At one point or another, most of us have experienced the uncomfortable reality of constipation. When it comes to gastrointestinal upset, our cats are no different. It is entirely possible for your feline friend to also experience constipation and it's not something that should be ignored.
In this article, we'll cover the tough (pun intended) reality of cat constipation, what causes it, what it may mean, how to cure it, and everything you need to know to prevent it from happening again. Let's get to it!
Feeling Constipated... What Exactly Is It?
A constipated cat can often be overlooked. You may not initially realize that your beloved feline is in quite a bit of pain. Constipation is a term that is used to describe difficult or infrequent bowel movements. Typically, cats should have at least one bowel movement each day. It's a necessary part of detoxification and important for maintaining optimal health. However, when constipation hits, the cat will often go days without going to the bathroom. As you can imagine, constipation can cause a lot of gastrointestinal upset and lead to the development of several serious conditions.
What is Obstipation | Severe Constipation
If the gastrointestinal issues do not clear on their own (which they commonly don't), you may hear your veterinarian describe your cat's constipation as obstipation. Obstipation is a word used to describe severe, intractable constipation. It occurs when the cat is unable to clear the mass of dry, hard feces that has been accumulating in the colon. Obstipation can lead to a complete blockage of the large intestine with feces which can ultimately result in loss of the colon’s motility.
Symptoms of Constipation: The Signs To Know!
There are a number of clinical signs of constipation that cat owners must be implicitly aware of. The sooner that you recognize you have a constipated cat on your hands, the quicker you can provide them with relief.
Straining to Defecate
A telltale sign of constipation is observing your cat strain to defecate. If and when they are able to push something out, the feces is in very small amounts. Pooping should never be a challenge for your feline friend. If your cat is straining to defecate, you'll want to take note.
Crying Out in Pain
A symptom that often accompanies straining to defecate is the cat crying out in pain. Cats (and dogs) are notorious for hiding pain. Therefore, if your cat is vocal when trying to use the bathroom, you can be sure that something is very wrong.
Characteristics of Stool
If you recognize that your cat is either straining to defecate or crying out in pain, it is important that you investigate further and determine whether or not they are in fact passing any fecal matter. Typically, constipated cats will have small, hard, dry stools. It is also possible for the stools to be covered in blood or mucous.
Frequent Trips to the Litter Box Without Defecating
Another clinical sign of cat constipation is frequent trips to the litter box, yet not being able to relieve themselves. Again, this is where it's important to recognize the aforementioned signs and make sure to see whether or not your cat is actually defecating.
Signs of Abdominal Pain
As with people, cat constipation often results in severe abdominal pain. Even the friendliest of cats may act anti-social and hide when company comes over for fear that any additional touching or play time may result in more pain.
It is also important for cat parents to keep a close eye on food consumption. A constipated cat will likely skip out on meals as they experience moderate to severe stomach pain.
Due to the fact that the cat may be eating less, weight loss is also an expected result of cat constipation. Weight loss is also directly associated with dehydration which pet owners must keep a close eye on as dehydration can quickly lead to a number of serious conditions.
Lethargy or Excessive Laziness
Additionally, cats experiencing constipation will also show signs of lethargy and laziness. This is often a tricky symptom for pet parents to notice as many cats are known to be couch potatoes and love their naps. However, if your cat is typically playful and has recently been retreating to their bed more often than usual (paired with any of the aforementioned symptoms), they may be dealing with a bout of constipation.
Constipation can also result in vomiting, particularly if the constipation is severe. The body must defecate as a means to detoxify. When severe constipation occurs, the body often finds another means to clear itself of toxicity, which can show up in bouts of moderate to severe vomiting.
Lack of Grooming
Finally, if your cat has been putting less time into grooming themselves, they may be experiencing constipation. Cats are known to be quite the cleaners. This symptom is typically a telling sign that they aren't feeling their best.
We want to mention that the vast majority of symptoms associated with cat constipation are referred to as non-specific symptoms. In other words, while they are clinical signs of constipation, they are also symptoms of a slew of other 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, it is paramount that cat owners seek accurate answers for any symptoms their cat is experiencing.
What Causes Constipation
Once you recognize that your cat is constipated, it is imperative to determine what is causing the issue to develop. Only once an accurate cause is determined can pet parents ensure they are able to cure it and prevent it from occurring in the future.
