Constipation in cats can cause discomfort and restlessness - not to mention become a health concern. Our Upland vets share signs of constipation in cats, causes and tips for treating the condition.
What is constipation in cats?
Most cats will poop approximately every 24 to 36 hours. If your cat is pooping less frequently, strains when she attempts 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 she’s had a bowel movement. Constipation can sometimes be a sign of serious health issues, not to mention be uncomfortable (and severe in some cases).
What causes 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 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 do 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 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 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.