Cat struggling with constipation

Key takeaway

Constipation in cats may be caused by several different things, including certain foods, a lack of exercise, and medical conditions. While constipation isn’t typically a major issue, constipation that’s left untreated may get worse and lead to serious complications. Dietary changes, exercise, and laxatives are some of the most effective treatment options in cases where surgery isn’t required.

Constipation is a fairly common issue in cats. Constipation is characterized by a lack of defecation or painful defecation, which often occurs as a result of stool that’s too hard or dry to pass through the GI tract. Fortunately, this issue can generally be treated with simple dietary changes and exercise, but there are more severe cases where enemas, surgery, and other medical intervention may be required.

Cats may become constipated as a result of eating something they can’t digest, or because they’re not getting enough fiber in their diet. In fact, constipation can even be caused by getting too much fiber. Determining the cause of constipation is an important step in choosing the best treatment option for your cat.

Cat constipation can be difficult to identify because you can’t ask your cat how it’s feeling. As a pet owner, it’s important to know the symptoms of constipation so you can start treating it before it becomes a major problem. Here’s what you should know about cat constipation, what causes constipation in cats, what the symptoms are, and what you can do to treat it.

What Is Constipation?

Constipation is a medical condition that occurs when stool is unable to pass through the bowels. Peristaltic waves are used to move stool through the bowels throughout the day, and they typically occur after meals. A lack of peristaltic waves means the stool isn’t moving through the bowels at the rate it should be. This is common in older, overweight cats with slower digestive systems.

Because constipation is a result of fecal matter being unable to pass through the bowels, it’s often caused by cats eating something that they’re not able to digest. Things like hair, bones, and litter are difficult for cats to ingest, causing a backup in the bowels. This is an especially big problem when combined with dehydration, which may occur independently or as a result of a chronic condition.

If a cat ingests hair, bones, or litter, it can cause a backup in the bowels

Cat constipation can be caused by several medical issues and conditions. In some cases, cats with chronic constipation may have a narrowed pelvic inlet from a pelvic injury or another medical issue like hyperthyroidism or diabetes. Some cats also suffer from chronic dehydration as a result of chronic kidney disease or which often leads to a condition called megacolon. Megacolon results from chronic constipation which stretches out the colon to an enlarged and flaccid state where it can not contract to pass feces. If you’re not sure what’s causing your cat’s constipation, it’s best to visit a veterinarian to get things figured out.

While constipation can lead to serious pain and discomfort in cats, it’s generally not considered a medical emergency. In fact, constipation can typically be treated by making minor changes to your cat’s diet, whether that means switching to high-fiber food, reducing fiber intake, or simply making sure your cat is getting enough water. Cat constipation only becomes a serious medical issue if you’ve tried dietary changes and exercise, but your cat is still constipated after several days.

Symptoms

Recognizing the symptoms of constipation in cats is an important part of getting them the treatment they need. The problem is, it can be difficult to tell if your cat is experiencing constipation or some other medical issue that’s causing discomfort. The best thing you can do is watch for behavioral and physical symptoms that may indicate your cat is constipated.

When constipation first starts, you might notice a little discomfort or difficulty when your cat is defecating. This can be harder to spot in cats because you don’t typically see them use their litter boxes. Your cat might go to its litter box to try to defecate, but there’s no stool there. If you notice your cat is having trouble defecating, you can try dietary changes and other small measures to get them relief.

As constipation starts to get worse, your cat is going to be in an increasing amount of pain. You may notice your cat meowing excessively or making noises that indicate pain while defecating. This pain may lead to general discomfort that causes your cat to seem depressed and lethargic. Treating cat constipation at this stage is important because it may become a serious medical issue if left untreated.

If you don’t treat your cat’s constipation and it continues to get worse, you may need to visit a veterinarian to take care of your cat. The biggest thing to keep an eye on when it comes to extreme cases of constipation is the amount of time between defecations. Constipation isn’t uncommon in cats, but constipation that lasts for more than two or three days is a sign that something is wrong. If your cat’s constipation doesn’t get better through dietary changes and exercise, or if your cat is constipated for several days, make sure you see a vet to rule out any serious conditions.

Cat sitting in litter box

Causes of Constipation in Cats

Determining the cause of cat constipation is an important part of the treatment process, but it can also help you keep your cat from getting constipated. While dietary issues and a lack of exercise are common causes for constipation in cats, there are also several medical conditions, injuries and other issues that can lead to constipation.

Dietary problems

Dietary problems are a very common cause of constipation in cats. Just like humans, cats need to get enough fiber in their diets in order to have healthy bowel movements. Fiber helps draw water into stool and add bulk, which makes it easier to pass. A lack of fiber can make it difficult for your cat to defecate and could be a result of the food you’re giving them. However, too much fiber can also cause difficulty defecating, so it’s important to find a balance.