While dehydration is a symptom of cat constipation, it can also be a cause of the gastrointestinal upset. In fact, studies show that inadequate fluid intake is by far the most common cause of constipation in people and pets alike. This is a fairly easy fix. Pet owners should make sure that their furbaby always has a fresh, clean water source available. Again, if dehydration continues to exist, it can quite quickly lead to the development of more serious issues.
Another common cause of cat constipation is an inadequate amount of fiber in their diet. We encourage our readers to take a look at the fiber content on the back of the cat's bag of food. While your vet may tell you that cats do not need dietary fiber, it can be highly beneficial for cats who are prone to chronic constipation. Pet owners can easily incorporate fiber to their feline's diet by adding cat-approved fruits and veggies into their food.
Ingestion of Foreign Objects
If your cat inadvertently swallows a foreign object such as cloth, string, cloth, bones, or really anything that you can imagine, the object can cause intestinal blockage as well as obstruction of the colon. Both intestinal blockage and obstruction of the colon are directly linked to constipation as the object is unable to pass.
Obstruction of the Colon
The obstruction of the colon may be a result of ingesting a foreign object, but can also be a result of a hernia, tumor, or primary intestinal obstruction. As you may imagine, the recovery of this cause of constipation is much more complicated than constipation due to dehydration.
Most cats are known for keeping their fur in pristine condition. However, excessive grooming can result in the ingestion of a large amount of fur which can quickly lead to constipation. If the cat is also lacking in natural fibers in their diet, hairballs have the ability to cause gastrointestinal upset no matter how much hair is inadvertently consumed.
Side Effect of Medication
Like people, constipation is often a side effect of many conventional drugs. Sometimes, particularly in emergency situations, the medication must be administered without much time to prepare. However, if your cat has a planned surgery or you know that they are due for a specific medication that causes constipation, there are ways to prevent stomach distress. Adding in a fiber supplement is a great way to ensure that the medication won't cause intestinal blockage. (More on supplements in a moment!)
Prostate Inflammation and Abscessation
Cat constipation may also be a symptom of an inflamed prostate or an abscess of the prostate, exhibited by a pus-filled sac. Both are often a result of a long-term infection that has gone untreated. The abscess can also cause a substantial amount of blockage which is directly linked to cat constipation. Again, we want to stress how important it is to not overlook something that may appear to be simply a mere bout of constipation.
We feel it is important to mention that a symptom of constipation, painful defecation, may also be a symptom of another form of distress, including arthritis or a fracture in the hind limbs or pelvis. Painful defecation can also cause the cat to avoid using the bathroom, thus resulting in the development of constipation or worsening stomach issues.
Orthopedic Problems or Neurologic Disorders
Constipation in cats can also be caused by orthopedic problems or neurological disorders. Again, this is a prime example of how constipation may be a result of something as simple of a deficiency in water intake, but can also be a telltale sign of something much more serious.
Obesity in cats is often directly linked to constipation. Furthermore, obesity is tied to several symptoms of constipation and causes of gastrointestinal upset including excessive lethargy and low fiber diets.
Finally, feline megacolon is a severe condition that is a direct cause of cat constipation. Megacolon occurs when the colon becomes extremely inflamed and enlarged and the muscles are unable to squeeze and contract. The result is the build-up of hard, dry stool and, therefore, severe constipation and the potential of obstipation.
Home Remedies for Constipation
Before we dive into at home remedies for cat constipation, we want to reiterate that determining the underlying cause of the gastrointestinal upset is the first necessary step. Simply treating the constipation is much like putting a band-aid on an open wound. If the underlying cause isn't addressed, the wound will reopen and likely worsen.
Increase in Water Consumption
We first want to provide a remedy for the most common cause of cat constipation: dehydration. Inadequate water intake is one of the easiest causes to rectify but one that will prove to worsen if not dealt with appropriately. Cat owners should always ensure that they provide their feline friend with plenty of clean water and encourage them to drink whenever possible.
Your vet may recommend purchasing a cat-approved stool softener in order to help get things moving. Make sure that you ask your vet for a list of appropriate stool softners and for their recommended dose for your cat's individual needs.
Additionally, like humans, sometimes a laxative is needed to relieve constipation. Many pet parents have found success with using Miralax, a supplement you may already have in your cabinet. Simply mix 1/4 tsp of Miralax with your pet's wet or dry food. Again, we always recommend consulting with your vet regarding a more accurate dosage.
