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Cat Constipation | What to Do When Your Can’t Poop

Some of the most common disorders of the stomach and intestines in cats are colitis (inflammation of the large intestine), constipation, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), gastrointestinal obstruction, gastrointestinal ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), malabsorption, and cancers of the digestive system.

Constipation is becoming extremely common, especially in older cats. It can be defined as the difficult or infrequent passage of feces. The fecal matter is usually hard and dry. This problem can be easily corrected in most situations, but in cats that have serious illnesses, some of the accompanying signs can be rather severe. 

Cats that suffer from long-term constipation are at risk of developing megacolon, which is an enlarged intestine caused by a defect in the colon’s muscle strength. In this article, we’ll look at some of the causes of constipation in cats, how it is diagnosed, how it can be treated, and most importantly, how you can prevent this health problem. 

What causes constipation?

Your cat’s diet is one of the most important local factors that affect the function of the colon, which means that some types of foods can affect the animal’s peristaltic waves. Peristaltic waves are in charge of moving the fecal matter in the colon. 

Chronic constipation can be caused by several factors, and one of the most common is represented by intraluminal obstruction. Ingesting hair, litter, or bones can cause an obstruction or can make the feces to be a lot firmer than they would normally. Since cats don’t have the best reputation when it comes to drinking a lot of water, any reluctance with regard to water intake can cause them to defecate less regularly. 

Stress and a dirty litter box are two other factors that can cause constipation. If the cat experiences pain while defecating, she isn’t going to be as eager to ‘go to the bathroom’. Tumors in the colon can also impede the passage of fecal matter. Cats that have gone through trauma are also likely to experience constipation as do those that have colonic neoplasia. 

There are also drugs that can cause constipation — antihistamines, diuretics, aluminum hydroxide, as well as opioids. Some diseases can lead to a cat being constipated, too, such as hypothyroidism, lesion of the pelvic nerves or the spinal cord, or dysautonomia (a condition where the autonomic nervous system doesn’t function properly and can affect how the heart, intestines, bladder, or other organs work).   

Cat constipation symptoms

Naturally, the first sign that you will notice as a cat parent is your feline friend’s inability to poop properly. The passage of dry and firm feces is usually noticed, as well, and if it’s hindered by sublumbar lymph nodes or an enlarged prostate (in male cats), the feces can look like ribbons. 

If you take your feline buddy to the clinic, the vet will palpate your pet’s abdomen and perform a rectal examination, as well. This can lead to large volumes of retained feces being discovered. The feces that the constipated cat does pass once in a while are usually putrid (because they were in the intestines for such a long time). 

Cats can also experience other clinical signs. They are often depressed or lethargic, they can show anorexia (since they don’t have enough space in the intestines and abdomen, in general for more food), and they will even vomit from time to time. Abdominal discomfort is also common in most cats. 

How is constipation diagnosed?

Historical factors are quite important when it comes to diagnosing constipation. Your cat might have undergone pelvic trauma or recent surgery, and she might have even gone through radiation therapy. Cats that are chronically constipated obviously experience the issue rather frequently. 

Abdominal palpation and rectal examination, as well as an evaluation of the sublumbar lymph nodes and of the prostate,  can be performed to see whether the cat has pain, perineal hernia, any foreign material present in the intestines, or even masses. A simple abdominal X-ray can be helpful when it comes to establishing the real cause of fecal retention. It can also give a good indication of what the feces could contain. Barium enemas can also be used, but so can colonoscopy or ultrasonography. These last two are particularly useful in discovering obstructive lesions. 

Recurring constipation cases might call for additional analyses such as a biochemical profile, a complete blood count, urinalysis, as well as an in-depth neurologic examination. 

Treatment of Constipation in Cats

The cause of the constipation is what leads to the right treatment being elected. If an obstruction is present, surgery could be required. 

Initial treatment of a cat suffering from constipation can involve enemas or manual extraction of feces performed by a vet. Removing the feces from the colon can call for the use of sedative or anesthetic, especially since it can be rather painful. As we have mentioned previously, one of the typical causes of constipation is dehydration or lack of water intake. As such, the cat also has to receive intravenous fluid therapy with the purpose of solving dehydration and correcting fluid imbalances. 

In cats that don’t have chronic constipation or those that experience it only once in a while, it is recommended to use lubricating laxatives, stool softeners, or high-fiber diets. These can prevent the recurrence of constipation. 

Cats that suffer from chronic constipation might have to receive treatment on a regular basis. Unfortunately, resistance to medication can be developed somewhat easily, which means that the drug dosage might have to be increased, or the therapy should be changed. In any case, the cat parent shouldn’t change the cat’s treatment without first consulting a veterinarian. 

Prevention

Ideally, cats should poop at least once a day. But since many cats are known for not drinking too much water, this can be quite difficult. There are some easy ways to decrease the risk of your cat becoming constipated.

For example, you could replace your cat’s dry food with canned food. It’s an easy way to ensure that your cat gets enough water without having to drink it. While dry cat food contains about 10% water, canned food can have as much as 80%. 

If you have several cats, it’s a good idea to keep several litter boxes in the house. Clean the litter box once a day, and make sure that you use different litter for cats that have preferences. Exercise and regular play can increase intestinal motility, so it would be great if you took some time out of your day to play with your cat. 

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