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Constipation in Cats: Causes & What to Do?

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Constipation in Cats: Causes & What to Do?

Constipation can cause your cat to become uncomfortable and restless. It can also pose a serious health concern. Here, our Apple Valley vets share signs of constipation in cats, causes and tips for treating this condition. 

What is constipation in cats?

Most cats will pass stool approximately every 24 to 36 hours. If you notice that your cat is pooping less frequently, straining to have bowel movements, or doesn't leave any feces in the litter box, constipation may be an issue. This is a common issue in cats that is usually mild enough to be remedied with at-home treatments. 

If you notice that your cat frequently becoming constipated, there is likely no cause for concern. However, you should contact your vet if it become an issue or if it's been longer than 48-72 hours since your cat last had a bowel movement.

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 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:

  • Kidney issues
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Arthritis pain
  • Not enough fiber in her diet
  • Pain or other issues in the spine
  • 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)
  • Ruptured or impacted anal sacs (can also cause pain with defecation)
  • Allergies
  • Nerve problems
  • Perianal disease
  • An obstruction such as bones or string blocking the colon
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Narrow places, tumors or other problems inside the colon
  • Cancer
  • Chronic diseases such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes or kidney disease
  • Dry food diets (can predispose cats to constipation and dehydration)

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?

Generally speaking, cat feces is well-formed, a 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.

Some other symptoms of constipation may include:

  • Avoiding litter box
  • Straining or crying in the litter box
  • Not being able to poop at all
  • Entering and exiting litter box multiple times when needing to go

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 can be a sign of underlying health issues, you may also notice one or more of the following symptoms:

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

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?

While some constipation issues are mild and can be easily treated with changes to their diet and lifestyle in addition to at-home remedies, some cases can be quite severe and require the attention of your vet. Serious constipation can become an 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.

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

Impacted feces needs to be removed and recurrences prevented. The inability to pass urine or feces in your cat, or if they are experiencing pain when they do, is considered a veterinary emergency. Your vet may first run applicable diagnostic testing and provide fluids to your cat to provide immediate relief as well as prescribe medications.

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 may help to relieve your feline friend’s constipation:

  • Minimize stress and anxiety
  • Provide probiotics
  • Help your cat maintain a healthy weight
  • 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
  • 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

Should I watch my cat for constipation?

Track the frequency of your cat's litter box deposits and their stool consistency initially for at least twice a week and following that, weekly and then 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.

Is your cat constipated? Contact Bear Valley Animal Hospital today to book an examination for your feline friend.

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Bear Valley Animal Hospital welcomes new and existing clients from Hesperia, Victorville, Lucerne Valley, and across the High Desert to our Apple Valley veterinary clinic.

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