Pumpkin for Cats
Another great supplement that helps with both constipation and diarrhea in cats is pumpkin. Canned pumpkin makes for a safe and effective way to cure and prevent gastrointestinal upset. It also helps with felines battling with obesity as it adds bulk to the cat's diet and leaves them 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 and is free of any added sugars or salt.
Your vet may also recommend adding the fiber supplement Metamucil to your cat's diet. Simply mix 1-4 teaspoons into your cat’s food. The Metamucil can be mixed into their food every 12 to 24 hours.
Another remedy for constipation in cats is a veterinarian-prescribed, high-fiber diet. This is more often the means for relief in cases of chronic constipation. Before a veterinarian-prescribed diet is implemented, the vet will likely recommend trying to cure constipation with increased water intake or a simple laxative.
Increase in Exercise
Additionally, something as simple as increasing your cat's exercise and physical activity can have positive effects on the digestive tract. Pet parents may want to consider purchasing a product such as a cat tree to enrich their feline's life and provide a fun, active source of entertainment.
Constipation Remedy: Veterinary Intervention
If the at-home remedies are not successful, if the constipation is too severe, or if obstipation occurs, medical intervention will likely be necessary.
Your vet may prescribe a medication to increase the ability of the large intestine, allowing it to contract properly and therefore be able to relieve the body of the accumulated fecal matter.
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. In these cases, your veterinarian may perform a manual evacuation of the bowels.
In severe cases, surgery may be necessary in order to remove an obstruction in the bowels. Surgery may also be necessary if the constipation is left untreated for a period of time, thus causing obstipation.
Finally, your veterinarian may perform an enema to relieve cat constipation. We highly recommend leaving this procedure up to a trained professional. Furthermore, some over-the-counter enemas contain a slew of 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
Many cat owners have found that chiropractic treatment and acupuncture have proven to be effective ways to help manage chronic constipation. Both chiropractic treatment and acupuncture work best with consistency and therefore may not be the best option for some cat owners. However, it is comforting to know that there are alternative, natural options available.
Cats Prone to Constipation
Studies show that older cats are more susceptible to experiencing difficult or infrequent bowel movements. With that being said, any cat may suffer from constipation at one point or another in their lives. If you have an older cat it is important that you monitor their bowel movements as well as encourage water intake and physical activity whenever possible.
Cat Constipation: A Telltale Sign of Other Issues
We cannot stress enough the importance of fully investigating why your cat is experiencing constipation. Cat constipation can be a telling symptom of diabetes as well as a clinical sign of a hernia or an obstruction of the rectum.
Preventing Cat Constipation
As we previously mentioned, the best way to prevent cat constipation is by preventing its individual causes. Always make sure that your cat as a clean, filled water bowl. Make sure that your cat is being fed high-quality food that is chock full of nutrients and minerals that will encourage a healthy digestive tract. Additionally, cat parents can also implement things such as regular fur brushing which will help prevent hairballs.
To reiterate, the underlying cause of constipation must be determined in order to prevent the digestive issues from becoming chronic.
Untreated Cat Constipation: A Serious Issue for Your Feline
If cat constipation is left untreated, it can lead to obstipation and, in severe cases, total loss of colon’s motility. Again, cat constipation is nothing to shrug about. Cat constipation is not an ailment that pet owners should hope passes with time. The condition must be treated appropriately and in a timely manner.
CBD for Gastrointestinal Issues
When you track the vast majority of health conditions back to their original source, you'll likely find that inflammation is at the root of the problem. In many cases, cat constipation is no different. Many cat owners find themselves wondering if there is anything else they can do in order to prevent inflammation and therefore prevent associated ailments and diseases. We're here to tell you that there is a way and it's a lot easier than you may imagine.
CBD promotes digestive health in cats and dogs alike. Implementing a supplement such as CBD can help your cat's health stay stable. Furthermore, because CBD is all natural, it can be used in conjunction with another supplement such as pumpkin for cats.
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 gastrointestinal issues, most of us can empathize with just how awful the aches and pains of constipation can be. Not to sound like a broken record, but again, figuring out what is causing issues in the gastrointestinal tract is paramount. Once the cause is determined, cat owners can actively work to cure and prevent the unpleasant condition. From all of us at Honest Paws, we truly hope your beloved four-legged companion feels better soon!