Feline Constipation: A Potentially Serious Medical Condition

Feline constipation is a fairly common condition that many cat owners may encounter over the course of their kitty’s lifetime. Since healthy cats normally will pass one healthy bowel movement a day; if your cat is only defecating every few days, is consistently passing hard, dry stool, straining while trying to defecate, has a poor appetite, swelling around the anal area, vomiting occasionally, has a sore abdomen, or acting lethargic; these are signs that your cat is constipated.

Feline Constipation

Photo: Flickr User: aJ Gazmen

Because constipated cats may also have an underlying medical condition which is causing the problem, it’s crucial to have your cat examined and treated by your veterinarian without delay. Chronic constipation is a serious condition which can lead to obstipation; a more significant condition. When a cat is obstipated, the colon is blocked entirely with feces, making it almost impossible for the cat to defecate. Obstipation can lead to megacolon; an even more serious condition. In megacolon, the nerves and muscles in the cat’s colon have been damaged, making defecation virtually impossible.

It’s extremely painful for cats who are seriously constipated and straining to defecate. These cats may even develop litter box avoidance or start house soiling since they associate the pain with the litter box itself. In fact some cats who have are severely constipated or obstipated may start attempting to defecate or passing hard stool on soft surfaces such as pillows, blankets quilts or carpets. These cats are in need of immediate veterinary attention.

According to expert feline veterinarian, Dr. Jean Hofve, some of the causes of feline constipation can range from an unacceptable dirty litter box, dehydration, blocked or abscessed anal sacs, ingesting foreign objects, such as string, wool, cloth, plastic, etc., excessive grooming and hairballs (see thinning out the coat), neurologic issues, inflammatory bowel disease and pelvic injury.

An inadequate or inappropriate diet can also be a major cause of feline constipation. In discussing diet issues, Dr. Hofve said,

“In more than 18 years of experience as a feline veterinarian, I have not personally seen constipation problems in cats who do not eat dry food. It’s logical, therefore, to think that diet plays a significant role in development of the problem.”

Dr. Hofve added that although she has heard from people who feed their cats an exclusively wet or raw diet have developed constipation issues she thinks this is fairly unusual.

Since canned food, raw meat diets and homemade cat food is low in fiber, Dr. Hofve suggests that some cats may need some addition fiber to help prevent constipation issues. She recommends adding a pinch of ground flaxseeds, or chia seeds (Salba) since they work well and are fairly palatable.

Many veterinarians recommend adding 1/8th of a tsp of Miralax or a generic product called Polyethylene glycol twice a day mixed in wet food. Polyethylene glycol is an osmotic laxative. Osmotic laxatives work by retaining water in the stool, resulting in softer stools with more frequent bowel movements. Polyethylene glycol does not affect glucose and electrolytes in the body. Since psyllium and powdered cellulose can be overly harsh, Dr. Hofve doesn’t highly recommend them. See a list of page on home treatment of cat constipation.

One of the most first things to help cats that are constipated is increasing their hydration. Veterinarians treating constipated cats will give them either sub-q (sub-cutaneous) fluids or intravenous (IV) fluids. Slight cases of constipation may be treated with intermittent enemas, but other treatments will depend on the severity of the condition.

Since many cats generally don’t drink enough water, to help prevent feline constipation, finding ways to increase their fluid intake can somewhat challenging. Some cats prefer drinking out of a running faucet over a water bowl, so by leaving water tap slightly open for their convenience might entice them to drink more. Michael used microwaved frozen fish and added water.

Providing cats with a commercial water fountain can be very helpful. Since plastic water fountains are noisy they are noisy, hard to clean and impossible to get rid of mold. One of the best water fountains on the market is the Glacier Point Water Fountain. While it is may seem costlier than other fountains; in the long run it is the one of the most economical products since it is built to last, is quiet, easy to clean, made in the USA and has fabulous customer service.

Make sure that your cat gets sufficient exercise to help stimulate peristalsis which helps keep that “poop” moving more easily down the colon. Watch the litter box like a hawk to make sure that your cat is defecating normally and regularly. Take immediate action if there is a problem.

Have you had issues with feline constipation? What have you done to correct this condition? Tell us in a comment.


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Feline Constipation: A Potentially Serious Medical Condition — 10 Comments

  1. We have a water fountain as well as three other water bowls and the main diet is high-quality wet food; cats are for the most part groomed daily or more often! so this hasn’t been a problem for us. I believe in preventive maintenance, for cats as well as humans, rather than treatment of problems. But we do have a tube of Laxatone on hand, just in case; and I have heard from various sources that tinned pumpkin is helpful when mixed into the diet, for either constipation or diarrhea.

  2. I have shared previously about the problems my cat Mitzy had with constipation. I’ve always given her both wet and dry food, but the problems started when she stopped drinking water. That was over a year ago, and I still haven’t discovered the reason. I got a fountain, which she used for awhile. I put various containers of filtered water around, and still she wasn’t drinking. She had small hard pellets for poop.

