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Cat Constipation: Common Signs, Causes & Remedies

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Feline constipation is among the most frequent health issues that came with the domestication and altering of eating habits of this species. While they may look like tiny little living room tigers, domesticated cats’ lifestyle is now entirely different from that of a wild feline. 

In the wilderness, cats had the benefit of hunting, which provided them with an adequate amount of protein, fibers, and water, all concentrated in one meal. Also, during their wildlife, cats had to put effort into catching birds and mice. Both fresh raw meat food and intense daily physical activity were essential contributors to healthy digestion. 

Constipation is defined as difficulty in defecating, with the retention of feces in the large intestine, and most often, it is a side effect of an inadequate diet.

How Do I Know if My Cat is Constipated?

It’s simple. Check the litter tray and your cat’s habits when using it. If you feel queasy just cleaning the litter tray, you should know that you are the first person in line checking your cats well being and there are some not so pleasant things that you need to verify daily. 

Here is what you should check for:

  • Daily bowel movements;
  • Well-formed stools, but soft enough to get the litter to stick;
  • No signs of straining or crying when using the litter tray.

If your cat fails to check any of the above boxes, you might want to reassess your cat’s diet. If you think that your cat might have a more severe condition, then you should ask your veterinarian for a routine checkup, to reach an accurate diagnosis. 

General Symptoms and Signs of Cat Constipation

  • Infrequent bowel movements or even absence of defecation;
  • Hard feceswhich, in severe cases, can be covered with mucus or even fresh blood. The stool may have a lumpy aspect or can appear as separate hard lumps;
  • Straining and crying when using the kitty litter is a consequence of pain caused by the passing of large chunks of feces. 

Straining is not always an indication of constipation. Male cats suffering from urinary blockages also strain to urinate, and the two disorders can be confused. Bear in mind that urinary blockages are medical emergencies and if in doubt, you should take your cat to the veterinary clinic. Your cat’s veterinarian will be able to differentiate urinary blockages from constipation;

  • Severe feline constipation can evolve with a lack of appetite, progressive weight loss, vomiting, an enlarged abdomen, or apathy. 

Common Causes In Adult Cats

  • Inadequate water consumption is the most frequent cause of feline constipation. Cats love fresh, clean, and slightly colder water. By nature, cats do not drink much water and rely on their diet for the highest proportion of moist intake. Moreover, cats often prefer not to drink if the water bowl has not been refreshed for more than 24 hours; 
  • Feeding an exclusively dry food diet can lead to constipation if the cat does not have an appropriate water intake. 

Dry food is not directly responsible for constipation, but rather the amount of moisture in it. Dry food has a humidity content of under 10%, as compared to 70 to 80% in wet or raw food; 

  • Obesity and lack of physical activity is another major contributor of feline constipation;
  • Hairballs might require a more extended period to pass through the digestive tract and contribute to or aggravate constipation; 
  • Grain inclusive and high carbohydrate diets are also believed to be a cause of digestive issues in cats, including constipation. Although domesticated, cats are still obligate carnivores, and grains are not part of their natural food. As such, their digestive system cannot breakdown these compounds. Researches are yet required in this area to prove both advantages and disadvantages of feeding cats grain-free diets. 

Other less common causes of constipation in adult cats include neurological disorders, obstructions generated by foreign bodies, tumors, or narrowings of the intestinal tract. 

Some medical treatments can, too, lead to constipation. If your cat is on any chronic treatment, your veterinarian will probably inform you about any possible digestive issues that can appear as a side effect to the administered treatment. 

Common Causes of Constipation in Small Kittens

Inherited anomalies of the digestive tract (rectal narrowings, imperforated rectum) are the leading causes of constipation in newborn or very young kittens. 

Orphan newborn kittens can suffer from infrequent bowel movements. Usually, their mother would clean and massage their bellies after each feeding to stimulate digestion and passing of feces and urine. Fortunately, most caregivers and volunteers that deal with orphaned kittens know that they need to massage the bellies of newborn or very young kittens with a cotton ball soaked in warm water. 