Water intake

Cat constipation may also be caused by a lack of water intake. Water is an essential part of your pet’s diet, and a lack of water may lead to hard stools that are difficult to pass. Increasing water intake is always a good place to start if your cat or dog is constipated. Your cat may not be getting enough water as a result of eating too much dry food, so canned wet food may be a good way to increase water intake.

Medications

Certain medications may cause constipation as a side effect. If your cat regularly takes medication to treat a medical issue, make sure you mention that to your veterinarian to get an accurate diagnosis. You should also mention any supplements you may be giving your cat, even if it’s a seemingly harmless multi-vitamin.

Lack of exercise

Sometimes, constipation is caused by a lack of exercise. Exercise helps stimulate the digestive system and keep things moving, but a lack of exercise can lead to slow bowel movements and stools that are hard to pass. If you’re worried that your cat isn’t getting enough exercise, make sure you’ve got a cat tree and plenty of toys for it to play with.

Injuries

In some cases, pelvic injuries can lead to a narrowed pelvic inlet that causes cat constipation. Pelvic fractures don’t always heal right, and that can lead to a narrowed pelvic inlet. In such cases, surgery might be required to widen the pelvic inlet and allow stool to pass through the bowels.

Medical conditions

In addition to dietary problems, a lack of water, pelvic injuries, and a lack of exercise, there are several medical conditions that can lead to constipation. Cat constipation may be caused by the ingestion of a toxin, in which case you should visit a veterinarian to get things sorted out. Constipation caused by toxins is often accompanied by diarrhea and black feces. Neurological and muscular diseases that affect bodily functions can also lead to constipation in cats.

Understanding what causes constipation in cats is an essential part of knowing how to help a constipated cat. However, it’s best to prevent constipation. Make sure your cat is eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise and visiting a veterinarian for regular exams. While there are a wide range of cat constipation remedies you can try, the best way to keep your cat comfortable is to avoid constipation in the first place.

Diagnosing cat constipation

Before you can decide on the best treatment method for cat constipation, you need to get a diagnosis from a professional. Symptoms of constipation, including pain and discomfort, may also be present with a range of other medical issues. In order to diagnose constipation in cats, a veterinarian will perform a physical exam and look at the medical history of your cat.

To check for constipation, your veterinarian may palpate the abdominal area to determine if there’s any fecal matter built up in the GI tract

During the physical exam, your veterinarian will typically start by palpating the abdominal area to gauge discomfort and determine if there’s any fecal matter built up in the GI tract. This physical exam is more effective if your cat is relaxed and not overweight. If your veterinarian is unable to diagnose constipation based on abdominal palpitations, they may also use X-rays and other scans to see if there’s an injury or obstruction causing constipation. Your veterinarian may even order bloodwork and urine tests to determine what, if any, underlying conditions may be causing your cat’s constipation.

In addition to performing a physical exam, veterinarians will also look at a cat’s medical history to diagnose constipation. If your cat has a medical condition that’s commonly associated with constipation, your veterinarian can make a diagnosis based on that information as well as the physical exam.

When you visit a veterinarian to have cat constipation diagnosed, it’s important to come prepared with any information your vet might need to know. Your vet might ask about medications or supplements your cat is taking, what kind of food it eats, how much water it drinks, and more. Answering these questions accurately is key to getting a proper diagnosis and determining the best treatment option for your cat.

Treatment

The good news about cat constipation is that it’s generally not very difficult to treat. In most cases, you can stop constipation in cats by making dietary changes, such as switching to wet food and increasing water intake. If this doesn’t work, there are several other cat constipation remedies you can try. As a last resort, a veterinarian can perform surgery or use enemas to remedy constipation.

Dietary changes are a good first step to take if your cat is constipated. In most cases, making a few dietary changes is enough to get rid of constipation in cats, especially if you only feed your cat dry food. While fiber is an important part of keeping your cat’s digestive system healthy, you don’t want to load them up on too much fiber without enough water. Try switching to wet food and see if that helps. If your cat isn’t getting enough fiber, you can talk to your veterinarian about switching to high-fiber cat food that may help relieve constipation.

Dietary changes can often help relieve cat constipation

Water intake is also essential when it comes to treating constipation, so make sure your cat is getting enough water. If your cat isn’t drinking enough water, you can try adding some water to wet food, dry food or putting the water bowl in a different spot. It’s also important to keep your cat’s water bowl clean if you want them to drink out of it. However, increasing water intake for cats can be difficult if your cat doesn’t want to drink water.

