Cat Constipation: The Ultimate Pain in the Butt
Just like you, your cat companion can suffer from constipation. In this article, learn how to spot the problem as well as fix it in a safe and effective way.
At one point or another, most of us have experienced the uncomfortable reality of constipation. When it comes to gastrointestinal (GI) upset, our cats are no different. It is entirely possible for your feline friend to be constipated, and it's not something that should be ignored.
In this article, we'll cover the tough (pun intended) reality of cat constipation, including what causes it, what it may mean, how to treat it, and how to prevent it from happening again. Let's get to it!
Feeling Constipated... What Exactly Is It?
A cat’s constipation can often be overlooked. You may not initially realize that your beloved feline can’t poop. Constipation is difficult or infrequent bowel movements. Typically, cats should have at least one bowel movement each day. Bowel movements remove toxins from the body and help maintain optimal overall health. However, when constipation hits, a cat will often go for days without a bowel movement. As you can imagine, constipation can cause a lot of GI upset and lead to serious conditions, which we’ll get to.
What is Obstipation
If the GI issues don’t resolve on their own ( they usually don't), your veterinarian may describe your cat's constipation as obstipation. Obstipation is severe, intractable constipation that occurs when a cat cannot clear the mass of dry, hard feces that has been accumulating in the colon. Obstipation can lead to a complete blockage of the colon with feces, ultimately resulting in loss of colonic motility.
Symptoms of Constipation: The Signs To Know!
Constipation has many clinical signs of which cat owners should be aware. The sooner your recognize your cat’s constipation, the quicker you can get your cat some relief.
Straining to Defecate
A telltale sign of constipation is straining to defecate. If your constipated cat can push any feces out, the amount is very small. Pooping should never be a challenge for your feline friend, so take note when pooping becomes a challenge.
Crying Out in Pain
Crying out in pain often accompanies straining to defecate. Like dogs, cats are notorious for hiding pain. Therefore, if your cat vocalizes when trying to use the bathroom, you can be sure that something is very wrong.
Characteristics of Stool
If your cat is straining to defecate or crying out in pain when using the bathroom, investigate further and determine whether they are passing any fecal matter. Typically, constipated cats will have small, hard, and dry stools that may also be covered in blood or mucous.
Frequent Trips to the Litter Box Without Defecating
Constipated cats make frequent trips to the litter box but cannot relieve themselves. If your cat is going to the litter box more frequently than usual, determine whether they are actually defecating.
Signs of Abdominal Pain
Cat constipation often causes severe abdominal pain. Even the friendliest of cats may hide when company comes over for fear that any additional touching or playing may cause more pain.
A constipated cat will likely skip out on meals because of their moderate to severe stomach pain. Keep a close eye on your cat’s food consumption.
In a constipated cat, weight loss may be caused by reduced appetite, reduced water intake, or both. Dehydration can quickly make a cat quite ill, so pay close attention to how much water your cat is drinking.
Lethargy or Excessive Laziness
If you’re constipated, you probably don’t want to move around much. The same goes for constipated cats. Lethargy and laziness are tricky symptoms for pet parents to notice, though, because cats can be couch potatoes and love their naps. However, if your typically playful cat has recently been retreating to their bed more often than usual, they may be constipated.
Constipation can also cause vomiting, particularly if the constipation is severe.
Lack of Grooming
Finally, if your cat is spending less time grooming themselves, they may be constipated. Cats are known to be quite the cleaners. A lack of grooming indicates that a cat isn’t feeling their best.
Many cat constipation symptoms are nonspecific, meaning that they can also be found with other health conditions. For example, changes in cat stool can also be a sign of a food allergy and intestinal parasites. Weight loss is also a sign of depression and cancer. Therefore, cat owners must seek accurate answers from their veterinarian for any symptoms their cat is experiencing.
What Causes Constipation
After recognizing that your cat is constipated, you’ll need to figure out why. Determining the ‘why’ will help you treat the constipation and prevent it from recurring.
Dehydration is a symptom and cause of constipation. This is a fairly easy fix. Pet owners should make sure that their furbaby always has free access to a fresh, clean water source. Again, untreated dehydration can make cats very ill very quickly.