Cat Constipation Causes Remedies

How to Help and Prevent Cat Constipation

  • Provide fresh and clean water to stimulate your cat to drink more and stay better hydrated. In some cases, water fountains might get them interested in drinking more. Proper hydration means softer stools and healthier digestion;
  • Provide your cat with wet food, especially when already suffering from constipation. Some also recommend adding small amounts of water to the wet food. However, cats are very sensitive to their food texture and might refuse to eat something that they know is different than what they expect;
  • Keep your cat active with fun playtime and games. Daily physical activity is essential for healthy digestion and regular bowel movements;
  • Hairball remedies should also be administered regularly to ensure that the swallowed hair does not hinder digestive processes;
  • Take your cat to the veterinary clinic sooner rather than later. In the early phases of constipation, most cats can recover with minimal dietary improvements. Untreated or severe cases on the other side might require long term medical treatment or even surgery. 

Home Remedies and Recommendations

Psyllium is one of the best dietary supplements that can help digestion. Psyllium fibers absorb water and turn into a thick, gelatinous matter that passes through the digestive tract without being digested. This natural fiber acts as a mild stool softener and is very efficient in treating or preventing feline constipation. You can mix this as a supplement directly into your cat’s food, or you can go for a type of food that already contains psyllium. 

Other natural supplements such as Aloe Vera, Turmeric, and Spirulina can help regulate digestive enzyme secretion, support digestive processes, and absorption of nutrients. 

Coconut oil is an excellent natural supplement with a wide variety of benefits. However, it might not be indicated in obese cats, or those diagnosed with fatty liver or pancreatic disorders. 

Veterinary Consult and Treatment

Once presented to the clinic, the veterinary doctor will start by gathering a series of information from your cat’s health history. 

A physical examination can usually confirm the presence of large amounts of feces packed up in the colon. However, most veterinarians, especially in suspected severe cases, would want to exclude a series of disorders that can evolve with constipation and will propose a series of special investigations, such as:

  • Comprehensive blood analysis to exclude a series of diseases that can evolve with severe dehydration (diabetes, chronic kidney disease);
  • Ultrasound examination and radiographs to exclude potential tumors or foreign bodies that might cause obstruction;
  • Endoscopy if all other tests have failed to establish a diagnosis, or if your veterinarian suspects alterations of the healthy intestinal structure (tumors or narrowings). 

The recommended treatment for feline constipation can vary with your cat’s leading cause and clinical state, as assessed by your veterinarian. 

Mild cases can be treated with dietary improvements, intravenous solutions to correct dehydration, mild natural laxatives, and enemas with low volumes of warm liquid.

Severe cases might require enemas performed under general anesthesia with larger volumes of liquids and evacuation of the blocked feces. 

Surgical procedures might be required if your cat does not respond to medical treatment or in cases of intestinal anomalies or strictures.

Cats still resemble their wild ancestors, and their nutritional and daily water requirements have not changed too much for these beautiful creatures. An adequate diet and regular veterinary checkups can keep your furry friend happy and healthy for a long time. 

References:

Benjamin, Sarah E, and Kenneth J Drobatz. “Retrospect Evaluation of Risk Factors and Treatment Outcome Predictors in Cats Presenting to the Emergency Room for Constipation.” Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, vol. 22, no. 2, 2019, pp. 153–160., DOI:10.1177/1098612×19832663.

Verbrugghe, Adronie, and Myriam Hesta. “Cats and Carbohydrates: The Carnivore Fantasy?” Veterinary Sciences, vol. 4, no. 4, 2017, p. 55., DOI:10.3390/vetsci4040055.

Dr. Madalina Burlacu, DVM
I am a veterinary doctor with more than ten years of clinical experience, and I am still fascinated by the world of small pets and veterinary medicine. It is a domain that is always full of new and exciting things to learn that take me out of the ordinary and keep me driven even when it gets tough. I love that I get the satisfaction of helping people understand the medical conditions of their pets, and I have the chance of contributing directly to the happy life of their beloved furry friend.

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