Constipation can make your cat feel uncomfortable and restless, as well as pose a serious health risk. Our La Pine veterinarians discuss the symptoms of constipation in cats, as well as the causes and treatment options.
What is constipation in cats?
The average cat will pass a stool every 24 to 36 hours. Constipation could be the cause of your cat pooping less frequently, straining to have a bowel movement, or not leaving any feces in the litter box. It's a common problem in cats, but it's usually mild enough to be treated at home.
If your cat becomes constipated infrequently, there's probably nothing to worry about, but contact your vet if it becomes a regular problem or if it's been more than 48 to 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 its intestines normally. Factors contributing to your cat’s constipation might 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, leading to a buildup of hard, dry stool 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 signs of constipation?
Normally, cat feces is well-formed, rich brown, and moist enough that litter will stick to it.
Constipation in cats is characterized by hard, dry stools that end up either inside or outside of the litter box; the discomfort of passing these stools may cause your cat to leave the litter box before it is empty.
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 can be a sign of another underlying health issue, you may also notice one or more of the following symptoms:
- 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, it's time to visit your vet.
How is constipation treated in cats?
Though some constipation issues are mild and can be treated with dietary and lifestyle changes as well as at-home remedies, others may be severe and require the attention of your veterinarian. Serious problems can quickly escalate into 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.
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 has long-term constipation or the inability to empty her colon on her own, she may have a megacolon, which is an enlarged intestine caused by a defect in the colon's muscle strength.
Treatment for cats with chronic constipation or megacolon that do not respond to medical treatment may be 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
- 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 at least twice a week, then weekly or biweekly.
Contact your veterinarian if you notice hard, dry feces, or if your cat is straining while defecating or exhibiting other symptoms of constipation, especially if diarrhea is present, as 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.