Cat Constipation: Causes & Treatments

Cat Tips

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Constipation can affect pretty much everyone, both human and animal. It’s not the most comfortable issue, and the causes can vary. Sometimes constipation is a symptom of a very serious health issue, but it can also just be a sign that there needs to be a change in diet.

Interestingly, cats have a high likelihood of suffering from constipation. There are many reasons that this is a common problem among cats, from their finicky nature to certain health issues. If you’ve noticed that your kitty is having difficulty using the litter box, you’re probably wondering how you can help.

Here at Spot Pet Insurance, we understand how distressing it can be for a pet parent when you don’t know what’s wrong with your pet. After all, they’re part of your family, so you want to make sure they’re healthy and happy.

Since cats tend to suffer from constipation, as a cat parent, you need to know possible causes, the signs, how your vet might treat it, and how you can help. Depending on the exact cause, constipation can be easily treated, but the underlying cause might be more of an issue.

What can cause my cat to be constipated?

There is a wide range of reasons that cats become constipated. Most of them will fall into three main categories. Dietary problems, environmental issues, or health problems can all be causes of constipation.

One of the reasons that constipation is so common among cats is the personality of cats as much as related dietary or health issues. Cats are stubborn, finicky, and like to be very clean.

There are a few cat breeds that aren’t as particular as other breeds, but these rules generally apply to most cats. They are also very private, so sometimes, it can be difficult to notice something wrong. They will hide any problems for as long as possible, so, as a cat parent, you need to learn to be very observant.

Cats are not entirely effortless pets. They don’t require as much attention or time as most dog breeds, but getting your cat to trust you takes time and effort. We do have a few tips on how to do it here.

What are the causes of constipation, aside from some cat personality traits? Let’s take a look.

Dietary issues

Sometimes constipation can be caused by something in your cat’s diet. It could be that there’s too much of an ingredient, or there could be too little. Cats need a particular kind of diet. A well-balanced diet for a cat is different from a well-balanced diet for a dog.

Sometimes, constipation can be caused by allergies to ingredients in your cat’s food. Foods that cats are allergic to can cause your cat’s intestines to become irritated or inflamed, which then prevents them from functioning correctly.

Another potential issue is that your cat might have too little fiber in their diet. Certain types of fiber can help food move smoothly and quickly through the digestive system. It’s also good at retaining water, preventing fecal matter from getting too dry for your cat to pass. Too much fiber can also cause issues, so you should follow the vet’s recommendation for how much fiber should be in your cat’s diet.

If your cat is over a healthy weight, it can potentially cause constipation as well. The extra weight can cause the intestines to be inflamed, preventing them from functioning correctly.

Dehydration is another possible cause of constipation. They need plenty of water. Otherwise, the fecal matter that is working its way through the intestines is too dry to be passed, especially if your cat has a habit of holding things in.

Hair can also cause constipation in cats. As all cat parents know, cats like to make sure they are clean. Cats will lick their own fur to remove any dirt or to keep it in place. If your cat doesn’t cough up that hairball, though, it can cause blockages, leading to constipation.

Environmental issues

Another factor in constipation is potential environmental issues. Cats are very sensitive to their environment. If they don’t feel comfortable, they won’t go about normal routines, like using the litter box.

Sometimes, your cat might feel stressed or anxious. Maybe you moved recently, or there’s someone new in the house, whether it’s a new cat, a dog, or a human. This might make your cat feel stressed, which, in turn, causes constipation.

A lack of exercise might also be a contributing factor to your cat’s constipation. Exercise is known for helping food to move through the intestines.

Another possible environmental issue is the location of the litter box. Cats, as we all know, can be picky about where they go to the bathroom. If their litter box isn’t in the right place or they don’t like the litter or the box itself, your cat might be holding it in to avoid using the litter box.

When they hold it in, the water in the fecal matter gets reabsorbed by the intestines, making it hard and dry. This harder, dryer fecal matter is much more painful for your cat to push out.

