My Cat Is Constipated - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment
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Our cat's pooping habits can reveal a lot about their state of health and well-being. This is perhaps most arresting when we see the cat defecates outside of their litter box or they have acute diarrhea. Something less noticeable, but no less concerning, is constipation in cats. Since cats often hide their feces in the litter box, it might be some time before we even notice our cat has not pooped in a long time. This is only one of the reasons it is important to clean our cat's litter box regularly. Not only do we maintain hygiene, but we are best able to observe for issues such as constipation.
At AnimalWised, we understand why my cat is constipated. We look at the causes, symptoms and treatment of constipation in cats so you can know what to expect if it happens when your feline is not defecating.
What is constipation in cats?
Constipation in cats refers to abnormal bowel movements whereby a cat's ability to defecate is hindered. There are different levels of constipation, ranging from mild to severe. Mild constipation means a cat may have a little difficulty in pooping, whereas severe constipation means the cat cannot defecate at all. In severe constipation, something is obstructing the colon. This is often the feces itself, especially when it becomes dry and hard in the digestive tract.
As stated in the introduction, it can be difficult to tell whether a cat is constipated. This is easier to determine with an indoor cat. Indoor cats exclusively use the litter box, so we know a cat is constipated by looking in the tray. If the feces is hard and dry, it can imply constipation. If there is no feces in the litter box and none to be found else where in the home, then we can determine they are constipated.
This is more difficult with cats which have outdoor access. If they regularly defecate outside, they will not use their litter box as much. This means it may take more time for us to notice there is a problem.
Normally cats defecate every day. We can consider a cat to be constipated when it has been between 2 and 4 days since they have had a bowel movement. When this occurs, we need to take the cat to a veterinarian. This is especially the case if we see other symptoms of illness. Gastrointestinal blockages can be very serious for cats and time can be an important factor in terms of prognosis.
Why is my cat constipated?
Although diet and gastrointestinal factors are particularly important, there are various causes of constipation in cats. Below, we provide the most significant:
- Diet: this is one of the most common reasons why a cat can suffer from abnormal accumulation of feces. Fiber is very important for gastrointestinal movement, so a low-fiber diet can be the root cause. However, there are also other nutritional deficiencies which can result in constipation.
- Hydration: a lack of water can also be an important factor when our cat has difficulty defecating. The hydration of the body is vital for the digestive system to work. If the cat does not have access to enough water, the digestion process will be hindered. It can cause the stool to become too dry and unable to pass through adequately. Learn what to do if your cat is dehydrated.
- Obesity: overeating can be a factor in a cat becoming constipated. This is especially so if the cat eats too fast. When large amounts of food are ingested at the same time, it can cause food to accumulate and make digestion more difficult.
- Lower-back pain: whether due to pelvic injury or other issues, pain in the lower back can make defecation physically difficult. Since they cannot arch their back without being in pain, they may stop pooping until the pain is relieved.
- Stress or anxiety: it is possible for a cat to develop stress which indirectly affects their ability to defecate. Acute anxiety can affect their digestion and result in constipation. It is also possible the cat will have a specific fear of their litter box. This fear can mean they do not use it and become constipated, although they will usually go elsewhere in the home rather than not at all.
- Hairballs: this is another of the main causes of constipation in cats. Accumulated hair in the gastrointestinal tract can cause obstruction, meaning the cat is unable to evacuate their feces. These are caused by ingestion of hair during grooming which is hard to digest. It is more common in long-haired cats.
- Foreign object: cats are inquisitive animals and will use their mouth to explore their surroundings. Whether they think it is a piece of food or swallow it accidentally, a foreign object can be ingested, block the GI tract and result in constipation. These objects can be toys, tree bark, ornaments or anything small enough to be swallowed.
- Side effect of medication: many drugs can affect gastrointestinal movement and cause constipation as a side effect. Mild constipation may be expected, but will relieve itself once the treatment ceases.
- Inflammatory bowel disease: inflammation of the digestive tract also causes problems in the evacuation of feces. Learn more with our guide to inflammatory bowel disease in cats.
- Neurological disease: more severe cases may be due to a neurological problem. Neurological diseases can affect the signals being sent from the brain to the digestive system to carry out proper defecation. This is why it is also very important to take it to the vet as soon as we see symptoms of constipation. The sooner a neurological problem is detected, the better the prognosis.
- Symptom of other diseases: whether it causes dehydration which leads to constipation or there is another action, various other diseases can cause constipation. It is important to determine their cause with the help of a professional veterinarian.
Symptoms of constipation in cats
The symptoms of constipation in a cat are diverse. We often may not realize the cat is constipated until the animal has been unable to defecate for several days. For this reason, it is recommended that we check the litter box every day. This is the best way to ensure the digestive and urinary health of our feline and begin treatment of any problem as soon as possible.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of constipation in cats:
- Spends a lot of time in the litter box
- Tries to defecate outside the litter box
- Fear or rejection of the litter box
- Discomfort and abdominal pain
- Persistent meowing
- Neglect of hygiene and grooming
- Lack or loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Small, hard and dry stools
- Blood or mucus in some stools
The consistency of a cat's poop can help us to know the severity of their constipation. If there are some hard or dry lumps, but the remaining feces is soft, it implies the cat has mild constipation. If the stool is very hard and dry, it will be more severe. No stool at all means they are completely blocked.
