Ginger cat sitting in a litter box and looking sideways.

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As a cat owner, seeing your cat in pain or struggling in any way is difficult. If you notice your cat struggling or crying out when using its litter box, that could be a sign of constipation. Constipation is characterized by infrequent or absent evacuation of the bowels as a result of hard, dry stool. In many cases, you can relieve constipation in cats by getting them more exercise and making changes to their diet.

When you don’t address constipation or diet and exercise don’t help, it may eventually turn into obstipation. Obstipation is a severe form of constipation where dry, hard stool becomes impacted in the colon and rectum. Chronic obstipation and constipation may even lead to megacolon, which is a dilation of the colon that results from mechanical obstruction. Tenesmus occurs when your cat strains to pass feces but is unable to, and is often caused by large intestine disorders. Dyschezia results in painful defecation and is often a result of anal and perianal tissue disorders.

obstipation is a severe form of constipation where dry, hard stool becomes impacted in the colon and rectum

The bottom line is, there are a lot of reasons why your cat may be constipated. The good news is, there are a lot of things you can do to help relieve your cat’s constipation. However, giving your cat laxative is something you should only do with the guidance of a veterinarian.

Can I Give My Cat A Laxative?

You may be tempted to give your cat a laxative if they’re struggling to defecate, but is it safe to give your cat a laxative? Truthfully, you need to be careful about giving your cat any medication that isn’t prescribed by a veterinarian. While laxatives can be an effective way to relieve constipation, they may also cause several side effects in cats. Even worse, the human laxatives you might have in your bathroom can actually be lethal to cats, which makes it even more important to make sure you’re only using veterinarian-prescribed laxatives.

The truth is, you should always try basic treatment first when it comes to constipation. Your cat may be constipated due to a lack of exercise or an issue with their diet. If that’s the case, getting rid of constipation may be as simple as making sure your cat is eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. However, it’s important to note that constipation may be caused by overgrooming, which could be a sign of cat skin allergies.

If your cat is constipated, you need to consider the potential causes. Talking to a vet can help you understand which of your cat’s behaviors may be leading to constipation. You can also take your cat to the vet for a physical examination, bloodwork, and other tests. Determining the cause of your cat’s constipation is an important first step because it allows you to decide on the best treatment option.

Signs Your Cat Is Constipated

As a cat owner, it’s important to know what to watch for to make sure your cat is healthy. Your cat may be constipated, but it could also be that your cat is dealing with an illness or a chronic condition. This is why you need to know how your cat may behave and what symptoms  may be present if they’re constipated. If you think your cat may be constipated and you’re considering a cat laxative, here are the signs to watch out for:

  • Frequent trips to the litter box without defecating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Dry, hard stools
  • Bloody stools
  • Crying or straining in the litter box
  • Lack of grooming
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy

Keep in mind that the symptoms of cat constipation may also be present with other injuries, illnesses, and diseases. For example, your cat may be experiencing a loss of appetite and weight loss as a result of a thyroid condition, or they may have a problem with the food you’re feeding them. It’s up to your vet to make the final diagnosis and determine the best treatment option for your cat.

symptoms of cat constipation may also be present with other injuries, illnesses, and diseases

Timelines are also important when it comes to constipation. While it’s unusual for cats to go a day or two without defecating, that’s not always a medical concern. When your cat has gone several days without defecating and is crying and straining in its litter box, that’s when you should call a vet and ask about cat laxatives.

Causes Of Cat Constipation

Understanding what can cause cat constipation is an important part of preventing constipation and knowing how to help a constipated cat. While an itchy cat may suffer from constipation as a result of excessive grooming, your cat may be constipated because of its diet. While treatment for constipation may involve cat laxatives, there are several other potential treatment options depending on the cause of constipation.

In some cases, your cat may be constipated as a result of their diet. Cats need a healthy diet with plenty of fiber just like humans; a lack of fiber can lead to constipation. On the other hand, your cat may also be constipated because it’s getting too much fiber. Before making any major changes to your cat’s diet, talk to your veterinarian for guidance.