    I continued to give her Laxatone, and tried many fiber sources including crushed chia seed, psyllium, oat bran, Miralax, and a product from Vitality Science. Nothing was working. She wouldn’t eat the pumpkin.

    I broke open the stools and saw a lot of fur. She’s a long haired cat. So, I started using a de-shedding tool. The Furminator didn’t work well on her, but I found something that did, called the Shed Monster.

    She doesn’t have hairballs, so the fur that she ingests must slow things down. She’s only had one furball during the 3 years I’ve had her.

    During this year of constipation, the vet gave her an enema, and a prescription for Lactulose. I gave it to her every day, and that worked. They wanted me to feed her Royal Canin hi-response and Hills WD. I read the labels and said “no”.

    I’d been doing a lot of research, and had weaned her from dry food. She ate some raw ground meat mixed with Raw Pre-Mix, but she didn’t like it that well. So, I continue to give her various high quality grain free wet food. I also started giving her goat’s milk and yogurt, which she likes.

    My new vet suggested giving her Lactulose 3 times a day, and I said “no”. I wanted to get her off, rather than make her dependent on it.

    Someone at the pet store suggested Blue Wilderness Weight Control dry food, for the fiber. I really resisted, but thought maybe she does need more fiber than the wet is providing.

    As soon as she started eating that, she began to have regular daily poops, without the Lactulose. It seems that about once a week, her stools are hard, so I give her a dose then.

    Since she’s started eating the dry food, she’s back to drinking water, in addition to goat’s milk and goat’s yogurt.

    So, as much as I dislike giving her dry food, at this point I don’t have any other answer. I also give her cooked chicken and turkey once in awhile.

    I’m so relived that she’s not constipated, and I watch that litter box like a hawk!

  3. I know that cats must have fresh water every day.

    When My older cat became constipated, I fed her fiber in the form of 100% pure puree pumpkin. I found the FYI on the internet. Pumpkin worked like a charm for her, she didn’t mind the taste and overcame her condition in One Day.

  4. Sandra, I wish more people were as diligent about their cats bowel habits as you are. Bravo. I had written a long comment but somehow it got lost in the sauce- so I will revise and shorten it.

    I looked at the ingredients in the dry food you are feeding and I, like you are not thrilled with feeding dry food. While it may entice cats to drink more fluid, I don’t personally believe that it is sufficient. But I did see that the dry food contains flax seed- an excellent source of a substance that has great laxative properties. Two more ingredients that I saw gave me an idea that perhaps if you try them you may be able to go back to a moist food diet. These are vitamin B-12 and Lactobacillus.

    I don’t know if it coincidental or not, but since I have been giving Sir Hubble a vitamin B-12 sub-q injection every week, he is less constipated. I had a cat with Megacolon and was on the Megacolon support group on Yahoo. Many of the members suggested giving Vitamin B-12 and they had good success with it. Additionally a good probiotic may help your kitty since it adds essential good bacteria to the colon.

    I am about to start feeding Dr. Hush Puppy Rad Raw chicken- it contains all the essential supplements and has no bone added- they use egg shells for the necessary calcium. My vet thinks that the bones in the raw food I was feeding them may have been to harsh for Hubble and Hush Puppy has a sore mouth from nerve damage-so he can’t eat the raw with bone comfortably. The raw diets contain a huge amount of fluid, and stools seem to be smaller and less odiferous. More of the nutrient is absorbed with less waste.

    Just a few suggestions. I so appreciate what you are doing for your kitty.

  5. I agree that diet is probably a strong contributing factor. From childhood, all I’ve the cats I’ve had, have only been fed wet food and none of them ever suffered from constipation.

    • I thought the Dr Hofve quote is very telling. She is more or less saying dry cat food is a mojor cause of cat constipation. I didn’t realise it was such a big factor. It must the dehydration element of kibble that does it. It also affects urination so another black mark for dry cat food.

  6. Absolutely Michael.

    My feeling is that dry food was made JUST for the convenience of cat owners- not for the best welfare for the cat. It is so easy to plunk a bowl of dry food down so cats can “graze” during the day-many owners feel they are doing a good thing for the cat- I must add- but feeding small portions of wet food several times a day will satisfy this need very nicely. We feed four times a day- small portions divided into between 5 to 5 1/2 oz for the size and caloric needs of our kitties, and they do extremely well. I know it’s hard for folks who work and are not home all day, but it can be done creatively- or set the portions to three times a day- very doable and that right before bedtime “snack” for the third portion actually is GREAT for kitties right after playing with them. They sleep better- and often so do their humans.

    • Like you Jo, I prefer to feed my cats small meals several times a day. I think it better mimics their natural hunting/eating patterns too.

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