Too little dietary fiber can also cause cat constipation. Take a look at the fiber content in your cat’s food and talk with your veterinarian about how much fiber your cat needs. Dietary fiber is especially beneficial for cats who are prone to chronic constipation. Pet owners can easily incorporate fiber into their feline's diet by adding cat-approved fruits and veggies into their cat’s food.
Ingestion of Foreign Objects
If your cat accidentally swallows a foreign object like cloth or string, the object can obstruct the small intestine and colon. This blockage causes constipation because the object prevents feces from passing through.
Obstruction of the Colon
Colonic obstruction may result from ingesting a foreign object, or have other causes like a hernia, tumor, or primary intestinal obstruction. As you can imagine, these other causes of constipation are quite complicated.
Most cats are known for keeping their fur in pristine condition. However, excessive grooming can result in ingesting large amounts of fur, quickly leading to constipation.
Side Effect of Medication
For people, certain medications, like opioids, can cause constipation; this can happen in cats, too. Sometimes, particularly in emergency situations, medication must be administered without much time to prepare. However, if your cat has a planned surgery or you know that they need a specific medication that causes constipation, you can plan ahead to prevent the constipation, for example by adding in a fiber supplement. (More on supplements in a moment!)
Prostate Inflammation and Abscessation
In male cats, prostate problems like inflammation or an abscess (pus-filled sac) can cause constipation. An enlarged prostate caused by inflammation or an abscess can press against the intestines, preventing feces from passing through, thus causing constipation. Your veterinarian would be able to examine your cat’s prostate to determine if it’s enlarged and causing GI problems.
Painful defecation, while a symptom of constipation, may also be a symptom of other pain conditions like arthritis or a pelvic fracture. Painful defecation can make a cat avoid using the bathroom, resulting in constipation or worsening GI issues.
Orthopedic Problems or Neurologic Disorders
Orthopedic problems (e.g.,arthritis) and neurological disorders (e.g., spinal nerve dysfunction) can also cause cat constipation. This is another example of how constipation may be a telltale sign of a serious health condition.
Obesity, quite honestly, makes everything more difficult. Obese cats have trouble squatting to defecate, increasing the risk of constipation.
Finally, feline megacolon can either be a cause or result of constipation. Sometimes, a neurological problem causes the colon to stop contracting, causing feces to accumulate, leading to constipation. Other times, constipation from another cause (like those listed above), causes the colon to distend with feces; too much distension literally stretches the colon and keeps it from contracting to push the feces through. Megacolon often requires surgical treatment.
Home Remedies for Constipation
Before we dive into at-home remedies for cat constipation, we want to reiterate that determining constipation’s cause must come first. Simply treating the constipation is like putting a band-aid on an open wound: if the underlying cause isn't addressed, the wound won’t get better and will probably worsen.
Consult with your veterinarian before trying these remedies. If your cat has swallowed a foreign object that’s gotten lodged in the intestines, some of these remedies may not work, or may make matters worse, without the foreign object being removed.
Increase in Water Consumption
Correcting dehydration is one of the easiest at-home remedies but must be managed appropriately. Cat owners should ensure that their feline friend has plenty of clean water and encourage them to drink whenever possible. However, do not force your cat to drink when it doesn’t want to; forcing a cat to drink could lead to an aversion to the water bowl, making dehydration that much harder to correct.
Work with your veterinarian to come up with a rehydration plan. Your veterinarian can assess your cat’s dehydration and determine how much water your cat needs to drink to become rehydrated.
Be aware that severely dehydrated cats need veterinary treatment with intravenous fluids to correct the dehydration.
Your vet may recommend purchasing a cat-specific stool softener to help get things moving. Ask your vet for a list of appropriate stool softeners and the recommended dose for your cat's needs.
Like humans, cats sometimes need a laxative to relieve constipation. Many pet parents have found success with Miralax, a supplement you may already have in your cabinet. Mix 1/4 tsp of Miralax with your cat’s wet or dry food. Again, consult with your vet for the appropriate dosage for your cat.
