removed.

How to treat constipation in cats: At-Home Remedies

These at-home remedies and lifestyle changes may help your cat if they experience infrequent and mild constipation:

  • 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)

Should I watch my cat for constipation?

Track the frequency of your cat’s litter box deposits and stool consistency initially for at least twice a week, then weekly or biweekly.

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.

Has it been more than 48 hours since your cat's last bowel movement? Our Newtown emergency department is open 24/7. Contact us or bring your cat in for immediate treatment. 

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