Updated - Feb 28th, 2023
Cat constipation may not be the most glamorous topic, but it’s an important one. If you suspect your kitty could be backed up, keeping an eye on their litter box can help you figure out if your feline friend’s digestive system is purring along nicely.
Your cat should be using their litter box typically 2-4 times per day, making at least one poop and 2-3 normal-sized urinations (which are typically the size of a clenched fist). Anything less than this, and your cat may be dealing with constipation.
Full disclosure: I use an automatic kitty litter box with an app to track my cat’s visits. So, if your cat’s bowel movements slow down, your furry friend is probably dealing with obstipation – aka they’re severely constipated and can’t go at all.
What is cat constipation?
Constipation – a word we’ve all heard, but what does it mean for our furry friends? Simply put, constipation is a medical condition that happens when stool can’t pass through the bowels. The longer it stays, the drier and harder it becomes, making it even harder for your pet to pass.
The norm for most cats is to “do their business” every 24 to 36 hours. But if your furball struggles to go or goes less frequently, then constipation may be the culprit. Watch for signs like straining, minimal litter box deposits, or a grumpy kitty.
What are the symptoms of constipation in cats?
While pooping is usually a breeze for most cats, when a kitty gets constipated, they may strain to poop or hardly poop at all. Their poops can look like dry, hard pellets that might not even make it to the litter box.
Other signs of constipation can include:
- Straining to urinate or defecate in the litter box
- Having bowel movement accidents outside of the litter box
- Taking longer to defecate in the litter box or making multiple trips to the litter box
- Reduced amounts of cat poop or lack of feces in the litter box for several days
- Crying out in pain while defecating
- Having fecal matter stuck to their fur on their rear end
- Meowing more near the litter box
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
Normal and healthy cats don’t usually experience constipation. But as a vet, I see feline constipation more in these situations:
- Middle-aged to older cats (as they are more likely to have underlying health issues)
- Obese cats (who can’t groom their hind end or perineal region)
- Cats with osteoarthritis that may have pain jumping into the litter box (which then requires pain medication, a ramp, and lower-walled litter boxes)
- Cats with other underlying medical problems
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The common causes of constipation in cats
Finding the root cause of cat constipation is key to getting your fur baby feeling better and also preventing it from happening again. From diet to exercise, or even medical conditions, there are a bunch of reasons cats get constipated. So, let’s get to the bottom of things (pun intended)!
Lack of exercise
Constipation can be a bummer, but it’s often caused by a lack of physical activity. So, to stimulate your cat’s bowel movements, make sure they’ve got playthings like a cat tree and toys to keep them active.
Water is crucial for a healthy diet and regular bowel movements. Make sure your feline friend stays hydrated by offering plenty of fresh water and adding some yummy wet food to their diet. Dry food can lead to dehydration and intestinal blockage, so switch things up and watch your cat’s constipation woes disappear. Cat water fountains can also do wonders for dehydrated cats!
Insufficient fiber or probiotics
Like us humans, kitties need a balanced diet that includes enough fiber for healthy bowel movements. Fiber helps keep stools soft and makes them easier to pass. However, too little fiber can cause constipation, and too much can have the same effect. So make sure your cat’s diet includes a sufficient amount of fiber to keep healthy bowel movements going.
Injuries can be a real pain for our feline friends, especially if it leads to constipation. For instance, a narrowed pelvic inlet from a fracture can make it hard for them to go. However, surgery can widen the inlet, getting those stools flowing again.
Here are a few other causes of constipation in cats:
- A metabolic disease that causes your cat to lose too much water and become dehydrated. This includes chronic kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and so on.
- Feline idiopathic megacolon (a condition where the colon gets bigger due to weak colon muscles)
- Pain from arthritis
- Inherited causes (more commonly seen in the Manx cat)
- Stuck foreign bodies (massive hairballs and missing toys) in the intestines
How does a constipated cat get diagnosed?
Before treating cat constipation, you need to make sure it’s the issue! A vet visit is vital for a proper diagnosis. They’ll ask you about your cat’s health and do a physical check-up.
Your cat’s vet will also check their kidney size and colon for poop buildup. Plus, a full medical exam will help find the root cause of constipation and rule out any other medical issues that may cause similar symptoms. A medical workup will typically consist of the following:
- A minimum of blood work to check the kidney and liver function, salt balance, protein level, and blood sugar
- A complete blood count to look at the white and red blood cell count
- A thyroid value (if your cat is over 8-9 years of age)
- A urine test is important to look at how well the kidneys are working (the more concentrated and yellow urine is better)
- X-rays will help look at the size of the pelvis opening and look for any obvious cancer or physical causes for not being able to defecate
- An abdominal ultrasound in reoccurring cases of constipation to help rule out cancer
Vet treatment for cat constipation
For quick constipation relief, your pet’s vet can give your cat fluids or an enema. Your cat’s vet will put a temporary feeding tube (e.g., nasogastric tube) into the stomach to slowly administer polyethylene glycol 3350 over 8 to 12 hours.
Please know that you should never give enemas at home without consulting your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. That’s because I’ve seen many cats suffer from well-intentioned but harmful fleet enemas. Leave the “cat-scopy” to the professionals and never administer enemas at home!
