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Megacolon in Cats

By: Dr. Arnold Plotnick

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Megacolon is a condition of extreme dilation and poor motility of the colon, usually combined with accumulation of fecal material and the inability to evacuate it. The majority of cases (62 percent) are "primary" or "idiopathic," which means there is no obvious reason for the condition. Some cases are "secondary," meaning that something has interfered with normal defecation for a prolonged period of time, causing chronic constipation, with megacolon occurring as a sequela. Recent studies have shown that cats with idiopathic megacolon have a defect in the ability of the muscle in the colon to contract.

Megacolon can occur in any age, breed, or sex of cat, however, most cases are seen in middle aged cats (average age is 5.8 years). Most cases are in males (70 percent males, 30 percent females). Megacolon can be a frustrating and difficult condition.

What to Watch For

  • Decreased or absent defecation
  • Painful defecation
  • Multiple, unproductive efforts to defecate
  • Dry, hard feces
  • Other systemic signs of illness as a result of prolonged inability to defecate, such as anorexia, lethargy, weight loss and vomiting

    Diagnosis

    Megacolon is typically diagnosed based on history and physical exam finding. Determining the severity and any underlying causes requires diagnostic tests. Tests may include:

  • Complete blood count
  • Chemistry panel
  • Urinalysis
  • Abdominal x-rays
  • Careful digital rectal exam
  • Ultrasound
  • Colonoscopy
  • Barium enema
  • Neurological tests

    Treatment

    Treatment for megacolon is aimed at removing the fecal matter and trying to correct any underlying causes of megacolon. Treatment may include:

  • Dietary modification (high fiber diets)
  • Enemas
  • Bulk-forming laxatives
  • Emollient laxatives
  • Lubricant laxatives
  • Hyperosmotic laxatives
  • Stimulant laxatives
  • Drugs that make the colon contract
  • Manual extraction of feces
  • Surgery

    Home Care and Prevention

    Home care for megacolon is to maintain a proper diet and exercise. This can help the cat to eliminate feces. Also important is the administration of all prescribed medication.

    If you find your cat straining excessively, vomiting or not eating, or if there is or no stool production, prompt examination and treatment by your veterinarian is recommended.

    Prevention of megacolon can be difficult. Proper diet, exercise and regular grooming can help reduce the risk of constipation. Preventing constipation in cats with megacolon may require the occasional use of laxatives.

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