Signs of potential health problems

Constipation may also be a symptom of an underlying health issue. Many different possible health issues can lead to constipation. One of the most common health issues that cause constipation is megacolon.

Megacolon can be a cause of constipation, but it can also be one of the side effects. Megacolon is the term for a colon that is enlarged and weak. Because the muscles in the colon are weak and the colon is too large, it becomes too difficult to push the fecal matter out.

This problem can be a genetic issue. There could be something wrong with the muscles or a neurological (brain) issue. It is also possible that the colon became stretched out and weakened by the buildup of fecal matter that comes with constipation.

Other common causes of constipation are:

  • Cancer
  • Narrowed intestine due to tumors or other issues
  • Kidney disease or chronic kidney failure
  • Spinal issues, including pain
  • Foreign bodies blocking the large intestine, like bones
  • Perianal disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Impacted feces or ruptured anal sacs
  • Arthritis pain
  • Hyperthyroidism

Constipation is much more common in elderly cats since many of these issues become more likely as cats age.

If your cat suffers from one of these issues, they are considered underlying causes. In order to prevent constipation from reoccurring, the underlying cause needs to be treated.

What are the signs of constipation?

Cats are infamous for trying to hide their illnesses, although that’s mostly due to their secretive and private nature. Constipation can be easier to detect, especially if you clean the litter box regularly.

One of the simplest ways to detect whether your kitty is suffering from constipation is to check the litter box. There might be no fecal matter, or you might find hard and dry stool outside the litterbox.

A constipated cat may try to go but be in too much pain to finish, so they’ll walk out while the fecal matter is still coming out. It is also possible that they will keep going in and out again repeatedly since they feel the need to go but can’t.

Other symptoms include:

  • Keeping away from the litter box
  • Dry, hard stools
  • Loss of appetite
  • Crying/straining when in the litter box
  • Drinking lots of water or drinking less water than usual
  • Urinating often
  • Hiding
  • A stiff walk
  • Weight loss
  • Losing muscle
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty jumping

If your cat is exhibiting any of these signs, it probably means that they are constipated.,

When should I take my cat to the vet?

Constipation is a very uncomfortable problem, and if your cat is experiencing pain when using the litter box, you should make an appointment with a DVM. Even if it’s not constipation, it might be a urinary tract infection.

If it only happens once or twice, it may not be anything serious, so you may not need to take them to the vet, especially if there has been a recent change in diet. It may be a good idea to consult someone, though.

If you aren’t sure if something is severe enough for a vet visit, policyholders or a pet insurance plan provided by Spot  have access to 24/7 pet telehealth service powered by VetAccess™.

If it occurs frequently, you should visit the vet, so they can identify and treat the problem. You will then need to keep an eye on your fluffy friend to ensure that the treatment is working.

Normally, cats will poop roughly every 24 to 36 hours. If they haven’t made feces in over 48 or 72 hours, you will need to take them to the vet for treatment. Not only might it cause further issues, but it’s generally unhealthy and painful.

How can I help my cat overcome constipation?

Now that we know the causes and signs of constipation, we can look at possible treatments. If there is an underlying cause, there might also be treatments for that so that future constipation can be prevented.

Although your vet will have the right treatments for your cat, there are also some techniques that you can do at home, so we’ll take a look at both possible prescribed treatments and in-home help.

What treatments might the vet prescribe for constipation?

The treatment for constipation will depend on the cause and the severity. Sometimes a change in diet might be all that’s needed. In other cases, your cat could need probiotic supplements, medication, an enema, or surgery to get over chronic constipation. They might also recommend a high-fiber diet.

If you have taken your cat to the vet since they haven’t had a bowel movement after 48 to 72 hours, the first remedy the vet might try is giving your cat an enema. This is for the vet to do, not something you can do at home.

Fluids might also be necessary for motility, depending on how dehydrated your cat is.

Then the vet will do various tests to determine the exact cause of your cat’s problems with defecation. Conditions like tumors or cancer may require surgery, whereas something like hyperthyroidism might need medication.

