A healthy cat usually has at least one bowel movement in a day. A constipated one has few, infrequent or difficult bowel movements.
Just like in human beings, you will find the cat straining when it visits the litter box, passing very dry hard stool or having several unsuccessful attempts to defecate.
Constipation causes discomfort and can prevent your furry friend from eating. It is therefore important to visit the vet as soon as you discover that the cat is constipated.
Common symptoms of constipation in cats
Constipation presents symptoms that are similar to those of urinary disorders in cats. A veterinary doctor is in the best position to differentiate the symptoms of urinary disorder from those of constipation.
However, here are a few symptoms that may indicate that your cat is constipated.
- The cat seems to be in pain when it visits the litter box. You may also hear the cat crying out as it defecates.
- The stool may be in small bits that are dry and hard. In more serious cases, you may find the stools covered in blood or mucous.
- The cat may be making several trips to the litter box in close succession. Usually, the cat does not visit the litter box more than twice or thrice a day.
- The cat may lose appetite as it is not able to eliminate fecal matter from the body. As the problem continues it ends up eating less each day.
- The cat loses weight. This is mainly because it eats less when constipated.
- The cat may frequently be vomiting. Vomiting can be a symptom of other health conditions do not ignore it.
- The cat may show signs of lethargy. It may become sluggish and look fatigued. It may also get aggressive when you try to play with it.
- You may see signs of abdominal discomfort. It may be moving as if in pain and may not want to sit in some positions where the lower abdomen is pressed to the surface.
- Your cat may stop grooming altogether which leads to an unkempt and scruffy coat.
Are there risks resulting from constipation in cats?
A cat that experiences chronic constipation is at risk of developing other conditions, especially in the digestive tract.
According to PetMD, one of the common severe conditions is Megacolon. The name encompasses any condition that causes the colon to get abnormally enlarged.
In the case of constipation, the cat retains more waste products in the body and therefore the colon expands to handle the waste material.
Over time, the cat may suffer from obstipation, a condition where severe constipation blocks the passage of feces and gas.
Many of the cats acquire the condition from repeated constipation while others are born with the condition.
Those born with the condition lack the smooth muscle function in the colon that pushes the fecal matter down the digestive system.
If megacolon goes untreated for prolonged periods, a condition called distention may occur. Distention is irreversible colon inertia (also called inactivity) where the colon stops its smooth muscle function of contracting and expanding to push the fecal matter to the rectum
What causes a cat to be constipated?
A low-fiber diet
Just like in human beings, fiber plays a role in aiding the movement of the food through the feline intestines. Therefore, low fiber foods are likely to move slowly throughout the gut and eventually cause constipation.
If the cat lacks enough fluids especially water, the body absorbs more water from the food as it moves through the digestive systems. This results in hard, chalky stools.
Excessive grooming and hairballs
According to WebMD, hairballs develop from the cats grooming behavior. During the grooming process, the cat’s tongue catches some loose hair which it swallows. Much of the collected hair passes through the digestive tract without a problem.
However, there are times when the hair stays in the stomach and forms hairballs. Unlike food, hairballs are dry and will not move down the narrow intestines.
Your cat may vomit the hairballs, but other times the cat may get constipated by the hairs.
The problem is common in the long-haired breeds such as Maine Coons, cats that shed a lot of furs, and cats with a compulsive desire to groom frequently.
You can deal with the hairball problem by adding a non-petroleum remedy in the meal to help the hair pass through the digestive tract.
Anal sacs that are abscessed or blocked
A cat has two sacs near the opening of the anus. These sacs act like the scent glands. They help the cat mark his territory by producing a dark, smelly fluid.
The sacs sometimes get infected and painful. If not treated, an abscess may develop. Other times, the duct that empties the sacs gets clogged creating a pressure buildup which makes it hard for the cat to poop.
The retention of feces in all the above cases leads to constipation.
If your cat has any of the neurological disorders mentioned below it may get constipated.
- Intervertebral disk diseases.
- Spinal cord disease.
- Disease of the rectum and anus.
- Enlarged prostate glands that make the anal passage to get narrow.
- Ingestion of foreign matter such as bones and clothing which eventually blocks the passage of fecal matter.
- Hair that gets tangled in the buttocks making it hard for the cat to poop.
- A tumor in the gut system that causes obstruction.
- An abnormally shaped colon that inhibits the movement of food or fecal matter to the rectum.
When cats become over-nourished and do not exercise enough, excessive body fat is stored in the major organs of the body including the digestive system. The fat narrows the digestive tract making the digestive a lot more problematic.
Constipation occurs when food takes longer in the digestive system than it should, and the body absorbs as much water as possible leaving a hard and dry fecal matter.
Although not related to the digestive system, cats suffering from arthritis tend to avoid visiting the litter box so often due to pain when they bend over to defecate.