While too much fiber or a lack of fiber can contribute to constipation, constipation can also be caused by dehydration. Make sure you’re giving your cat plenty of fresh water. If you notice your cat’s water bowl starting to get dirty, empty it and replace it with new water. Making sure your cat has fresh water to drink is an essential part of preventing constipation.

Constipation in cats may also be caused by the ingestion of substances that can’t be digested, such as the ingestion of hair as a result of excessive grooming. In these cases, your vet may need to intervene to relieve constipation.

If you’re wondering, “Why is my cat constipated?” the answer often starts with an underlying condition. While a cat ear infection doesn’t lead to constipation, constipation may be caused by pelvic or recto-anal diseases, as well as arthritis and myositis. Constipation can also be caused by neuromuscular diseases, obstructions in the area of the bowels, electrolyte imbalances, and endocrinopathies. Plus, certain drugs may cause constipation in cats, which means it could be a result of a medication your cat is taking.

While understanding the potential causes of cat constipation can help you understand when to see a vet, you should avoid any type of cat laxative unless it’s been prescribed.

If I Can’t Use Cat Laxatives, How Can I Help My Cat?

You might be wondering, what can you do if it’s not safe to give your cat laxatives for constipation? Fortunately, there are lots of ways you can reduce the likelihood of constipation in cats. Here are some of the things you can do to relieve minor constipation and make sure your cat doesn’t get constipated in the future:

  • Brush your cat’s coat every day
  • Alter your cat’s diet (talk to your vet first)
  • Refresh your cat’s water more often
  • Add fiber to your cat’s daily diet
How to help your cat avoid constipation

Before you make any decisions regarding your cat’s diet or general health, it’s best to consult a vet to make sure it’s a smart choice. If you notice symptoms such as cat diarrhea after dietary changes, consult your vet.

Cat Laxatives: Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best laxative for cats?

When it comes to laxatives, it’s up to your veterinarian to decide what’s best for your cat. The best cat laxative depends on why your cat is constipated, what kind of medical issues your cat has, and more. If your veterinarian prescribes a particular laxative, make sure you use it as instructed until constipation is relieved.

Oftentimes, your cat doesn’t need a laxative to stop constipation. Constipation may be a result of dehydration, a lack of fiber, or a lack of exercise. Before you try prescription laxatives, try the simple solutions to relieve cat constipation.

How do you stimulate a cat to poop?

Most of the time, you can use simple methods to relieve constipation in cats. In rare cases, you may need to stimulate your cat to poop manually. You can start by giving your cat a gentle belly rub to help relieve pain and move any impacted fecal matter through their bowels.

The real trick to stimulating a cat to poop is simulating what mother cats do to their kittens. Start by taking a cloth and getting it wet with warm water, then rub it around the anus of your cat to help stimulate a bowel movement. If this doesn’t work, you may need to take your cat to the vet.

How long does it take for a cat laxative to work?

If your cat is constipated and you’re giving it a cat laxative, you may be wondering how long you have to wait before the laxative takes effect. While laxatives start going to work right away, it may take up to two days for your cat to have a normal bowel movement after beginning to take laxatives.

When your cat is prescribed laxatives, make sure you follow your veterinarian’s instructions. It’s also important to make sure your cat has access to fresh drinking water when you give them cat laxatives, that way they can replace any water they may lose as a result of the laxative.

Final Notes

If your cat is struggling with constipation, reach out to your vet to determine the appropriate course of action. 



  1. Harvey A: Managing Constipation. British Small Animal Veterinary Congress 2006.

  2. Sherding RG: Management of constipation and dyschezia. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet 1990 Vol 12 (5) pp. 677-8; 682-5.

  3. Ettinger SJ, Feldman EC: . Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 6th ed. 2005 pp. 1401-6.

  4. Webb CB: Constipation: Getting Crap out of a Cat. Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference 2016.

  5. Gaschen F: Constipation in Cats. World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings 2017.

  6. Washabau RJ: G.I. Motility Disorders: Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Therapy. ABVP 2011.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

What is a visit with Dutch like?

When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

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In addition to the base membership plan, our veterinarians may also recommend additional medication (Rx and/or OTC) that you will have the option of adding to your plan at an additional cost.