Constipation in cats can not only cause pain and discomfort but may also lead to more serious complications if not treated quickly. Our vets in Los Angeles discuss the signs of constipation in cats, why it happens and what you should do when it does.
Constipation in Cats: What To Do
You have likely noticed that your cat poops at least once every day or so. If your cat is pooping less frequently, strains when she attempts to poop or doesn’t leave any deposits in the litter box, constipation is likely the issue. Constipation is a common issue affecting cats of all ages.
If it happens infrequently, there’s no need to worry, but you should contact your vet if it becomes a common problem or if it’s been more than 48 to 72 hours since she’s had a bowel movement. Constipation can sometimes be a sign of serious health issues, not to mention be uncomfortable (and severe in some cases).
Causes of Constipation in Cats
What actually causes constipation in cats? Constipation can occur if things aren’t moving normally through the intestines. Some of the common factors that can contribute to the development of constipation 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 and hard, dry stool builds up 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.
Symptoms of Constipation in Cats
Normally, cat poop is well-formed, rich brown in color and moist enough that litter will stick to it.
The typical signs of constipation in cats include hard, dry stools that end up either inside or outside of the litter box (the discomfort of trying to pass these stools may have your cat leaving the litter box before actually being finished).
Other symptoms of constipation may include:
- Entering and exiting the 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
Any signs of discomfort that you note from your cat when they attempt to use the litter box should be discussed with your vet as soon as possible as these can indicate a serious issue.
Because constipation in cats is usually a secondary condition, some of the other signs that you may see include:
- Decreased appetite
- Drinking more or less water
- Difficulty jumping up
- Muscle loss
- Weight loss
- Peeing more
- Walking stiffly
Regardless of whether or not your cat is constipated, you should reach out to your vet as soon as possible if you notice any of the above symptoms.
Constipation in Cats: Treatment
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.
Let’s stress that veterinary expertise is needed to safely and effectively perform the enema - these should not be done at home as some types of enemas designed for humans are toxic to cats.
If your cat’s constipation is long-term or she’s suffering from obstipation (the inability to empty her colon on her own), she may have megacolon, 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
Here are some of the things that you can try at home to help relieve your cat's 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)
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.