Over-the-counter stool softeners
Your vet can prescribe meds or recommend over-the-counter stool softeners to help with constipation. These can include:
- Miralax™ (polyethylene glycol 3350): This can be picked up over the counter and mixed with a small amount of canned cat food. Check with your veterinarian first, but I generally use 1/8 to 1/2 a teaspoon every 12-24 hours orally as needed to treat cat constipation. This drug helps pull more water into the colon but can cause changes in salt balance so must be used carefully.
- Lactulose: Lactulose is a sweet, sticky liquid medication prescribed by vets. It works as a stool softener and laxative to ease constipation.
I usually dose it at 1/2 – 3/4 of a tsp (2.5 – 3.75 mls) orally every 6-8-12 hours until the stool is looser. Use consistently for the next 3-5 days.
The goal is to get water into your pet’s gastrointestinal tract. However, prepare for some stickiness while administering it – cats aren’t always a fan! But a little mess is worth it for their comfort.
- Prokinetics: Your vet can prescribe prokinetics, drugs that get your pet’s gastrointestinal tract moving. These include cisapride (available only through vet professionals or compounding pharmacies), metoclopramide, and ranitidine.
If the usual medical treatments aren’t working, don’t fret! It might be time for a little cat nap. That’s right; they may need to be sedated so the vet can manually remove the hard stool via a rectal exam.
In rare cases of megacolon with failed medical management, your vet may suggest removing the affected part of the big intestine.
Let’s hope it never comes to this, but sometimes, constipation can be so tough and expensive to handle. And in those severe cases, euthanasia may be the only option.
Home remedies for cat constipation
Change your cat’s food
Changing to a high fiber diet in the form of canned food (which provides more water) is important for the long-term management of constipation in cats. Ideally, this new food should be high in soluble fiber. This is important for increasing water into the stool and is highly digestible/fermentable.
With cat constipation, I prefer canned food; however, not all cats will eat that! If your cat only eats dry food, please know that there are high fiber, prescription dry cat foods too.
Remember, when it comes to cats, diet changes should occur very slowly to allow them plenty of time to acclimate. You can also sprinkle Psyllium products (e.g., Metamucil™) onto food. But keep in mind that some cats won’t eat readily.
Hydrate your feline!
Dehydration can lead to constipation, but hydration helps keep it at bay. Your cat may not be a big fan of still water, but feeding them wet food can help increase their water intake and lower their risk of constipation.
To further encourage drinking, be sure to place enough water bowls around the house. Try a cat water fountain, let a faucet drip, or flavor their water with yummy things like clam juice or beef broth. Just remember to make plain water available in case they don’t go for the flavors.
Keep your cat trim, taut, and healthy
Obesity can cause intestinal inflammation, leading to a slow digestive system and constipation. In severe cases, excess belly fat can even block stool movement. Check with your vet to see if your cat needs to shed some weight and create a plan for healthier eating.
Whether it’s a new pet in the house, a move, or just a shift in your schedule, change can stress out our feline friends. But no worries, you can soothe those frayed nerves with a little extra TLC. Try using calming pheromones, supplements (Solliquin or Zylkene), or meds recommended by your vet. Your cat will purr with appreciation!
Keep litter boxes clean
Cats are clean creatures, but their litter boxes? Not so much. That’s why you need one more box than the number of cats you have. The general rule is “n+1.”
For example, if you have one cat, you probably need two boxes. More boxes don’t mean less cleaning, though! Keep them fresh and clean every day to spot any pooping troubles, like constipation, early on. It may be dirty business but it’s all part of being a responsible cat owner.
Keep an eye on your cat’s pooping habits
Check on your cat’s pooping habits and stool consistency at least twice a week in the beginning and then biweekly. Contact your vet if you suspect defecating issues or dry feces. Also, watch for other constipation signs, and if you see any diarrhea, reach out to your vet immediately, as this could cause dehydration quickly.
Cat constipation FAQs
What can I give my constipated cat?
You can help ease your kitty’s constipation by increasing their water intake with wet food or flavored water, giving them more opportunities to exercise, and ensuring their litter box is cleaned regularly. If these remedies don’t work, talk to your vet about potential treatments like dietary changes, supplements, or even gentle enemas. Your furry friend will feel better in no time!
How can I stimulate my cat to poop?
You can try a few techniques to stimulate a constipated cat to poop. One option is adding more fiber to their diet. You can also encourage them to drink water by adding flavored broth, providing water fountains, or dripping faucets. A gentle massage around the belly can also help. If your cat’s constipation persists, it’s best to consult a veterinarian, as there may be an underlying medical issue.
How can I identify chronic constipation in cats?
Chronic constipation in cats may look like frequent straining during defecation, infrequent stools, or hard and dry feces. If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to consult a vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
What home remedies can I give my cat for constipation?
You can try giving your cat a small amount of pure pumpkin (not the pie filling) or a bit of mineral oil to help relieve constipation. If these remedies don’t help, always consult a vet for advice.
What laxative is safe for cats?
It’s always best to consult your vet before giving your cat any laxatives. Generally, safe options include mineral oil, Miralax, and Metamucil. But always get the green light from your vet!
In conclusion, cat constipation can be a pain for both kitties and their loving owners. That’s why it’s important to address this health concern promptly. With proper care and treatment, your fur baby can return to their happy and healthy self in no time!
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