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Constipation in Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Constipation in Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Constipation in cats is a common issue seen at Santa Cruz Veterinary Hospital. Although constipation can typically be remedied at home, cats may occasionally need emergency care. Today our Capitola vets share the symptoms, causes, and treatments for constipation in cats. 

What is constipation in cats?

Most cats will pass a stool approximately every 24 to 36 hours. If your cat is pooping less frequently, straining during bowel movements, or doesn't leave any feces in the litter box, constipation could be the problem. Typically, mild cases of constipation can be remedied at home. However, you should contact your vet if your cat has not had a bowel movement in more than 48 hours, experiencing frequent bouts of constipation, or you notice any accompanying symptoms such as a refusal to eat or dramatic weight loss.

Constipation can be a symptom of a serious underlying health issue and may be causing your cat considerable discomfort or pain. 

What causes constipation in cats?

Constipation can occur if your cat's digestive system isn't optimally functioning. Some common causes of constipation in cats 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
  • Feline megacolon 
  • Excessive grooming (leads to extra hair in the digestive tract)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Allergies
  • Nerve problems
  • Cancer or tumors blocking areas of the colon
  • Chronic diseases such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes or kidney disease
  • Ruptured or impacted anal sacs 
  • Perianal disease
  • Excessive grooming, leading to too much hair in the digestive tract

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 feces is well-formed, rich brown in color and moist enough that litter will stick to it.

Signs of constipation in cats include hard, dry stools, which may end up outside the litter box—the discomfort of trying to pass these stools many have your cat leaving the litter box before being finished. 

Other signs of constipation in cats 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

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
  • Hiding
  • Difficulty jumping up
  • Muscle loss
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • 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 to Treat Constipation in Cats

Though most instances of constipation in cats are mild at can be treated at home, some cases may require veterinary care. If your cat has not made a bowel movement in 48 hours this is considered a veterinary emergency and you should bring your cat to the vet right away. 

In order to accurately treat constipation, your vet may want to run further diagnostic testing to rule out any underlying health issues. They will typically then want to provide fluids and possibly an enema for immediate relief. 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’s constipation is long-term or if your kitty is suffering from obstipation (the inability to empty the colon on their own), they may have megacolon, which is 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

For constipation in cats, treatment at home can include: 

  • Minimizing stress and anxiety
  • Increasing exercise to help with weight loss, reduce anxiety and promote normal movement of intestines
  • Trying a new diet (such as a limited ingredient diet) to reduce inflammation and allow intestines to move things normally
  • Trying fiber-rich foods, such as a teaspoon of canned, pureed pumpkin mixed in with their regular food
  • Providing probiotics
  • Helping your cat maintain a healthy weight
  • Using over-the-counter laxatives (consult your vet, as these may worsen symptoms in cats with underlying or chronic diseases)

How do I monitor my cat for constipation?

You should clean your cat's litter box daily and familiarize yourself with their regular "schedule" of defecation so you know what is normal for your kitty. If you notice anything abnormal or they are experiencing any of the symptoms of constipation mentioned above, make an appointment to see the vet right away. 

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.

Is your cat suffering from constipation? Contact our Capitola vets today to book an examination for your feline friend.

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