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Constipation in Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Constipation in Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

If your cat is experiencing bathroom issues, it can not only cause them discomfort but can also lead to potentially serious complications. Our Lacey vets discuss the signs of constipation in cats as well as the common causes and treatment options.

Constipation in Cats: What is it?

You can expect poop from your cat every day typically, but if your cat is straining, passing hard stools or nothing at all then they may be experiencing the signs of constipation. Usually, this issue passes fairly quickly, especially with the help of a number of different home remedies.

Constipation is an issue that typically only happens occasionally but if you notice that it is a common issue for your cat or if it's been more than 72 hours wince their last bowel movement then you should seek veterinary care. Constipation can sometimes be a sign of serious health issues, not to mention be uncomfortable (and severe in some cases).

What causes constipation in cats?

Constipation can occur if things aren’t moving normally through the intestines. Factors contributing to your cat’s constipation may 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
  • 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 signs and symptoms of constipation in cats?

When your cat has a bowel movement it should be well formed and a deep brown color as well as being moist enough to be coated in the litter.

Signs of constipation in cats include hard, dry stools that end up either inside or outside the litter box (discomfort of trying to pass these stools may have your cat leaving the litter box before actually being finished).

Some of the other typical signs of constipation in cats 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

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

Since constipation is a symptom of other health issues, you may also see signs of the underlying condition, which may include:

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

If your cat displays any of these symptoms with or without constipation, consult a veterinarian.

How is constipation in cats treated?

Diet and lifestyle changes are the usual methods of treatment when it comes to cat constipation but in certain more serious cases, you might want to contact a vet for an evaluation. Serious issues may become emergencies.

If your cat has persistent constipation then you will want to seek veterinary care as soon as possible as this can turn into a life-threatening situation when left untreated.

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

When it comes to constipation in cats you may be wondering what to do. These at-home remedies may help to 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)

Should I watch my cat for constipation?

Track the frequency of your cat’s litter box deposits and stool consistency initially 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 as dehydration may 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.

Are you concerned that your cat may be constipated? Contact our Lacey veterinary hospital to schedule an appointment. 

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