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What is Constipation?

Along with being unable to defecate normally, constipated cats may also strain while trying to use their litter boxes or show other outward signs to indicate that they are unable to move their bowels normally. If you notice that your cat's litter box is unused for several days or if you observe harder than normal stools or stools with blood in them, you should have your cat examined by your veterinarian immediately. 

Many cases of constipation in cats are treatable and minor. However, other cases of feline constipation may belie more serious health conditions like anal gland disease or cancer. Your vet can conduct a thorough examination to determine the underlying cause of your cat's constipation.

Constipation in cats is a common illness from which cats routinely suffer. Cats typically defecate two to three times per day. When they are unable to move their bowels normally, they become constipated and may require special care to help them resume normal bowel function.

Symptoms of Constipation in Cats

Constipation in cats can be either mild with few noticeable symptoms to chronic, which typically comes with symptoms that are more severe. Acute constipation in cats has symptoms that include:

  • Harder than normal feces
  • Small, pellet-like feces
  • Repeated unproductive visits to the litter box
  • Temporary loss of appetite
  • Straining while trying to defecate

Alternatively, cats who are chronically constipated may show more outward signs of distress with symptoms that include:

  • Bloody or mucus-covered feces
  • Loud meowing or crying in pain
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Disinterest in grooming

Cats that are constipated also may have hardened, distended bellies and be unwilling to lie down on their stomachs. They may also refuse to eat or drink even when offered their favorite treats. If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, you should have your cat examined and treated as necessary for constipation by your veterinarian.

Causes of Constipation in Cats

A variety of factors can contribute to constipation in cats. Some of the more common causes for this feline condition include:

  • Dehydration
  • Low-fiber diets
  • Hairballs or excessive grooming
  • Obesity
  • Low metabolism
  • Medication side effect

However, constipation in cats can sometimes be caused by factors that are more serious and require specialized veterinary care. These contributors include:

  • Ingestion of a foreign object
  • Anal gland cancer
  • Intestinal or stomach infection
  • Neurological disorder
  • Enlarged or abscessed anal sacs
  • Intestinal or stomach tumors

Cats that are mildly constipated can often recover quickly and thoroughly by drinking more water or by eating food that is high in fiber. They also recover by losing weight or increasing their activity levels. 

Cats with underlying diseases like anal gland cancer, however, may require more intensive veterinary care before they experience relief from their constipation. A thorough veterinary examination can determine the best treatment plan for your cat.

Diagnosis of Constipation in Cats

Your veterinarian may diagnose the cause of your cat's constipation by conducting a variety of tests. Along with collecting a stool sample if possible from your cat, the vet may also palpate your cat's stomach to determine if there could be a foreign object in the stomach or intestines. He or she may also use an x-ray or ultrasound to determine if the blockage is caused by a tumor or a viral or bacterial infection. 

Additionally, the vet may also take your cat's temperature to discover if it suffers from a fever, which could indicate an underlying infection. The veterinarian also will check your cat's mouth and eyes for signs of dehydration. If your cat is severely dehydrated, it may require intravenous hydration, which could relieve its constipation.

Treatment of Constipation in Cats

Once your veterinarian has determined the underlying cause of your cat's constipation, he or she can determine the best course of treatment. For minor or acute cases of feline constipation, your vet may recommend treatments like:

  • Increased hydration: You may increase your cat's hydration by providing more water at home. Your vet may also use intravenous hydration to treat your cat's constipation.
  • Stool softeners: Stool softeners may be given orally to help your cat defecate normally.
  • Laxatives: Laxatives help your cat defecate normally and more often.
  • Increased fiber intake: Your vet may recommend switching your cat to a high-fiber cat food. You also can add high-fiber foods like canned pumpkin to your cat's diet.

Severe cases of feline constipation or cases caused by underlying diseases like cancer or tumors typically require surgical intervention. Surgery may be needed to manually evacuate the bowels or to remove obstructions in the intestines and stomach.

Recovery of Constipation in Cats

With proper treatment, most cats afflicted with minor cases of feline constipation recover quickly. They do not need prolonged veterinarian care to resume normal movement of their bowels. 

You can help your cat's bowel health by making sure it has plenty of fresh water to drink and by adding fiber to its diet. You should also ensure your cat remains a healthy weight and gets enough exercise each day.

If your cat's constipation is caused by cancer, bowel obstruction, or another illness, it may need regular veterinary care to keep the underlying illness in check. Your vet may wish to x-ray or examine your cat every few months to ensure its proper bowel function.

You can also safeguard your cat's bowel health by keeping foreign objects like string, bottle caps, and other small items out of your cat's reach. This precaution ensures that your cat cannot swallow foreign objects that can cause constipation.