Health & Nutrition | Cats | May 8, 2018

Constipation in Cats

While cats and humans may not have many similar physical features, felines actually share 90 percent of our genes.  There is some evidence that cats “self-domesticated” themselves approximately 10,000 years ago, by helping farmers, in order to infuse themselves into our lives for protection and sustenance.  Our relationship with cats is ancient and symbiotic.  Unfortunately, cats also share many of our ailments and diseases.  Just like humans, cats can suffer from constipation which, if left untreated, can lead to serious health issues.

How to Tell if Your Cat is Constipated 

There are several obvious signs of constipation, but some cats can live with it their whole life without their human realizing it.  The more visible signs are lethargy, vomiting, straining in the litter box, pooping outside the box, small and hard stools or small loose stools with blood in them, and lack of appetite.   Straining in the litter box may also be a sign of a urinary tract infection, especially in male cats, and can be mistaken for constipation.  Some cats may not show any of these, but they only defecate every few days.  This is not normal.  Cats should have a bowel movement at least once a day.  If your cat is not a daily pooper, then there is a chance they may be constipated.  Of course all of the above symptoms can be attributed to completely unrelated issues, however, those unrelated issues can easily lead to constipation.

Causes of Constipation

The reasons why a cat may become constipated are numerous.  Some of the main reasons are dehydration, obstruction of the colon by a foreign object, a tumor or a hernia, trauma or nerve damage, painful defecation due to trauma, joint pain, impacted anal glands, some medications, obesity, and reluctance to use the litter box (which can be caused by a dirty box, sharing a litter box with other felines, behavioral issues, or change in litter).  Keep in mind that dehydration is usually a sign of bigger issues such as kidney disease.  In order for a cat to become dehydrated their food and water intake has to be minimal, and thus a very good indication that something else is going on. It is imperative that you find out as soon as possible what underlying problem is causing your cat to become constipated.

Correcting the Problem

The remedy will be a combination of treating the underlying cause, as well as the resulting constipation.  The type of treatment needed will depend on the severity of constipation and the level of distress your cat is in.   If your cat is constipated due to dehydration they may require Subcutaneous (Sub Q) fluid treatment.  This can be a one-time thing, or an ongoing therapy, especially in very elderly cats who tend to dehydrate easily.  A cat whose dehydration is caused by kidney disease may also need ongoing fluid therapy.  And don’t worry, Sub Q fluid therapy is not as scary as it might sound.  Many vets will be willing to show you how to do it at home for your cat. Mild constipation can easily be resolved with a good fibre diet, fibre supplements such as canned pumpkin, and adding water to your cat’s food.  Many pet food companies carry “high fibre” options.  Your vet may also suggest laxatives and stool softeners.  Daily exercise is a must.

If the constipation is more severe your feline may have to undergo an enema or, if the stool is too compacted, a manual removal of the feces.  In the latter case, anesthesia will be necessary.  If the removal of the stool is fairly uncomplicated and successful your cat should have no further issues.

There is, of course, the worst-case scenario.  If constipation is severe and goes unnoticed for a long time it can stretch the colon so far that the muscles of the digestive tract are damaged permanently.  In this case, the only way to proceed is by removing the damaged portion of the colon surgically.  There are possible complications, just like with any surgery, but in many cases, this surgery can be a lifesaver for the affected cat.