"Constipation in cats

"Constipation in cats

Health & Safety

The word “constipation” is used to describe problems with passing faeces or stools, such as straining or having difficulty going to the toilet, not passing stools very frequently, or a total blockage leading to the cat being unable to pass stools at all.

When a cat is constipated, this causes the faeces that are not being passed naturally to build up within the bowel and colon, which in turn leads to the faeces becoming compacted and hardened and worsening the problem. When constipation reaches this stage, it is known as “obstipation,” and left unchecked, obstipation or repeated bouts of constipation can lead to the colon itself becoming distended and unable to push faeces out of the rectum in the normal manner, in a condition known as “megacolon.”

Constipation is, understandably, uncomfortable and unpleasant for your cat, and can be very painful. It is important to be able to identify the onset of constipation in the cat, and know what symptoms to be on the lookout for in order to seek treatment promptly.

What can cause constipation in cats?

There are many potential reasons for constipation in the cat, and these can be both behavioural and medical in nature. If a cat feels unhappy going to the toilet, because they do not have a safe place to go, their litter tray is dirty, or they are unable to go outside if that is what they are used to, this may lead to a reluctance to go to the toilet at all. This is of course both uncomfortable and stressful for your cat, as cats are by nature, very clean creatures, and will often go to great lengths to avoid making a mess or going to the toilet in areas that they are unhappy with .

As well as psychological reasons for a reluctance to go to the toilet, any of the following underlying causes and problems can lead to constipation in the cat too:

  • Pain or inflammation in the limbs, tail or back that can lead to discomfort when squatting.
  • Injuries, abscesses or infections in the colon area that lead to pain or discomfort when passing stools.
  • Inflammations or infections of the bladder, which can also cause pain when straining to pass stools.
  • Dehydration can lead to the stools in the colon being too dry and hard to be passed normally and comfortably. This may be caused by an underlying condition that itself results in constipation, such as renal problems.
  • Obstructions to the colon itself, such as those that may be caused by an injury to the pelvic area or anatomical problems.
  • Foreign bodies within the stool, such as hairballs or bones from food, leading to a hard mass that cannot be passed normally.
  • A diet that does not contain enough fibre.
  • Problems with the anal glands.
  • Badly matted hair around the anus, particularly in long haired cats.
  • A range of neurological conditions that can lead to problems with the spinal cord or the nerve pathways between the brain and the bowel that control toileting and regulate going to the toilet.
  • Illnesses and conditions that affect the digestive or endocrine systems, such as cancers and other progressive conditions.

The symptoms of constipation in cats

Often, constipation in the cat can be hard to spot if your cat normally goes to the toilet outside, which results in your being less aware of their normal toileting routines.

Be on the lookout for the following signs that something is amiss when your cat goes to the toilet:

  • Finding small stools within the litter box that are often very dry and hard
  • Straining and obvious difficulty when passing stools
  • Signs of pain such as yelping or crying when passing stools
  • Stools that have a coating of either mucous or blood, or seeing signs of blood among the stools
  • Frequent trips to the litter box or outside to toilet without success
  • Listlessness and disinterest in grooming
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Lethargy and general disinterest in things
  • A hard, distended abdomen and any signs of pain when touching the abdomen

Diagnosing and treating constipation in cats

As well as treating any given bout of constipation and addressing the immediate issue at hand, it is important to investigate the root cause of the problem, which may involve running further tests to identify if an underlying illness is at play, or if your cat’s diet is leading to problems with passing stools comfortably.

Your vet will usually perform a physical examination on your cat, as well as potentially running additional tests, such as a colonoscopy or x ray in the case of potentially severe impactions.

As well as attempting to identify and address the cause of constipation itself, be that behavioural, physical or neurological, your vet may take one or more of the following steps to resolve the immediate bout of constipation itself:

  • Administer a stool-softening agent to make it easier for your cat to pass the impaction naturally.
  • Administer IV fluid therapy to combat dehydration and again, allow your cat to pass the stools naturally.
  • Administer an enema to break up and pass the impaction.
  • Manually express the bowel itself.
  • Possibly perform surgery to remove any foreign body present or correct problems with the anatomy that are causing obstructions.
  • Prescribe a veterinary diet that is high in fibre to prevent recurrences of the problem.
  • Prescribe a product such as Metamucil, a dietary fibre supplement.

What type of cat is most likely to suffer from constipation?

As there are many potential causes of constipation in the cat, theoretically any cat may develop the problem at some point.

Elderly cats are more at risk than younger cats, and any cat fed a diet low in fibre may be particularly prone. Some breeds of cat are more susceptible to suffering from chronic or recurrent constipation than others, such as Manx cats, as the Manx’s signature lack of tail sometimes comes accompanied with other anatomical problems of the spine that can lead to additional problems with the bowel and colon as well.

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