By Stacia Friedman
Mild, occasional constipation is common in cats and is usually nothing to worry about. But how do you know when it becomes a serious problem, requiring the attention of a veterinarian? Learn the causes, remedies and medical issues related to your cat’s constipation.
Symptoms of Constipation in Cats
“Your cat should be producing stool about once a day,” says Liz Bales, VMD. “A healthy stool has enough moisture that litter will stick to it. If your cat has not produced stool for 48 - 72 hours, [he] may be constipated. You may notice dry, hard feces inside or outside the litter box. Some other signs to look for might be decreased appetite and water intake, vomiting, hiding, and crying or straining while trying to defecate.”
Causes of Cat Constipation
“Anything that causes dehydration in a cat may result in constipation,” says Bales. Chronic diseases that result in constipation in cats include kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. Ruptured or impacted anal sacs may also cause your cat pain with defecation and may result in constipation. Obese cats are at a greater risk for developing constipation, says Bales.
“Older cats are frequently arthritic and it can be painful to defecate in the box regularly, thus they will hold their stool longer, drying it out, and causing constipation,” says Dr. Scott Gellman of Chestnut Hill Cat Clinic in Philadelphia.
Cats are also at risk for a disease called megacolon in which the large intestine stops functioning normally. The result is constipation or even worse, obstipation – a complete blockage of the large intestine with feces.
Home Remedies for Constipation in Cats
Increasing water consumption is key to help constipation in cats. “ Some cats prefer to have their water source in a different location than their food,” says Bales. “Have multiple fresh water sources available. You can try a dripping faucet, a continuous flow water fountain, and ice cubes. In addition, you can flavor water with tuna juice or clam juice.” If your cat eats dry food, switching to canned is an easy way to dramatically increase their water intake.
The following over-the-counter products may relieve your cat’s constipation, but make sure to consult your veterinarian before giving any medications to your cat.
Laxatone is an edible petroleum gel that helps lubricate your cat’s digestive tract. It comes in different flavors and your cat may lick it off your fingers.
- Metamucil is a source of fiber. Mix one to four teaspoons with your cat’s food every 12 to 24 hours.
- Miralax is another laxative and stool softener. Mix 1/4 tsp once a day with wet food.
- Wheat bran is another natural source of fiber. Mix one to two tablespoons with your cat’s food every 12 to 24 hours.
- Canned pumpkin is a source of fiber but it does not actually provide as much fiber content as Metamucil or Miralax. You can add 1-2 tablespoons to each meal.
- Increase water consumption by making additional water sources available away from your cat’s food, switching to a canned diet, or even mixing a little extra water in with the food.
- Maintain healthy weight by changing your cat’s diet in consultation with a vet.
- Increase exercise with cat toys and more play time.
“The gastrointestinal tract of cats is a little different from people, so high fiber diets do not always help constipation,” explains Gellman. In fact, sometimes a low fiber diet works better. “A lot of it depends on the cause of the problem. The important thing to understand is there is usually an underlying cause of constipation and the cat should be brought to a veterinarian to help figure it out.”
Medical Treatments for Constipation in Cats
Your veterinarian may elect to administer fluids intravenously and/or an enema. “Administering an enema to a cat is a veterinary job and should not be attempted at home,” says Bales. Some types of enemas are actually very toxic to cats. “Your veterinarian may prescribe lactulose, a synthetic sugar used to treat constipation. It is broken down in the colon into products that pull water out from the body and into the colon. This water softens stools.”
Lifestyle Changes to Aid Constipation in Cats
Dr. Bales suggests “enriching your cat’s environment” with cat trees and toys to give your pet plenty of exercise running, jumping, and climbing. These activities, when combined with maintaining a healthy weight and sufficient hydration, will often help prevent constipation. If your cat goes more than 48 hours without a bowel movement, always consult your veterinarian.
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