As important as your cat’s diet is, you also need to make sure your cat is exercising enough. Oftentimes, constipation can be treated by making sure your cat is getting enough fiber, water, and exercise. Exercise helps keep your cat’s digestive system moving, which makes it easier for it to pass stools.

When these treatment methods don’t work, your veterinarian may recommend fecal removal. Fecal removal can be performed in various ways, but the idea is the same: manually removing feces that are causing a blockage.

Laxatives are another popular treatment option for cat constipation. Laxatives make it easier to pass stool by softening it, adding moisture, or providing stimulation. Here’s a quick breakdown of the different types of laxatives and how they work:

  • Bulk-forming:  Bulk-forming laxatives include brands like Metamucil and are designed to draw more stool into the water, adding bulk and softening stool so that it’s easier to pass.
  • Lubricant:  Lubricant laxatives coat stool with a soft, slippery coating that makes it easier to defecate. This makes it easier for your cat to pass hard stools without as much pain.
  • Emollient:  Emollients are also known as stool softeners. These laxatives add fluid to feces to soften it up and make it easier for it to pass through the bowels.
  • Osmotic:  Osmotic laxatives cause an increase of water in the intestines, which helps to soften stool and make it easier for you to pass.
  • Stimulant:  Stimulants increase bowel contractions to help force stool out manually. While these laxatives can be effective, they may also lead to pain and long-term side effects in some cases.

Enemas may also be used to remove built-up stool that’s leading to constipation. If your cat needs an enema, hospitalization may be required to replace the fluid your cat is losing. However, this is only required in cases where constipation can’t be treated with less drastic measures.

If cat constipation gets really bad and nothing else helps, surgery may be required. Your cat may require surgery to widen a narrow pelvic inlet that resulted from a pelvic injury. Surgery may also be required in cases of chronic constipation. The good news is, your veterinarian can help walk you through all the potential treatment options and decide which treatment is best for your cat.

Cat Constipation: Frequently Asked Questions

What can I give my cat if she’s constipated?

If your cat is constipated, the first thing you should do is try to make dietary changes to make sure they’re getting enough fiber. Try switching to a high-fiber food that helps produce healthy stool and making sure your cat is getting enough water. If your cat is getting too much fiber, you can switch to wet food to try to add a little more water to their diet.

While dietary changes typically resolve constipation in cats, that’s not always the case. If your cat is still constipated after you’ve made dietary changes, you can try using a gentle laxative to relieve constipation. Keep in mind that laxatives designed for humans shouldn’t be used to treat cats. You should always talk to your veterinarian before giving your cat a laxative to make sure it’s safe.

Canned pumpkin is a popular home remedy for cat constipation. If your cat is having trouble defecating, try feeding them some pumpkin from a can to increase fiber and add a little moisture to their diet.

How do you stimulate a cat to poop?

You may be wondering, “What if my cat is constipated and dietary changes don’t help?” The good news is, there are several ways you can stimulate a cat to poop. The easiest way to stimulate a cat to poop is to simply use a laxative. It’s important to choose a veterinarian-approved laxative that’s safe for your cat.

If laxatives do not work, it is time to consult your veterinarian. You can also gently rub a towel around the anus of a kitten to stimulate it to poop, which simulates what the mother typically does for her kittens.

Is cat constipation an emergency?

For the most part, you don’t have to worry if your cat is constipated. While cats who eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise shouldn’t get constipated, cat constipation is a fairly common issue. You can usually treat constipation by adjusting your cat’s diet and making sure they’re getting enough water for a few days. However, more extreme cases of constipation may require laxatives and other treatment.

It’s important to note that cat constipation can become an emergency if left untreated. Constipation tends to get worse if you don't do anything about it, and your cat needs to defecate. If your cat hasn’t defecated in more than two or three days, you need to visit a veterinarian to for evaluation

Final Notes

Constipation may not be the biggest medical concern for cats, but it can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Your cat may be constipated as a result of their diet, ingesting a toxin, a lack of exercise, a disease or a side effect of a medication. Regardless of what’s causing cat constipation, you should always see a veterinarian if your cat is constipated for more than a couple of days. In cases of chronic constipation, you might want to consider long-term treatment options that address the underlying medical condition.

As a pet owner, having reliable pet care is important. Lucky for you, Dutch makes it easy to get the care your pets need from the comfort of your home with telemedicine for pets. We connect you with experienced veterinarians who can figure out what’s going on with your cat and get them the treatment you need. With Dutch, you can even get vet-prescribed treatments delivered to your door, so you can keep your cat healthy without constant vet visits. If your cat is constipated and dietary changes and exercise aren’t helping, contact Dutch to learn more about how we can help connect you with veterinarians to get quality pet care.

References

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