Treatment of constipation in cats
Treatment for constipation will depend on its underlying cause. It is vital that we never give our cat any medication on our own. This is especially the case if we try to use human medicine on our cat. Enemas, laxatives or other treatments designed for humans can be very harmful when administered to felines. Always closely follow the advice of a trusted veterinarian.
Some reasons why a cat is constipated do not require pharmacological treatment. Changing the cat's diet or behavior may be sufficient to correct the problem. In some cases, a combination of the two may be required to manage their symptoms during treatment. The following causes are usually easier to resolve:
- Inadequate diet: the veterinarian will usually recommend a diet that is higher in fiber and has more water. We usually observe the constipation relieves itself incrementally.
- Obesity: the vet will recommend a diet to help our cat lose weight and will explain physical exercises to help obese cats lose weight. As they lose weight, you will see their constipation is replaced with healthier bowel movements.
- Obstruction: when our cat has ingested a foreign body or has hairballs, the treatment depends on the severity. In mild cases of hairballs in cats, the use of malt paste may be sufficient to shift the blockage and restore gastrointestinal movement.
- Fear and anxiety: the fear or rejection of the litter box can be solved by changing the type of box or the type of litter. However, it can be difficult to determine the causes of stress in cats, so behavioral training with the use of positive reinforcement may be required, as well as elimination of the stressors.
- Side effect of medication: in mild cases, it is usually sufficient to wait until the end of treatment and the constipation will cease naturally. If the constipation is more severe, the veterinarian can either use additional treatments until the end of the drug administration or change the drug to an alternative.
More complicated causes of cat constipation require more involved treatment. This can be in the form of pharmacological or even surgical treatment:
- When our cat swallows a foreign body, it can easily cause an obstruction in the intestines. When it is sufficiently large, laxatives, enemas and other treatments will be insufficient. Since the build up of feces can cause serious internal damage, surgical intervention to remove the foreign body and restore gastrointestinal movement may be required.
- Whether it is due to gastrointestinal inflammation, back pain causes by trauma, neurological problems or any disease which leads to constipation, the treatment will consist of administering to this underlying problem. The vet may need to x-ray the cat to diagnose the cause of constipation or use other diagnostic tests. Once the cause is determined, its treatment will stop the constipation. Drugs or other supportive treatments may be used concurrently to help relieve the constipation until the animal is cured.
Take a look at one possible pharmacological treatment for feline constipation with our article on liquid paraffin for cats.
Home remedies for constipation in cats
As you can see above, we need to go to a veterinarian to determine the cause of constipation in cats. The below home remedies are not replacement for veterinary treatment, but they may be used to support the cat through treatment, prevent constipation in cats or help relieve very mild constipation:
- Brushing your cat daily will reduce the hairballs and therefore prevent the obstructions they can produce.
- Periodically offering malt paste for cats can also help prevent the buildup of hair.
- Provide access to fresh water and ensure that there is always enough.
- Encourage daily physical exercise and provide enough space in which to do it.
- Change their feed for one with more fiber content and/or provide more wet food in their diet.
- Small amounts of pureed pumpkin or zucchini can be added to their daily food so they can ingest more natural fiber.
Prevention of constipation in cats
As a cat gets older, constipation tends to be more frequent. For this reason, we can help you prevent this uncomfortable problem in their day-to-day life. These will likely become more useful as the cat ages:
- Balanced diet: our cat's diet must be balanced and their nutritional needs met. This not only means they require fiber in their diet. Their food should be based on specific factors such as their age and health status. We need to speak to our veterinarian if we are unsure about the best diet for our cat.
- Food for a constipated cat: it will also be good if a cat's diet contains oily fish such as tuna, sardines or mackerel. When given in moderation, their fat content is very good for the intestinal tract and helps prevent the accumulation of feces, partly due to the presence of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Encourage hydration: we need to ensure our cat has constant access to fresh clean water. This means we may need to replenish their water more regularly, especially during the warmer months of the year. We can also increase hydration by using wet food, as well as providing water fountains for cats. These help because cats usually prefer drinking from running water.
- Litter box: ensure you have both the right litter box for your cat and the right amount of litter boxes for the cats in your home.
- Obesity: controlling the weight and physical activity of our cat with the help of a veterinarian will prevent them from suffering otherwise avoidable ailments and diseases such as constipation and obesity.
- Grooming: brush the feline's fur regularly and take them to the groomer when necessary. This will help prevent the cat from ingesting too much dead hair. This is especially important for longhaired cats which may need brushed daily during molting season or if your cat is suddenly shedding a lot.
This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.
If you want to read similar articles to My Cat Is Constipated - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment, we recommend you visit our Intestinal problems category.