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Why Cats Get Constipated — 6 Ways to Help

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

feline constipation

Story at-a-glance -

  • Kitties can and do get constipated, and it’s important to know the signs to watch for
  • In an otherwise healthy cat, most constipation is caused by lack of adequate water and/or dietary fiber; however, depending on symptoms, more serious problems should be ruled out first
  • The foundational treatment for constipation involves feeding a moisture-dense, nutritionally optimal, biologically appropriate diet to your cat
  • A continuous supply of fresh drinking water, daily exercise, added dietary fiber and appropriate supplements are also very important for constipated cats

Just like us, our feline friends can suffer from constipation. In some kitties it happens just once in a while; for others it can become a persistent problem.

When stool stays in the colon too long, it becomes dry, hard, and difficult to pass. Left untreated, chronic constipation can lead to megacolon, a terrible condition in which the large intestine stretches so much it can no longer do its job effectively.

How to Tell if Your Cat Is Constipated

Your kitty should poop at least once every day because it's an important part of the body's natural detoxification process.

Your cat is constipated when he either has difficulty pooping (and the stool he produces is dry and hard), or he isn't pooping at all. This is why it's so important to keep an eye on kitty's daily "output." The quantity, color, texture, and smell, along with the presence of mucus or blood, are all indicators of his general well-being.

Often, what passes from (or in the case of constipation, doesn't pass from) your pet's body is the first sign of a health problem, so you should regularly monitor your cats litterbox and familiarize yourself with what "normal" looks like for your kitty.

Your cat's stools should be brown, formed, and soft enough that litter sticks to them. If your kitty isn't going daily or his stools are so hard and dry that litter doesn't stick to them, he could be constipated. And keep in mind most constipated cats will never show overt signs of a problem. In fact, some suffer their entire lives and their humans don't realize it because they aren't aware of the more subtle signs of chronic constipation.

Left untreated, a constipated cat may begin to vomit intermittently, lose his appetite, and start dropping weight. He may seem lethargic. Don't let the problem progress to this point before you take action.

Potential Causes of Feline Constipation

Often, constipation in cats is simply the result of inadequate water consumption or lack of dietary fiber. But sometimes the situation is more complicated, involving an obstruction inside the colon or a problem in the pelvic cavity, such as a tumor that interferes with bowel function.

If you actually saw your cat swallow something that could cause an obstruction, get veterinary help right away as this situation can rapidly progress to a very serious and even fatal problem.

Intact males, especially if they're older, can develop enlarged prostates that compress the bowel, creating very thin stools or even an obstruction. This problem can usually be resolved by having your male cat neutered.

Hernias in the rectum are another obstruction that can cause constipation. The hernia bulges into the rectum, closing off passage of stool. Hernias usually require surgery to repair.

Constipation can also be the result of a neuromuscular problem or a disease like hypothyroidism or hypercalcemia. Some kitties have insufficient muscle tone or neuromuscular disorders that impede the body's ability to efficiently move waste through the colon.

Other causes of constipation can include infected or cancerous anal glands, or a hip or pelvic injury that makes pooping painful, the effects of surgery, certain medications, iron supplements, and stress.

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Hands Down, the Most Common Reason for Kitty Constipation

With all the above said, when it comes to constipation in cats, by far the most common cause is inadequate fluid intake. Your kitty's natural prey (e.g., mice) contains 70% to 75% water, and felines are designed to get most of the water their bodies need from their diet.

Cats fed exclusively kibble are getting only a very small amount (10% to 12%) of the moisture their bodies need, and unlike dogs and other animals, they won't make up the difference at the water bowl due to their "underactive" thirst drive. So, these cats are chronically dehydrated, which causes constipation.

The lack of moisture causes stool in the colon to turn dry, hard and painful to pass; it also causes the kidneys to become stressed. If your cat happens to be overweight and not getting enough exercise, the problem is exacerbated. Physical activity stimulates rhythmic muscle contractions (peristalsis) in the colon, which helps move things through the gastrointestinal (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 the transit time of waste through the colon, especially in cats fed dry diets who are also not getting adequate exercise.

How to Help a Constipated Cat

Assuming your kitty is in otherwise good health, there are several things you can do to help solve her constipation issues.

1. If you're feeding kibble, I strongly encourage you to switch to a moisture-rich, nutritionally optimal, species-specific diet. It's always the first thing I recommend, especially for cats with any sort of digestive issue. At a minimum, transition from dry food to canned food, which will automatically increase the moisture in your cat's system.

2. If you make your own food, be absolutely sure your kitty's diet is nutritionally balanced. Many of the homemade recipes I've analyzed have two to three times the upper safe limits of calcium levels recommended for pets, which will lead to constipation, among many other things. Recipes to try.

3. Make sure your cat has access to clean, fresh, filtered drinking water at all times. Place a few stainless steel or Pyrex glass bowls around the house in areas she frequents. Avoid plastic water bowls, which can make the water taste unpleasant. You might also want to consider purchasing a pet water fountain to replace your cat's water bowl, since many kitties will drink more from a moving water source. If she still isn't drinking enough, consider adding bone broth to her food to increase the moisture content in her diet.

4. Offer bone broth, in addition to water. Broths are an excellent way to entice cats to drink more. Add a bowl of warm broth beside her regular food on a daily basis. Here's a recipe for homemade bone broth.

5. Cats need to move their bodies through play and exercise. Movement also helps stool move through the colon. Regular physical activity can help prevent or remedy constipation.

6. Add digestive enzymes and probiotics to your pet's meals. Both these supplements will help with maldigestion, which is often the cause of both occasional constipation and diarrhea.

7. If your cat lived in the wild, his natural prey would provide ample fiber in the form of fur, feathers and predigested gut contents. Needless to say, domesticated pets don't get a lot of these things in their meals! Good replacement options for your feline companion include:

Psyllium husk powder — 1/2 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food

Ground dark green leafy veggies — 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily with food

Coconut oil — 1/2 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily

Canned 100 percent pumpkin — 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food

Aloe juice (not the topical gel) — 1/4 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily on food

Acacia fiber — 1/8 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight 1-2 times daily as prebiotic fiber

8. Chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage can also be very beneficial in helping to alleviate chronic constipation in pets.

Please note these recommendations are for cats experiencing a minor, temporary bout of constipation. If your kitty's condition is not resolving or seems chronic, or if you aren't sure of the cause, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

+ Sources and References