As a result, they tend to hold to their feces as much as possible. The stool dries out in the process causes constipation.
According to Veterinary news, if your cat has chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism or the kidney disease, it may suffer from constipation as one of the symptoms of the disease.
Medication side effects
Some medication often causes the cat to get constipated. The constipation is shortlived as it ends when either the cat’s body adjusts to accommodate the effects of the medicine or the cat completes the dosage.
Common medicines that cause constipation include antacids, barium that is used to enhance x-ray images, sucralfate that is used for treating ulcers and vincristine which is used for treating leukemia.
How is constipation diagnosed?
According to PetWaves, a veterinary doctor may perform several exams on the cat to determine the cause for constipation.
The first examination is usually the physical examination called abdominal palpation of the colon where the doctor examines the cat by touch. He or she may also use a finger to examine the rectum.
If the physical examination does not show the cause of the problem, the veterinarian may perform a blood profile.
The profile includes a chemical blood profile, blood count, and an electrolyte panel. He or she may also perform a urinalysis to eliminate urinal tract disorders as the cause of the symptoms.
Deeper diagnosis may be required for treatment. In this case, the veterinarian may use radiograph imaging to see the inside of the colon.
In the image, he or she can see where the colon is full of feces, the presence of amass or tumor blocking the colon or any other causes of megacolon.
If there is the presence of tumors or lesions inside the colon, the veterinarian may use a colonoscopy, a lighted tubular instrument to check on the lesions or tumors on the walls of the colon.
How is constipation treated?
The treatment prescribed depends on the stage of constipation as well as the cause. For severe cases, the cat may be given a fluid therapy. The fluid helps correct the electrolyte imbalances resulting from dehydration.
In some cases, the veterinarian may inject water-soluble jelly or warm water enemas before gently evacuating the colon.
Sponged forceps are commonly used in this case. If the constipation is recurrent or the cat suffers from irreversible colonic inertia, surgery may be necessary to repair the colon.
How can you treat cat constipation at home?
Some of the home treatments that the veterinarian may recommend include the following:
Over the counter stool softener where the cat is experiencing substantial distress when having a bowel movement.
Laxative to ease the movement of fecal matter own the colon. Some of the common laxatives include aloe vera juice. Add a little juice to every meal.
Increase in water consumption. You may encourage the cat to take more water by such techniques as placing a few water containers around the house, placing a container under a faucet and letting the water drip slowly. Cats love drinking moving water as opposed to bowls.
Cats are not biologically created to take dry foods. Keep watch of their daily intake of dry foods and consider alternating dry food with succulent canned foods.
Add fiber to your cat’s diet. Such options that you may go for include Metamucil, canned pumpkin and bran cereal. At the same time cut down on low fiber foods until the condition is dealt with.
Healthypets also recommends natural therapies such as acupuncture and chiropractic help deal with constipation. Talk to a holistic vet on the best procedures for your cat.
Note: There are enemas sold over the counter in many animal drug stores. However, it is recommended that you avoid them. Cats dislike the procedure as it causes discomfort. Some of the enemas are also toxic and may cause more serious problems.
Are there cats that are more susceptible to constipation?
Constipation tends to affect any cat. However, elderly cats are more likely to suffer from difficult and infrequent bowel movements.
Many cats suffer from the condition due to a poor diet and lack of exercise among other causes discussed above.
How do you take care of a cat that suffers from chronic constipation?
If our cat has been diagnosed with megacolon or suffers from recurrent constipation, consider regular exercise to strengthen both the digestive and abdominal areas. Moreover, give the cat a low residue diet to lower the chances of recurrent constipation.
You can ensure that the cat exercises as much as possible even if you are not around by getting items to keep the cat busy.
Such items include toys and cat trees. Consider taking a walk in the yard with your cat and playing with it as frequently as possible.
High fiber diets are good for both the digestion and the health of the cat. You can use the veterinarian-approved fiber supplements such as canned pumpkin.
In addition, avoid feeding the cat with bones to prevent accidental swallowing and potential injuries to the colon.
Constipation is a common digestive disorder in cats. Poor diet and lack of exercise are the main causes. However, several other conditions may cause constipation.
It is important to contact your veterinarian before attempting any treatment to the condition. Moreover, follow the advice given to the letter to avoid recurrent constipation problems.
Constipation is a treatable condition but the cost and healing period depends on how fast the cat is treated.
This YouTube video gives a quick overview of the common symptoms, causes, and treatment of cat constipation problems.
In just three minutes, the narrator takes you through the basics of keeping the cat’s digestive system healthy and strong.
The narrator, Dr. Karen Becker is a certified veterinarian who offers practical solutions to keep your cats healthy.
Therefore, the advice given in the video is safe to use in dealing with feline constipation.