Dietary management can form an important part of a plan to treat and manage constipation in cats. The recommended diet will depend on the underlying cause of the problem. Read on for more information and to find out why.
What causes constipation in cats?
Constipation is more common in older cats, but can be seen at any age, and refers to decreased frequency or difficulty passing stools. It arises when faeces spend longer in the large intestine (colon or rectum) than is normal. This leads to greater absorption of water, and drier and harder faeces. There are a huge range of causes. Some of these are more common in older cats, such as dehydration due to kidney disease or pain from osteoarthritis making it uncomfortable to go.
Other causes include metabolic disorders, neurological problems, obstructions including foreign body ingestion or megacolon. Megacolon refers to an enlarged colon and can be idiopathic (seemingly for no reason) or secondary to another cause of constipation that has led to decreased ability of the colon muscles to contract.
Cat constipation: from lack of fibre to dirty litter trays
There can also be lifestyle and behavioural reasons for constipation. Many cats do not like using a dirty litter tray or sharing with other cats in a multi-pet household, so will use the toilet less often. The passage of hair through the intestines can also be a trigger, particularly in longer-haired cats or individuals that overgroom. Other factors include too much or too little dietary fibre and a sedentary lifestyle.
Why is my cat's poop so hard?
If your cat is passing hard stools, it is likely that they are constipated. If this occurs as a one-off, it is unlikely to be an issue unless your cat seems in pain or distressed. Regularly producing hard faeces is an indication that there is an ongoing cause of the constipation and it is worth booking a veterinary appointment to discuss possible causes. The vet will be able to advise whether diagnostic tests are necessary to look for an underlying illness. This could include testing blood and urine samples, x-rays and ultrasound. The prognosis of many of these conditions can be improved by early veterinary intervention and management.
How can you tell if a cat is constipated?
Signs of feline constipation include decreased frequency of passing stools, straining or pain when defaecating, and producing smaller, harder faeces. More severe cases can cause inappetence and even vomiting.
Symptoms of constipation can be confused with those of urinary tract disease, as it can be difficult to work out why a cat is straining in their litter tray. It can also be more difficult to pick up on signs of cats that toilet outdoors. If in doubt, seek veterinary advice.
What can you do for a constipated cat?
Cats that are regularly constipated should first see a vet for a health check. In some cases an enema may be recommended – this is when a lubricant is inserted directly into your cat’s rectum to help them pass hardened faeces more comfortably. There are also laxative drugs or prokinetic treatments available that may be prescribed. Never attempt to self-treat your cat with a human product as these can be unsuitable or even toxic to cats. Only give medical treatments under veterinary advice. In very severe cases surgery may be necessary.
There are ways to help your constipated cat through long-term management, depending on the reason for their constipation. You can encourage your cat to take on plenty of fluids by feeding a wet diet and ensuring there are plenty of water bowls around the house. Some cats will prefer to drink water that is slightly meaty in flavour, such as the cooking liquid from boiling chicken or white fish – but avoid anything that is salty.
It can also really help to provide more litter trays and empty these each time they are used, particularly in a multi-cat household. Suitable food for a constipated cat can vary. A diet that is higher in fibre is sometimes recommended, but check with a vet first as in some cases, especially with megacolon, a lower fibre diet is actually better. A feline probiotic product may also be suitable in combination with other management options.
Does cat grass help with constipation?
A cat may eat grass, particularly if they are feeling nauseous. It is possible that this has laxative effects, although they will often be sick after eating it. Having said that, this is not a suitable treatment for constipation and home-remedies should be avoided.
What home remedy can I give my cat for constipation?
You can try some of the lifestyle management options, such as increasing fluid intake and ensuring there are plenty of clean litter trays. But it is best to get regular constipation investigated, so that associated health problems can be suitably managed. Do not try to give your cat any medical home remedies, particularly human medicines, as these may well be toxic to your pet.
Can massage help a constipated cat?
There is some evidence that massage could help to stimulate peristalsis, the contractions of the gut. This is not particularly suitable in cats because they do not like having their stomachs touched, and you may cause pain and stress by pressing too hard. It is better to consider other lifestyle management options and to seek veterinary advice for suitable treatments.
When should I talk to a vet?
If your cat has a one-off episode of constipation and is otherwise bright and well, then this is probably not a cause for concern. If your pet is frequently constipated or showing any other symptoms of being unwell, you should contact a vet.
What should I ask a vet about the best nutrition plan for a cat with constipation?
If you think your cat has constipation, or they have been diagnosed with this, then it is helpful to ask a vet about dietary management and nutrition. The advice varies depending on the underlying cause. You could ask about therapeutic diets, fibre levels and probiotics. Take along the packaging of any existing food, if you want to ask your vet whether it is suitable, as they will need to see the list of ingredients and composition.