Constipation in Cats

Overview of Feline Constipation

Constipation is infrequent, incomplete, or difficult defecation with passage of hard or dry feces. Constipation is sometimes used interchangeably with obstipation, which is intractable constipation where defecation becomes impossible. It may cause great distress and pain in cats.

IMPORTANT: If your cat is straining in the litter box, it is critical to know for sure if your cat is straining due to constipation or due to the inability to urinate. A urinary obstruction is life-threatening and often mistaken for constipation in cats.

Causes of Constipation in Cats

What to Watch For

Diagnosis of Constipation in Cats

The diagnosis is usually made by a supportive history and physical examination findings. However, there are many tests that may also help. The following is a list of the most common tests that your veterinarian may recommend:

Treatment of Constipation in Cats

There are several things your veterinarian might recommend to treat your cat with constipation symptomatically, prior to instituting a full diagnostic work up.

Home Care and Prevention

Your veterinarian may recommend some treatments at home. These may include:

In-depth Information on Constipation in Cats

Causes of Feline Constipation

There are many causes of constipation. Although it is not unusual for a normal cat to have a bout or two of constipation over the course of her life, it is not normal or acceptable for recurring problems, hence, establishing an underlying cause should be attempted in these cases.

Constipation is relatively common in cats. However, it must be differentiated from obstipation and megacolon. Obstipation is intractable (resistant to control) constipation, and megacolon is a condition of extreme dilation of the colon. Obstipated cats or those with megacolon are always constipated; however, constipated animals are not always obstipated or have megacolon.

Constipation can occur in association with any disorder that impairs the passage of fecal material through the colon, slowing its transit time. This delay in transit allows the removal of additional salt and water from the feces, producing harder and drier stools.

Systemic signs of constipation vary. Feces can be retained for days before any deleterious effects are observed. Some animals may display mild signs, such as a slightly prolonged posture while defecating, and then produce a dry, firm stool. Others will have frequent or painful attempts to defecate with little or no fecal passage. Severely constipated patients often exhibit depression, weakness, lack of appetite and vomiting. These animals are quite ill and may require hospitalization. It is important to establish a definitive diagnosis and cause, especially in the cat with recurrent constipation.

Diagnosis In-depth

Your veterinarian may recommend additional tests to insure optimal medical care. These are selected on a case-by-case basis.

Since it is necessary to “clean out” your cat to allow for proper visualization of the colon, oral solutions are administered the evening and morning before the procedure, in addition to several enemas. Hospitalization is brief, and healing is generally quick and uneventful. It does, however, necessitate general anesthesia, and therefore is associated with minor risks. It is often necessary to refer the patient to a specialist, and is only performed when other diagnostics are either inconclusive or the patient is not responding well to therapy.

Therapy In-depth

One or more of the diagnostic tests described above may be recommended by your veterinarian. In the meantime, treatment of the symptoms might be needed, especially if the problem is severe. The following nonspecific (symptomatic) treatments may be applicable to some cats with constipation. These treatments may reduce severity of symptoms or provide relief for your cat. However, nonspecific therapy is not a substitute for definitive treatment of the underlying disease responsible for your cat’s condition. Medical and dietary therapy may be lifelong and often frustrating.

Follow-up Care for Cats with Constipation

Optimal treatment for your cat requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. Follow-up can be critical, especially if your cat does not improve rapidly. It is important to note that chronic or recurrent constipation can lead to obstipation and acquired megacolon, at which point prognosis is guarded for normal function.

It is important to monitor the frequency of defecation and the consistency of feces. Administer all prescribed medication as directed. Alert your veterinarian if you are experiencing problems treating your cat. Overuse of laxatives and enemas can cause diarrhea.

Discontinue/avoid any medication or substance that may be causing or exacerbating (worsening) constipation.