Pumpkin is another great supplement that helps relieve constipation in cats. It also helps with feline obesity because it adds bulk to the diet and leaves cats feeling more satisfied without overeating. Make sure to purchase canned pumpkin, not canned pumpkin pie filling. Also, ensure that the canned pumpkin is pure pumpkin without any added sugars or salt.
Talk with your vet about how much canned pumpkin to give your cat.
Your vet may also recommend adding the fiber supplement Metamucil to your cat's diet. Mix 1 to 4 teaspoons into your cat’s food every 12 to 24 hours.
A veterinarian-prescribed high-fiber diet is another at-home remedy. It’s most often recommended for chronic constipation cases. Before a veterinarian prescribes a high-fiber diet, they will probably recommend increasing water intake or administering a laxative.
Increase in Exercise
Increasing your cat's exercise can get things moving through the digestive tract. Consider purchasing a product such as a cat tree, along with interactive cat toys, to enrich your cat’s life and provide a fun, active source of entertainment.
Constipation Remedy: Veterinary Intervention
Veterinary treatment will be needed if the at-home remedies are not successful, the constipation is too severe, or obstipation occurs.
Your vet may prescribe a medication to improve large intestinal motility, allowing the colon to contract properly and move the accumulated fecal matter through. Before prescribing this type of medication, your vet will make sure there is no foreign object stuck in the intestines; increasing the motility when there’s blockage by a foreign object could make matters much worse for your cat.
Manual Evacuation of the Bowels
In some cases, the blockage or damage to the colon is so extreme that the muscles are unable to contract, even with medication; this is what happens with megacolon In these cases, your veterinarian may manually evacuate the bowels during surgery.
In severe cases, surgery is needed to remove a bowel obstruction or manually remove accumulated feces.
Finally, your veterinarian may perform an enema to relieve cat constipation. Do NOT try this at home!! Some over-the-counter enemas contain ingredients that can be highly toxic for cats. When it comes to this procedure, let your vet take the reins.
Additional Constipation Treatment: Natural & Effective
Some cat owners use acupuncture to help manage their chronic constipation; this can work on cats too. Acupuncture works best with consistency and therefore may not be the best option for some cats. However, it is comforting to know that there are alternative, natural options available.
Cats Prone to Constipation
Older cats are more susceptible to experiencing difficult or infrequent bowel movements. With that being said, any cat at any age may suffer from constipation. If you have an older cat, monitor their bowel movements, encourage water intake, and schedule regular, daily playtimes.
Cat Constipation: A Telltale Sign of Other Issues
We cannot stress enough the importance of fully investigating why your cat has constipation. Cat constipation can be a telling symptom of such serious issues as pelvic injuries or osteoarthritis.
Preventing Cat Constipation
Preventing constipation is often easy, as long as you know why constipation develops in the first place. Here are some prevention strategies:
Provide free access to fresh, clean water.
Feed a high-quality food, full of nutrients, that support a healthy digestive tract.
Brush your cat regularly to help prevent hairballs.
Of course, not all causes of constipation, such as a prostate abscess, can be easily prevented. Prevent the causes that you can.
Untreated Cat Constipation: A Serious Issue for Your Feline
Untreated cat constipation can lead to obstipation and, in severe cases, megacolon. Again, cat constipation is nothing to shrug about. The condition must be treated appropriately and promptly.
Inflammation & GI Issues
Many health conditions have inflammation as their root problem. Inflammation in the digestive tract, particularly the colon, contributes to constipation in cats. Many cat owners wonder if they can do anything else to prevent inflammation and its subsequent health problems. We're here to tell you that there is a way and it's a lot easier than you may imagine.
Cat Constipation: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, we know that you want the very best for your feline friend. When it comes to GI issues, most of us can empathize with just how awful constipation’s aches and pains can be. By now, we’re sounding like a broken record: figuring out what’s causing constipation must come first. After that, cat owners can work with their veterinarian to relieve their cat’s constipation and prevent recurrences. From all of us at Honest Paws, we truly hope your beloved four-legged companion feels better soon!