By Dr. Becker
Constipation in cats is, sadly, a fairly common problem. A cat is constipated when the stool is too large and/or hard to be passed. If your kitty is straining in her litter box but has nothing much to show for it, or if her poop is dry and hard, it's likely constipation is to blame.
Signs Your Cat Is Constipated
Your cat should poop every single day, and if you're disciplined about keeping his litter box clean, you'll be able to monitor his "output" daily. His stools should be brown, formed (not loose), and soft and moist enough that litter sticks to them. If your cat isn't making a poop deposit in his litter box daily or is producing hard stools that litter doesn't stick to, he could be suffering from constipation.
Not every constipated cat strains or cries in the litter box, or vomits, or stops eating, though those are all also signs of constipation. In fact, some poor kitties are constipated most of their lives and their owners don't know it because they aren't aware of the more subtle signs that point to a problem. I have had many guardians tell me, "It's normal for my cat to only poop every third day." I disagree. Expelling bowel toxins on a daily basis is an important part of the natural detoxification process.
Causes of Constipation
There are a number of conditions that can cause constipation in cats, including:
- GI motility problems
- Painful defecation due to fracture of the pelvis or hind limb, arthritis, or impacted anal glands
- Orthopedic or neurologic problems
- Obstruction of the colon caused by a foreign object, tumor, or hernia
By far the most common cause of constipation in a kitty is inadequate fluid intake, so the first thing I want to know about a constipated cat is what he's eating on a daily basis. The natural prey of cats contains 70 to 75 percent water, and felines are designed to get most of the water they need from their food. Kitties fed exclusively dry food are getting only 10 to 12 percent of the moisture their bodies need, and unlike dogs and other animals, they won't make up the difference at the water bowl. So these cats are chronically dehydrated, which causes constipation. The lack of moisture causes the kidneys to become stressed, and stools turn dry, hard and painful to pass.
If the cat is also overweight and not getting enough exercise, the problem is exacerbated. Physical activity stimulates the rhythmic muscle contractions called peristalsis in the colon, which helps moves things through the GI tract. Unfortunately, many housecats have lifestyles that involve eating too much of the wrong type of food and moving too little.
Swallowing fur during grooming can further slow down transit time of waste in the colon, especially in cats fed dry diets who are also not getting adequate exercise.
Treating Constipation in a Cat
If I'm treating a kitty who is constipated while eating a species-appropriate, moisture rich diet, I go looking for underlying disorders. A physical examination, blood work, and urinalysis are needed to either rule out or identify non diet-related causes for the constipation. Sometimes x-rays of the spine and hind limbs are also necessary.
Most of the time, however, treatment of chronic feline constipation involves a slow transition from dry to canned food. This process can take weeks or even months, but it's well worth the effort. Not only will it help resolve the constipation, it will make your pet much healthier overall. Once your cat is readily consuming canned food, you can consider weaning her onto an unprocessed, fresh food diet.
- Consider adding water to your cat's food to help lubricate the colon. You can also try adding flavoring to your kitty's water (try using the liquid from a can of tuna or cat food) to make it more enticing. Also, some cats ignore still water but will drink moving water from a pet water fountain.
- Insure your cat gets some exercise each day.
- Add a pinch of psyllium or coconut fiber at each meal. And if hairballs are a problem, consider adding a non-petroleum hairball remedy to each meal or a dab of coconut oil to help the hair move more quickly through the GI tract.
- Some kitties benefit from a natural laxative like aloe vera juice added to their diet. Consult your holistic veterinarian for suggestions on what types of natural laxatives are appropriate for your pet.