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Everything you need to know about cat constipation

Cat in litter box

Find out the symptoms, causes and treatment of constipation in cats

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Cat constipation is an uncomfortable part of life that may affect your pet for a number of reasons.

By Dr Holly Graham BVMedSci BVMBVS MRCVS

Updated on the 24/02/2021, 16:06

There are a number of medical and behavioural causes, but any changes in your cat’s bowel movements should be discussed with your vet. Indoor cat owners may be more in tune with their cats litter tray habits, and might be able to pick up longer gaps between poops. If your cat isn’t going as regularly as normal, they may need a helping hand to get things moving again.

Constipation isn’t uncommon, and affects lots of cats at least once in their life. Some cats experience constipation regularly, whilst others may have a stressful period and struggle once. Like with humans, reduced fluid intake and more dry faecal material can be enough to cause reduced faecal output, or constipation. Healthy poop should contain water, dehydrated poop is harder to squeeze out and get moving! Providing access to fresh water and good quality cat food will reduce your cat’s chances of getting bunged up, but be aware medical conditions may affect your cat’s bowels too. Give your cat somewhere clean and private to do their business, and try and avoid any changes in their routine. Cats like clean trays and privacy!

Single episodes of constipation are usually nothing to worry about, and may require simple treatment or resolve on their own. But even a short episode of constipation can be enough to require treatment to manually unblock your cat’s colon. If your cat is straining to pass a poop, or hasn’t been for over 48 hours it’s time to speak to your vet. Always speak to your veterinarian before attempt to treat your cat’s constipation at home - the root of the cause should always be investigated!

Symptoms of cat constipation

How do you know if your cat is constipated? Cats are notoriously private about their business and as a result it is often quite difficult to tell what state your cat’s poop is in.

Unless of course, you are an indoor cat owner. Indoor cat owners are more likely to see and hear their pets poop - and get the chance to inspect their litter tray creations regularly. If your cat goes to the toilet outside, it might be harder to spot any problems.

Symptoms of constipation include:

  • No bowel movement for over 48 hours
  • Dry, hard faeces
  • Defecating outside the litter box
  • Decreased appetite; decreased thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Straining when trying to pass poop
  • Excessive vocalisation

If you’re noticing any problems with your cat’s litter tray habits, or lack of them - give your vet a call and book an appointment for a check.

Causes of a cat’s constipation

There are multiple causes of cat constipation. In order for us to treat constipation effectively it is essential to know what is causing the issue. Anything from behavioural problems, such as changes in the home environment, stress or even a change in litter brand; right through to serious medical conditions can cause your cat to stop pooping as normal.

Any condition that causes dehydration may result in constipation. This may be something like chronic or long term, like kidney disease or diabetes; or an acute problem like severe vomiting. Water is removed or deposited in lower amounts in the GI tract resulting in firmer faeces.

As well as medical conditions structural abnormalities may stop your kitty from going to the toilet! Obstructions of the small intestine can stop material from passing through. These obstructions could be something your cat has eaten (known as a foreign body) or tumours of the GI tract. Megacolon is a condition that affects the large intestine, and causes an enlarged colon and stretched musculature. This means the colon isn’t able to effectively remove faecal material from the body. Other conditions like obesity can predispose to constipation too!

Older cats are more likely to suffer age related conditions, like kidney disease and arthritis. Both of these, or a combination can lead to issues defecating. Cats with arthritis may struggle to posture, or struggle to get into their litter tray.

All of the above conditions require veterinary treatment to cure, or manage. Any changes in your cat’s poops should be discussed with your vet. Constipation isn’t a comfortable condition!

Home remedies of cat constipation

If you’re concerned that your cat may be constipated, always book for an examination with your vet. Home remedies aren’t safe to try unless your pet has been given a clean bill of health by a registered veterinary surgeon. Many conditions that cause constipation require prescription medication, or at least careful management with your vet. Never presume constipation is benign - cat’s are masters at hiding their illnesses!

Read on to discover ways in which you can reduce your cat’s chances of a poop problem.

1. Drink more water

Cats aren’t great at drinking enough water. Wet food can greatly increase their water intake, but unfortunately isn’t as good for their teeth as dry biscuits. Cats fed wet food tend to have more moist, and often smellier stools! Try to encourage your cat to drink more water.

Lots of cats enjoy drinking from places that aren’t their water bowl. Leaving glasses around their favourite areas, using water fountains or leaving taps running may increase how much your cat drinks. Cats are awkward, and don’t like to drink where they eat! Placing a water bowl away from their feeding station may also increase their water intake. If your cat isn’t keen on plain water, occasional flavouring with tuna in spring water, or boiled chicken water might make it more appealing.

2. Make pooping a pleasant experience

Cats like privacy, and they can be fussy with their litter trays. Make your cat’s toilet as nice as it can be. Find out which tray your cat likes - this may be deep, wide or shallow. Offer them different litter types, some like clay between their toes; and others like to bury their business in wood pellets! Place your tray in an area where your cat has privacy, no-one enjoys an audience! If you’ve got a particularly private pooper, try a hooded litter tray. And always keep the toilet clean.

Cats don’t like to share their toilets, so if you’ve got multiple cats always make sure there’s a spare tray. The general rule for multi-cat household trays is number of cats + 1. If you had 3 cats you’d need 4 trays, more trays equals happier cats!

Cats are sensitive to environmental pressures and perceived threats. If your cat is worried they may hold in their poop. If your cat has had a negative faecal experience - whether pain, being attacked by another cat when they’re vulnerable or just an inappropriate tray this may make him more worried about going to the toilet. Pheromone diffusers close to the area might make your pet more comfortable. Make the toilet your cat’s favourite place.

3. Increase fibre intake

There are multiple options for increasing your cat’s fibre intake. Special diets are available from your vet, and there are many nutritional supplements that can be purchased via prescription or over the counter. Speak to your vet about the best option for your feline friend. High fibre diets help to bulk out the faeces, increasing motility of the gastrointestinal tract and colon and increase the ability of the bowel to absorb water into faecal material.

4. Increase activity and play

Movement is great for getting the GI tract moving! Encourage play, try new toys and have fun with your pet. Healthy and active cats are less likely to get constipated. Cats who regularly move are less likely to be obese, which is one of the causes of constipation. Sedentary cats might not always just be lazy, if you’ve got a cat who isn’t interested in playing or moving - get a check and ensure there aren’t any health problems occurring.

Medical treatments for cat constipation

If your cat is regularly experiencing constipation, or showing signs of illness seek veterinary advice as soon as you can. Lots of conditions can be successfully managed or treated, but they must be caught early. Your vet will perform a full clinical exam to narrow down the causes of constipation, but may suggest further investigations like bloodwork or imaging. Treatment varies between conditions, and there is no one-size-fits-all remedy.

Your vet may need to do one or more of the following treatments to help your cat get back to normal:

  • Intravenous fluid therapy given via a drip to rehydrate your pet
  • Manual removal of faecal material in the colon, as an enema
  • Administration of laxatives. Laxatives increase motility through the colon and GI tract. These can be given directly into the anus and colon, or may be prescribed as oral medication to give at home.

Constipation isn’t always avoidable, but ensuring your cat’s health is the best it can be may reduce the chances of this happening. Ensure a good quality diet, fresh water and a suitable litter tray are always available - and keep your cat lean and active! These simple steps will reduce the chances of your pet needing regular vet trips for the stinkiest of problems.