Constipation in cats can become a health concern in addition to causing restlessness and general discomfort. Our Lexington vets share causes of constipation in cats, symptoms and tips for treating the condition.
What is constipation in cats?
Most cats will poop about every 24 to 36 hours. If your cat is pooping less often, doesn't leave any deposits in the litter box or strains when he attempts to poop, constipation is likely the problem.
This is a common issue for cats that's typically mild enough to be treated with at-home remedies. While there's no need to worry if it happens infrequently, you should get in touch with your vet if it becomes a more frequent problem or if it's been more than 48 to 72 hours since your kitty has had a bowel movement.
Constipation can sometimes point to serious health issues, not to mention become uncomfortable (and severe in some cases).
What causes constipation in cats?
Constipation can happen if things aren't moving through the intestines normally. These factors might contribute to your cat's constipation:
- Perianal disease
- Arthritis pain
- Nerve problems
- 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
- Feline megacolon (colon gets large enough that the muscles no longer squeeze and hard, dry stool builds up inside)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Kidney issues
- Narrow places, tumors or other problems inside the colon
- Anxiety or stress
- Excessive grooming (leads to extra hair in the digestive tract)
- Chronic diseases such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes or kidney disease
- Ruptured or impacted anal sacs (can also cause pain with defecation)
- Pain or other issues in the spine
While older cats experience constipation more frequently than kittens, cats of any age or breed who don't drink enough water or eat a low-fiber diet can develop the condition.
What are symptoms of constipation?
Normally, cat poop is well-formed, rich brown in color and is 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 (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 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
- Difficulty jumping up
- Muscle loss
- Weight loss
- Peeing more
- Walking stiffly
If your cat is displaying any of these symptoms with or without constipation, consult a veterinarian.
How is constipation in cats treated?
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 does 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 relive your cat’s constipation:
- Provide probiotics
- Help your cat maintain a healthy weight
- 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
- Minimize stress and anxiety
- 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 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.