Cat in Litterbox
It’s an awkward subject for anyone, but constipation can be especially uncomfortable for your cat

There are the frequent trips to the litterbox; the painful straining to defecate, often with little or no success. The stools, which are usually hard and dry or occasionally coated with mucus or blood, may be found inside or outside of the litterbox. And the straining or discomfort can lead to vomiting, loss of appetite, lethargy and even weight loss.

Although most healthy cats have a bowel movement every day or so, it’s common for cats to periodically experience intestinal slowdowns or difficulty passing stool.

The Root of the Problem

For cats, the most common cause of constipation is most likely dehydration. As cats age, their kidneys often become less effective at retaining water in the body. As a result, the stools can change from moist and malleable to hard and dry, making them more difficult to pass.

Constipation can also be caused by hair balls, poor diet, ingestion of foreign objects, certain medications, neurological problems or anything that can even partially obstruct the bowels, such as pelvic fractures, tumors, hernias or impacted anal glands. Cats with arthritis may have trouble climbing into litterboxes with high sides. Cats may also avoid the litterbox because of issues with the type of litter, infrequent cleaning, box location or other reasons, possibly causing constipation.

Bringing Your Cat Relief

Your veterinarian can often gently press your cat’s abdomen and feel if there is stool backed up in the intestines. She may also recommend abdominal X-rays or blood tests to determine if there are any underlying medical issues.

If your cat is dehydrated, it’s important to restore the fluid balance. Cats with severe dehydration may require intravenous or subcutaneous fluids. Those with compromised kidney function may need long-term help maintaining hydration, whether that means switching to canned food for added moisture, supplementing dry food with water or low-sodium broth, installing a water fountain to encourage drinking or learning to administer subcutaneous fluids at home.

For mild constipation, your veterinarian may recommend giving your cat a lubricant, such as an oral hair ball remedy, for a few days or adding a tablespoon or two of plain, canned pumpkin to your cat’s daily diet. She may also provide you with doses of other over-the-counter stool softeners, or recommend medications to stimulate intestinal motility. In general, you should avoid giving mineral oil by mouth, because cats can accidentally inhale the substance into their lungs.

For more severe constipation, it may be necessary for the clinic staff to give your cat an enema to remove the feces, which may require anesthesia.

When the Problem Becomes Chronic

In some cases, chronic constipation can lead to megacolon, a serious condition in which the diameter of the colon becomes so distended, the smooth muscle of the intestine can no longer move stool effectively. For these cats, surgical removal of part of the colon may be necessary.

Hopefully, your cat’s problem will never reach this extreme. Your veterinarian can work with you to devise a long-term plan to help reduce the risk of constipation now and in the future. For some cats, it may mean a change in diet, increasing water intake and exercise, or some simple changes to litterbox location, type or maintenance.

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