If your cat is constipated it can cause discomfort and restlessness - it can also become a serious health concern. Here, our Santa Cruz County vets share symptoms, causes, and treatment options for constipation in cats.
What is constipation in cats?
Most cats will have at least one bowel movement roughly every 24 to 36 hours. If your cat is pooping less frequently, strains when they attempt to poop or doesn’t leave any deposits in the litter box, constipation is likely the issue. It’s a common problem in cats that’s usually mild enough to be remedied with at-home treatments.
If it happens infrequently, there’s no need to worry, but you should contact your vet if it becomes a common problem or if it’s been more than 48 to 72 hours since they've had a bowel movement. Constipation can sometimes be a sign of serious health issues, not to mention it can be very uncomfortable for your feline friend.
What are the causes of constipation in cats?
Constipation can occur if things aren’t moving normally through the intestines. Factors contributing to your cat’s constipation may include:
- Pain or other issues in the spine
- Anxiety or stress
- Arthritis pain
- 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
- Kidney issues
- Excessive grooming (leads to extra hair in the digestive tract)
- Feline megacolon (colon gets large enough that the muscles no longer squeeze and hard, dry stool builds up inside)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Nerve problems
- Narrow places, tumors or other problems inside the colon
- Chronic diseases such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes or kidney disease
- Ruptured or impacted anal sacs (can also cause pain with defecation)
- Perianal disease
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 in cats?
Normally, cat poop 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 (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?
In many cases, mild cases of constipation can be treated with diet and lifestyle adjustments. In more severe cases, you will need to seek veterinary care.
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.
Please note that enemas should only be done by your veterinarian - never attempt to do one at home as this could be dangerous for your cat.
If your cat’s constipation is long-term they're suffering from obstipation (the inability to empty her colon on her own), they may have megacolon - a condition in which the colon (which is part of the large intestine) becomes enlarged 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.
At-home Remedies: Constipation in Cats Treatment
These at-home remedies may help to relieve your cat’s constipation:
- Minimize stress and anxiety
- 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
- Provide probiotics
- Help your cat maintain a healthy weight
- 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.