Constipation is the infrequent or difficult passage of dry, hard feces. It is a common problem in cats, particularly middle-aged cats, although any breed, age, or sex can develop constipation at any time. It is important to understand the underlying causes of this condition and know the signs and symptoms so you can intervene quickly when constipation occurs.
What Causes Cat Constipation?
Cat constipation can occur due to many different underlying causes and illnesses.
Common causes of cat constipation include:
- Lack of exercise
- Poor litter box management
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Endocrinopathies such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism
- Neuromuscular dysfunction
- Excessive grooming and ingestion of hair
- Obstruction of the rectum
- Diseases of the pelvis or rectum
Because so many underlying conditions can cause constipation, it is important to have your cat seen by a veterinarian to diagnose constipation and to address any concurrent illnesses or manage issues that may be contributing to the problem.
What are The Signs of Constipation in Cats?
One of the first symptoms pet owners notice is straining in the litter box. This is a symptom pet owners must pay very close attention to because straining to urinate and straining to defecate can look very similar. Straining to urinate is an emergency situation and must be addressed by a veterinarian immediately. If your cat is straining in the litter box and you are not 100% certain that your cat is urinating normally, take your cat to the veterinarian right away.
In addition to straining to defecate, your cat may vocalize while in the litter box. Constipated cats will often repeatedly attempt to defecate without passing any cat stool or will pass only small, hard bowel movements. Cats with chronic, long-term constipation may pass a small amount of watery diarrhea around the constipated feces. They may also suffer from dehydration, loss of appetite, vomiting, and weight loss.
How is Cat Constipation Treated?
Mild cases of constipation can be treated with oral medications and dietary changes. Moderate to severe cases of constipation, however, must first be addressed with an enema to soften the impacted feces so your cat can pass it. Never try to perform an enema on your cat at home – you may seriously hurt your cat, and many human enema products can be toxic for cats. This procedure should only be performed by your veterinarian.
Once your cat has started defecating again, your veterinarian may prescribe medications to help prevent future episodes of constipation. These may include medications to soften the stool, pro-kinetic drugs to increase motility of the colon, and medications to manage nausea which can occur secondary to constipation.
Some cats also respond well to fiber supplements, while others do best with a low-fiber diets. Some trial and error may be needed to find the best combination of diet and medication for your cat’s needs.
Keeping your cat hydrated is also an important factor in preventing future episodes of constipation. Switching to a canned food diet instead of dry food can help, as can adding water to your cat’s food to increase his or her moisture intake.
Adding water bowls of various shapes and sizes throughout your house can encourage water intake. Some cats love water fountains or a dripping faucet and will drink more if this is provided to them.
You can also add a bit of tuna juice or low sodium chicken broth to your cat’s water to encourage him or her to drink more.
Home Remedy for Cat Constipation
Constipation is an uncomfortable condition, so if you suspect your cat may be constipated, don’t waste time with at home remedies for cat constipation. See your veterinarian right away for prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Constipation that is left untreated will worsen and can become obstipation – a severe form of constipation where nothing can pass at all – so it’s best to seek veterinary care promptly rather than trying home remedies for constipation in cats first.
You may have read about home remedies for cat constipation such as feeding canned pumpkin. Although this will not hurt your cat, it is unlikely to help, especially if your cat’s constipation is moderate to severe.
Never give your cat any over-the-counter medications or medications intended for humans, as many of these products are toxic to cats. Always contact your veterinarian prior to giving your cat any new medications or supplements.
Managing Cat Constipation Long Term
Unfortunately, cats that experience a constipation episode are more likely to become constipated again in the future, especially if the underlying cause of the constipation is not managed. The good news is that there are steps you can take at home to address constipation and prevent future episodes.
Preventing dehydration is one of the key steps in combating feline constipation issues. Switching your cat to a canned diet can help increase moisture intake and improve hydration. You can also encourage your cat to drink more water by using a water fountain, adding more water bowls throughout your home, leaving a faucet dripping, or flavoring your cat’s water with a bit of tuna juice or low sodium chicken broth.
The increased hydration will help feces pass more easily, reducing constipation and straining.
Control Cat Diets
If your cat is overweight, a weight loss plan is a must. Obesity is a big risk factor for feline constipation as well as many other health conditions. Getting your cat to lose weight in a safe and healthy way will not only reduce the likelihood of future constipation episodes but can also reduce pain and inflammation that may be contributing to the problem as well.
To help your cat lose weight, good portion control is the key. Your veterinarian can help you determine how much to feed your cat in order to achieve a safe, gradual weight loss. Remember that controlling portions also means controlling treat intake! In general, your cat should receive no more than 10% of his total daily calories from treats.
Monitor Their Litter Boxes
Managing your cat’s litter box is another factor you’ll need to consider when it comes to preventing cat constipation. If your cat doesn’t like the litter box, he may hold his urine and feces for as long as possible to avoid using it, and this can lead to constipation. Similarly, if your cat is being bullied away from the litter box by another cat, this can also lead to problems.
Your household should have one litter box per cat, plus one extra. The litter boxes should be in separate locations and should be easily accessible for your cat. Most cats prefer an unscented clumping clay cat litter and an uncovered box. The boxes should be cleaned at least once a day. Remember, your cat has to walk into the bathroom with his bare feet – so make sure it is clean!