Is Your Constipated Cat in Trouble? When to Take Action

What is Cat Constipation?

Constipation is defined as infrequent or difficult defecation in cats. This can present as:

  • Hard, dry stool
  • Large, uncomfortable feces
  • a cat eating grass outside

  • Inability to pass stool or feces
  • Reduced bowel movements
  • Straining or signs of discomfort when trying to defecate

Constipation occurs when too much water is absorbed from the colon or feces spends too much time in the colon. This causes the feces to become hard, dry and difficult to pass. Under normal circumstances, cats should pass bowel movements once or twice daily. Going longer than 48 hours without a bowel movement is considered abnormal for cats and may indicate constipation.

Common causes of constipation in cats include:

  • Dehydration
  • Diet low in fiber or high in mineral content
  • Lack of exercise or mobility
  • Side effects of certain medications
  • Diseases affecting the colon
  • Foreign objects, tumors or strictures obstructing the colon
  • Altered motility of the colon

Constipation can occur in cats of any age, but is more common in older cats or cats with underlying medical conditions. Signs of constipation warrant veterinary attention to identify and address the underlying cause.

Is Constipation Painful for Cats?

Constipation can be very painful and uncomfortable for cats. When a cat is constipated, it will often experience straining and difficulty passing stool. This struggle to defecate can cause significant pain and discomfort.

a constipated cat straining in a litter box

Constipated cats will frequently strain and push in an attempt to pass stool. This excessive straining is a sign that the cat is experiencing pain and pressure in its colon. The act of trying to push out hard, dry feces can cause pain and irritation in the rectum.

In addition to straining, constipated cats may vocalize or show signs of restlessness due to the discomfort. They may avoid using the litter box and seem hesitant to pass stool due to the pain it causes. Severely constipated cats may even pass small amounts of blood from the irritation and damage caused by hard stool.

Overall, constipation results in a very distressing and painful experience for cats. The inability to relieve themselves normally coupled with the abdominal pressure and straining can take a major toll. That’s why it’s crucial for cat owners to recognize the signs of constipation early and help relieve their pet’s pain.

When is Cat Constipation an Emergency?

Cat constipation is considered an emergency when it leads to a complete intestinal blockage. According to PetMD, signs of a blocked intestine include vomiting, lethargy, refusing to eat, and a swollen abdomen. A blockage prevents feces from passing through the intestines, and can quickly become life-threatening if left untreated.

A ruptured bladder is another potentially fatal complication. The bladder can rupture if a cat is unable to urinate for an extended period. According to the Cedar Animal Medical Center, symptoms of a ruptured bladder include vomiting, restlessness, and abdominal pain. This is a medical emergency requiring immediate veterinary treatment.

Constipated cats may also develop a fever as toxins build up in their bloodstream. Fevers over 103oF lasting more than 24 hours indicate a serious issue requiring prompt veterinary care, according to Animal Hospital of Reidsville. Along with fever, lethargy and appetite loss signal that constipation has become an emergency.

Home Remedies for Mild Constipation

There are several simple home remedies that can help relieve mild constipation in cats:

Increase water intake – Make sure your cat has access to fresh, clean water at all times. Consider getting a cat fountain to encourage drinking. You can also add a bit of low-sodium broth or tuna juice to their water to increase palatability.

Add fiber to diet – Mixing 1-2 teaspoons of canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) into your cat’s food can help add fiber. Other high fiber options include cooked oatmeal, canned beans, or bran cereals. Introduce slowly and monitor stool quality.

Encourage exercise – Get your cat moving with interactive playtime. Try cat teasers, laser pointers, and wand toys to get them running and jumping. This can help stimulate their digestive system.

Gentle tummy massage – Lightly massage your cat’s tummy to help stimulate the bowels. Focus on the lower abdomen. Only do this if your cat enjoys it and stop if they seem distressed.

These simple at-home solutions may help get things moving for a constipated cat. Make sure to monitor your cat closely and contact your vet if symptoms persist or worsen. For severe constipation, veterinary treatment may be required (cite: https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/cat-constipation-how-to-help).

Vet Treatments for Severe Constipation

If home remedies don’t alleviate your cat’s constipation, more intensive vet treatments may be required. Severe constipation can be very painful and dangerous for cats if left untreated. Vets have a few methods for relieving obstinate constipation in cats:

Laxatives: Vets may prescribe oral laxatives like lactulose or bisacodyl to help stimulate bowel movements. These laxatives help draw water into the colon to soften the stool and promote motility. Laxatives are often used along with enemas for optimal effect.

Enemas: Enemas involve flushing water or other solutions into the colon through the anus to mechanically help dislodge and evacuate impacted feces. Enemas provide quick relief and are often one of the first treatments vets use for severely constipated cats. Some cats may require sedation for the procedure.

a vet giving a cat an enema

IV Fluids: Dehydration can worsen constipation, so vets may administer intravenous fluids to rehydrate the cat and soften the stool. This helps restore moisture to the colon and improve motility.

Manual Extraction: In severe obstipation where the cat cannot pass feces on its own, the vet may need to manually extract the blocked feces from the rectum for relief. This is done gently under sedation.

If constipation persists despite these intensive treatments, further diagnostics tests may be warranted to check for underlying disorders causing the problem.