Megacolon, one of the most common reasons or results of feline constipation, is usually treated with drugs to assist the muscles in functioning normally, at least in the beginning. Sometimes, the dosage needs to be increased as time goes on.

If the drugs don’t work initially, then surgery may be necessary. The veterinary surgeon would remove the affected area of the colon during a colectomy, which should then allow your cat to poop as normal once they have healed.

In milder cases, your cat’s vet might prescribe laxatives or stool softeners. Common options include psyllium husks, lactulose, and wheat bran. Although some over-the-counter laxatives can work for cats, always discuss possibilities with your cat’s vet first.

Many laxatives for humans work by pulling more water into the intestines, so if your cat is dehydrated, these laxatives can actually make your cat’s health condition worse instead of better.

What can I do at home to help my cat?

Since there are also environmental factors that can affect your cat’s ability to have regular bowel movements, there are also some at-home solutions.

If your vet recommends it, you can try adding more fibers to your cat’s diet. You could also try feeding them wet cat food instead of dry cat food since the wet cat food can help them get some of the water they need.

Cats tend to have issues drinking standing water. To remedy this, you could try investing in a pet water fountain. Or you could set up more water bowls in various locations around the house to remind your cat to drink it.

Possible lifestyle changes may help

Another way you can help is by reducing your cat’s stress levels. The best thing you can do is to keep your cat’s routine as close to normal as possible. If you’re changing their diet, make sure to follow your vet’s recommended pace for transition.

You should also make sure that your cat isn’t eating too much or getting too many treats. It’s also a good idea to help them exercise. You could try to get them to chase a laser pointer or a mouse on a string. It can help by reducing anxiety, assisting normal intestinal movement, and keeping them at a healthy weight.

It might also be helpful to experiment with litter boxes. You can get multiple ones to place in different areas around the house so that your cat has more options to choose from and can find a place they like. You could also try a different litter if they don’t like the one you’ve been using.

It’s also important to make sure you clean the litter box daily. Cats don’t like it when their spaces are dirty.

If hairballs seem to be the main cause of constipation, you probably need to groom your cat more regularly. Some special diets and remedies are supposed to help prevent hair from causing a problem.

Keeping your cat healthy and happy

Constipation isn’t fun to deal with for you or your cat, but it’s always best to be prepared so that if your kitty does have to go through it, you can help.

There are many possible causes of constipation, but most fit into one of three categories: dietary, environmental, or health.

Constipation can be caused by a lack of water or fiber, or it could even be because of allergies. It can also be a symptom of stress, or maybe your cat just doesn’t like where the litter box is located.

Many potential health conditions have constipation as a symptom, but the most common among cats is megacolon, where the colon is too weak to function properly.

Treatments can range based on the underlying cause. Laxatives could be helpful, but your cat could also need a change in diet, surgery, or just a new location for the litterbox. It’s always a good idea to have your cat examined by the vet, especially if they haven’t pooped for 48 to 72 hours.

As loving pet parents, watching our pets when they’re in pain or uncomfortable can be distressing, but it’s important to keep a clear head so that we can make the best decisions to help our pets get through it.

If you’re looking for more information about cats and their needs, you can check out our blog.

Here at Spot Pet Insurance, we do our best to provide helpful cat info. We care deeply about your cat’s health and want to be with you every step of the way. For other helpful info about cats, check out our Spot Pet Insurance webpage! Here we provide you with educational materials that can help you with the best foods, toys, safety, cleaning tips and care tips for your cat. We also offer personalized pet insurance plan options to help keep your cat protected in case of unexpected accidents and illnesses.

Sources:

9 Ways to Help Your Constipated Cat | PetMD

Constipation in Cats: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment | New Jersey Emergency Vet | 24/7 Emergency Veterinary Services animergevets.com

Constipation in Cats | VCA Animal Hospital

Megacolon in Cats | VCA Animal Hospital

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