Constipation in Cats
The majority of cats will pass a stool about every 24 to 36 hours. If your kitty poops less often than this, strains when trying to have a bowel movement, or doesn’t leave any feces in the litter box, they could be constipated. This is a problem seen relatively often in cats and is usually generally mild enough to be cared for with remedies at home.
If your feline friend doesn't become constipated often, there is probably no reason to be worried, but you need to contact your veterinarian if it becomes a common issue or if it has been more than 48 to 72 hours since your cat's last bowel movement.
Constipation could be a symptom of a serious underlying health problem and might be causing your kitty considerable discomfort - or sometimes even severe pain.
What can cause constipation in cats?
Cats can become constipated if their digestive system can't move things through their intestines normally. Some elements that could be contributing to your cat’s constipation are:
- Not enough fiber in their diet
- Anxiety or stress
- Dry food diets (can predispose cats to constipation and dehydration)
- An obstruction such as bones or string blocking the colon
- Pain or other issues in the spine
- Excessive grooming (leads to extra hair in the digestive tract)
- Arthritis pain
- Kidney issues
- Feline megacolon (colon gets large enough that the muscles no longer squeeze, leading to a buildup of hard, dry stool inside)
- Ruptured or impacted anal sacs (can also cause pain with defecation)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Nerve problems
- Chronic diseases such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or kidney disease
- Perianal disease
- Narrow places, tumors, or other problems inside the colon
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 cat 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 - 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:
- Avoiding litter box
- Straining or crying in the litter box
- Entering and exiting litter box multiple times when needing to go
- Not being able to poop at all
If you see your cat displaying signs of discomfort when using the litter box, call your vet because it could be a sign of a serious urinary tract problem.
Because constipation could be a sign of another underlying health problem, your cat might also display one or more of these symptoms:
- Difficulty jumping up
- Drinking more or less water
- Decreased appetite
- Muscle loss
- Peeing more
- Weight loss
- Walking stiffly
If your cat is showing any of the symptoms listed above with or without constipation, you need to call your vet as quickly as possible.
How is constipation treated in cats?
While some constipation problems are mild and can be treated with changes to your kitty's lifestyle and diet, along with at-home remedies, some can be severe requiring veterinary attention. Serious issues could become emergencies.
Your cat's constipation has to be treated as quickly as possible to lower the risks 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 a 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 your cat's constipation: Home Remedies
These at-home remedies could help to alleviate your cat’s constipation:
- Help your cat maintain a healthy weight
- Provide probiotics
- Minimize stress and anxiety
- Over-the-counter laxatives (consult your vet, as these may worsen symptoms in cats with underlying or chronic diseases)
- 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
- Increase exercise to help with weight loss, reduce anxiety and promote normal movement of intestines
Should I monitor 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.