Constipation is a relatively common problem in cats. It is most frequently seen in older cats but can occur at any age.
Symptoms of constipation
The most common symptom of constipation is straining, either in the litter box or outside of it. However, it is important to establish whether your cat is straining to urinate or defecate. Urinary problems can cause a similar type of straining and the inability to urinate is an emergency situation that requires immediate veterinary care.
Cats with constipation often pass small amounts of very hard feces that may be blood-tinged. The appetite may be depressed and your cat may seem sluggish. Some cats will vomit.
Causes of constipation
There are many things that can cause constipation, including:
- ingestion of excess amounts of hair while grooming
- ingestion of foreign materials
- diseases such as kidney failure that can cause changes in your cat’s blood electrolyte levels
- pelvic obstructions that may occur as a result of previous fractures or other injuries
Treatment of constipation
Enemas of several different varieties (DSS, soap and water or K-Y jelly based) are used to treat constipation. Be careful about using over-the-counter enemas available for human use. Many of these are toxic to cats.
Other medications that may be helpful in the treatment of constipation include:
- stool softeners such as Laxatone® (or similar products), DSS (dioctylsodium sulfosuccinate) or lactulose
- drugs that improve intestinal motility such as cisapride or bisacodyl
A dietary change is also sometimes successful for cats with constipation.
- Some cats respond best to a low-residue diet that is highly digestible and promotes a smaller volume of feces. These diets are available commercially as therapeutic diets.
- Other cats may do better with a diet that is higher in fiber. If your cat will not tolerate the high-fiber commercial diets, you can add canned pumpkin to his diet. You can also add Metamucil® or similar products to your cat’s food for added fiber. Consult your veterinarian for the proper dose.
Obstipation versus constipation
Obstipation is a severe form of constipation in which the cat’s colon is distended and packed with a large amount of very hard feces. Cats that are obstipated are very uncomfortable and will strain, stop eating, become lethargic and vomit. Liquid feces may sometimes be passed around the fecal mass leading a cat owner to believe that the cat has diarrhea.
Treatment of obstipation may require your cat to undergo anesthesia in order to have the hard feces manually removed from the colon. Fluid administration to combat dehydration and enemas to help soften the feces are required also. The dietary changes and medications commonly used for constipation are usually used for these cats also.
When to seek veterinary care
If your cat has stopped eating, is vomiting or seems uncomfortable, it is time to seek veterinary help. Recurrent episodes of constipation will necessitate blood and urine testing to make sure your cat does not have a concurrent disease that requires treatment.