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Is Constipation In Cats An Emergency?

Is Constipation In Cats An Emergency?

Constipation in cats can cause them great discomfort, and without treatment can quickly become a serious health concern. Our Los Angeles County team shares some signs of constipation in cats, causes, and tips for treating the condition.

Constipation In Cats

Most cats will pass stool about every 24 to 36 hours. If your cat is defecating less frequently, strains when they attempt to poop or doesn’t leave any deposits in the litter box, constipation is likely the issue. It’s a common problem in cats that’s usually mild enough to be remedied with at-home treatments.

If it happens infrequently, there’s no need to worry, but you should contact your vet if it becomes a common problem or if it’s been more than 48 to 72 hours since your cat has had a bowel movement. Constipation can sometimes be a sign of serious health issues, not to mention be uncomfortable (and severe in some cases).

Causes Of Constipation In Cats

Constipation can occur if things aren’t moving normally through the intestines. Factors contributing to your cat’s constipation may include:

  • Pain or other issues in the spine
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Arthritis pain
  • Dry food diets (can predispose cats to constipation and dehydration)
  • Not enough fiber in her diet
  • An obstruction such as bones or string blocking the colon
  • Kidney issues
  • Excessive grooming (leads to extra hair in the digestive tract)
  • Feline megacolon (colon gets large enough that the muscles no longer squeeze and hard, dry stool builds up inside)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Allergies
  • Issues with nerves
  • Narrow places, tumors or other blockages inside the colon
  • Cancer
  • Chronic diseases such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes or kidney disease
  • Ruptured or impacted anal sacs (also causes pain during defecation)
  • Perianal disease

Though senior felines experience constipation more often than kittens, the condition can develop in cats of any breed or age, especially those who eat a low-fiber diet or don’t drink enough water.

Symptoms Of Constipation In Cats

Normally, your cat's stool should be well-formed, dark brown in color and moist enough that litter will stick to it.

Signs of constipation in cats include hard, dry stools which end up either inside or outside of the litter box (discomfort of trying to pass these stools may have your cat stepping out of the litter box before they've finished).

Other symptoms of constipation may include:

  • Entering and exiting litter box multiple times 
  • Straining or crying out in the litter box
  • Avoiding litter box
  • Not being able to defecate at all

If you notice signs of discomfort when your cat uses the litter box, contact your vet as this may indicate serious urinary tract issues.

Since constipation is a symptom of other health issues, you may also see signs of the underlying condition, which may include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Drinking more or less water
  • Hiding
  • Difficulty jumping up
  • Muscle loss
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Peeing more
  • Walking stiffly

If your cat is displaying any of these symptoms with or without constipation, consult a veterinarian.

Treating Cats With Constipation

Though some issues causing constipation in our feline friends are mild and can be treated with changes to diet and lifestyle and at-home remedies, some may warrant the attention of your vet. Serious issues may become emergencies.

Constipation must be treated as soon as possible to decrease the risk of permanent damage as a result of prolonged distension of the colon.

To treat cats with constipation, the underlying disorder must be identified and if possible, corrected. Impacted feces should be removed and recurrences prevented. The inability to pass urine or feces, or pain associated with passing urine or feces, is considered a veterinary emergency. Your veterinarian may first run any applicable diagnostic tests, then provide fluids or an enema for immediate relief, and prescribe medications or recommend over-the-counter medications.

Note: veterinary expertise is needed to safely and effectively perform an enema - these should not be done at home as some enemas designed for humans are toxic to cats.

If your cat’s constipation is long-term or they are suffering from obstipation (the inability to empty their colon on their own), they could have megacolon, an enlarged intestine due to a defect in the colon’s muscle strength.

A cat with chronic constipation or megacolon that isn't responding to medications or other treatments, they may need to have the section of the large intestine that’s affected removed.

Treating Constipation In Cats: At-Home Remedies

These at-home remedies may help to relieve your cat’s constipation:

  • Minimizing stress and anxiety
  • Increasing exercise to help maintain weight, reduce anxiety and encourage normal movement of intestines
  • Trying a new diet (e.g. lamb, chicken, limited-ingredient or hypoallergenic diets) to reduce inflammation
  • Offering them fiber-rich foods (e.g. a teaspoon of canned, pureed pumpkin once or twice a day)
  • Provide probiotics
  • Help your cat maintain a healthy weight
  • Only if your veterinarian gives the go-ahead, some over-the-counter laxatives may help, although it's important to follow your vet's dosage instructions very carefully

What Are My Next Steps?

Track how often your cat is using the litter box (and leaving deposits) and the consistency of their stool initially at least twice a week, then weekly or biweekly.

If you see hard, dry feces, or if you notice that your cat is straining while defecating or exhibiting other symptoms of constipation, contact your veterinarian - especially if diarrhea is a factor as dehydration may quickly become a problem.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is your cat showing symptoms of constipation? Contact our Los Angeles County veterinary hospital for urgent care for your cat. Our skilled, compassionate vets are here when your pet needs us.

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