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The Most Common Cause of Kitty Constipation

April 28, 2014

Story at-a-glance

  • A cat is constipated when the stool is too large or hard to move comfortably through the colon. Straining in the litter box, little or no poop, and hard dry poop are common signs of constipation.
  • Some cats are constipated most of their lives and their owners are none the wiser because they aren’t aware of the more subtle signs of a problem.
  • Causes of constipation in cats include dehydration; GI motility problems; painful defecation; orthopedic or neurologic problems; and obstruction of the colon caused by a foreign object, tumor, or hernia. By far the most common cause is inadequate fluid intake, which is usually the result of a dry food diet.
  • If your cat is constipated while eating a moisture rich, species-appropriate diet, your veterinarian will want to run a variety of tests to check for underlying conditions that could be causing the problem.
  • In cats eating dry food, constipation is best treated by a slow transition to a species-appropriate, moisture rich diet, an increase in daily water intake, adequate exercise, and the addition of appropriate natural remedies and therapies beneficial in helping to resolve constipation.

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:

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.

Other suggestions:

Also talk to your vet about natural therapies like acupuncture or chiropractic, both of which can be beneficial in helping to resolve constipation in pets.

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