Preventing Cat Constipation

Constipation can often be prevented through some simple adjustments to your cat’s lifestyle and diet. The key preventative measures include:

High-fiber Diet

Feeding your cat a high-fiber diet can help stimulate intestinal motility and keep their digestive system regular. Gradually transition your cat to a high-fiber cat food by mixing it with their regular food. You can also add a teaspoon of canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) to their meals as a fiber boost. According to PetMD, a high-fiber diet helps bulk up stool and allows it to move smoothly through the intestines (source).

Adequate Hydration

Make sure your cat has access to fresh, clean water at all times. Dehydration can lead to constipation by hardening the stool and slowing down digestion. Consider adding extra water bowls around your home or getting a cat water fountain to encourage drinking. Broth or tuna juice mixed into food can also increase fluid intake (source).

Exercise and Playtime

Regular exercise stimulates the digestive tract and can help prevent constipation. Try to engage your cat in active playtime every day with interactive toys like feather wands or laser pointers. Place climbing towers, scratching posts, and cat trees around your home so they stay active. The more they run and climb, the better for their digestion and preventing constipation issues.

Routine Vet Checkups

Take your cat to the vet regularly to monitor their health. Your vet can check for any underlying issues that could cause constipation, like kidney disease or thyroid problems. Annual bloodwork and physical exams allow early detection and treatment of conditions before they lead to constipation (source).

Constipation in Kittens

Kittens can become constipated for a variety of reasons. Common causes include dehydration, diet changes, and low activity levels. Kittens who suddenly switch to a new food or eat mostly dry food without enough water can suffer from constipation. Lack of exercise and playtime can also lead to constipation since movement helps stimulate the bowels.

Warning signs that indicate your kitten may be constipated include straining to defecate without producing feces, small and hard stools, decreased appetite, lethargy, and a bloated or firm abdomen. Constipation is uncomfortable for kittens and can even be dangerous if left untreated, so it’s important to watch for these symptoms.

You should call your veterinarian if your kitten has not had a bowel movement in over 48 hours and is showing signs of constipation. Severe constipation may require medical treatment such as laxatives, enemas, or manual extraction of feces by the vet. Mild cases can often be treated at home by increasing water intake, adding more wet food or broth to their diet, and encouraging gentle exercise.

With prompt treatment and by addressing the underlying cause, constipation usually resolves quickly in kittens. Pay close attention to your kitten’s litter box habits, appetite, and energy levels so any constipation can be caught early before it becomes an emergency.

Constipation in Senior Cats

As cats age, constipation becomes more common. Older cats often have underlying illness that contributes to constipation, such as kidney disease, diabetes or hyperthyroidism. Managing these chronic diseases is an important part of preventing constipation in senior cats.

Senior cats may also become constipated if they are less active and have weaker abdominal muscles. Their diet is also a factor – older cats need food that is highly digestible and contains more fiber and moisture. Prescription senior diets can help prevent constipation issues.

an older cat drinking water from a fountain

Since older cats are prone to dehydration, making sure they get enough fluids is key. Feeding wet food, adding water to food, and providing multiple fresh water bowls can help senior cats stay hydrated.

Knowing when constipation has become an emergency is also important with older cats. Signs of an obstruction or megacolon include vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy, and a very swollen, firm abdomen. If a senior cat shows these symptoms along with constipation, immediate vet care is needed.

With extra care and attention to diet, activity and their medical issues, constipation can often be well-managed in senior cats. But veterinary guidance is recommended to keep older cats comfortable and regulate their bowel movements.

Cat Constipation vs Hairballs

Constipation and hairballs can cause similar symptoms in cats, like vomiting and straining to poop, but they have some key differences

Constipation is caused by difficulty passing stool, often due to dehydration, lack of fiber, or obstruction in the colon. Symptoms include straining, crying in the litter box, small and hard stools, blood in the stool, and lack of bowel movements for over 24 hours (Source).

Hairballs occur when cats ingest hair while grooming and it accumulates in the stomach. Symptoms are vomiting up hairballs, gagging, reduced appetite, and constipation if the hairball blocks the intestines (Source).

Treatments that can help both conditions include increasing hydration, adding fiber like pumpkin to their diet, grooming to reduce hair ingestion, and laxatives. For severe constipation, enemas or manual disimpaction may be needed (Source).

It’s important to see a vet if constipation lasts over 3-4 days or the cat is in distress. Hairballs usually pass within 24 hours and are not an emergency unless they cause a blockage.

When to See a Vet

For mild constipation, there are some home remedies you can try first before rushing to the vet. Adding more moisture to your cat’s diet by switching to wet food or mixing water into dry food can help soften stool. You can also try adding a teaspoon of canned pumpkin to their meals to increase fiber. Giving cats access to grass or catnip can also help stimulate their bowels. Light exercise and tummy massages may encourage a bowel movement as well.

However, there are some red flag symptoms that indicate a more serious issue requiring emergency veterinary care. If your cat is vomiting, straining excessively, or crying in pain when trying to poop, seek vet care immediately. Bloody stool, lack of appetite, lethargy, or a distended belly are also signs of a potential blockage requiring urgent attention. Dehydration from an inability to pass stool is dangerous. If normal at-home remedies don’t relieve constipation within 12-24 hours, vet examination is advised.

To help prevent chronic constipation, bring your cat in for regular wellness checks with the vet. Cats are good at hiding illness, so twice-yearly physical exams can detect early signs of constipation, diabetes, kidney disease and other conditions that may lead to elimination issues. Routine bloodwork and fecal testing also helps monitor your cat’s health. With proactive vet care and attention to diet and activity, constipation emergencies can often be avoided.

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