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Nutrition Nuggets
Your cat's nutrition is important for a healthy & happy life. petMD experts help you to know what to feed your cat, how much food to feed, and the differences in cat foods, so your cat gets optimum nutrition.
Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Cat Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of cat nutrition.

Foods for Constipated Cats

March 07, 2014 / (2) comments

Constipation is a troubling and common digestive tract problem for cats. It occurs when the stool is too large and/or too firm to be expelled. Constipation is the likely culprit when a cat is straining in the litter box and produces few or no stools, or those stools that do come out are dry and firm.


Many conditions cause constipation in cats, including:


Dehydration — caused by:

  • Disease
  • Dietary factors (e.g., inadequate water intake)
  • Medications

GI motility problems — caused by:

  • Electrolyte abnormalities
  • Intestinal inflammation (e.g., inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Medications

Difficulty defecating — due to:

  • Pain (e.g., fractures of the pelvis or hind limb, arthritis, impacted anal glands)
  • Orthopedic problems
  • Neurologic problems

Obstruction of colon — due to:

  • Foreign material (e.g., dietary indiscretion, hair from excessive grooming)
  • Tumor
  • Hernia

Idiopathic — Unknown cause:

  • Megacolon


Once constipation is identified, it must be corrected as soon as possible to reduce the risk of permanent damage due to prolonged distension of the colon. Effective treatment involves identifying and correcting the underlying disorder (if possible), removing the impacted feces, and preventing recurrences. A thorough history (including analysis of diet and feeding habits), physical examination, blood work, and urinalysis are needed to rule out many causes of constipation. Radiographs (X-rays) of the spine and hind limbs may also be necessary to identify the underlying cause.

If your cat suffers from chronic constipation, dietary modification may help reduce the risk of recurrence. Important considerations include:


Increasing water intake:

  • Feed canned food — increased water content will improve hydration and soften the feces
  • Add water to dry food if your cat will not eat canned food
  • Use water fountains or running water sources

Reducing weight (obesity increases the risk of constipation) with one of two types of weight loss diets:

  • High fiber diets help some cats lose weight and increase intestinal motility
  • High protein, low carbohydrate (and low fiber diets) most closely resemble a cat’s natural diet
  • Exercise to shed excess pounds and help to stimulate intestinal motility

Highly digestible diets:

  • Reduce stool output
  • May reduce inflammation in the intestines
  • Help GI motility

Fiber — a tricky nutrient that can help some cases of constipation, but worsen others.

  • Insoluble fibers (cellulose, wheat bran, and oat fiber) bulk the stool and help speed movement through the intestinal tract when no GI motility problems exist
  • Soluble fibers (pectins, guar gum and oat bran) feed the colonocytes (cells of the colon) and help to improve GI motility disorders
  • Mixed fibers (psyllium, beet pulp, pea fiber) have the benefits of both types of fiber
  • Because fiber has such a variety of effects, it is best to start with a small amount and increase the dose gradually until the desired effect is reached


Make an appointment with your veterinarian to identify the underlying cause of cat constipation and to determine the best diet to resolve, or at least improve, the problem.


Dr. Jennifer Coates



Veterinary Information Network (VIN). Comparison Of Properties Of Psyllium, Inulin, And Wheat Dextrin; Which To Use As Fiber Sources For Cats; Fiber For Constipation/Obstipation In Cats? Accessed February 26, 2014.


Image: arztsamui / Shutterstock


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Comments  2

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  • 03/07/2014 05:25pm

    My little Emma Jean (RIP) had so many problems and, toward the end of her days, constipation was one of them. She was prescribed Colase which didn't help. She would strain and liquid would finally come out. Of course, it was orange just like the Colase. I assume it went around the stool in her colon.

    We tried all sorts of things one at a time, including fiber, but nothing seemed to help.

    Bless her heart, she really went through a lot.

  • Thank you
    03/19/2014 04:50am

    This is a great resources specially that i came from a reliable person Dr. Dr. Jennifer Coates few of our friends at http://shootthedog.com.au/ are in need of information like this for their pets. Hope that you continue on sharing information like so that we could observed our pets carefully.




Photo of Jennifer

... graduated with honors from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 1999. In the years since, she has practiced veterinary medicine in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is the author of several books about veterinary medicine and animal care, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian .

Jennifer also writes short stories that focus on the strength and importance of the human-animal bond and freelance articles relating to a variety of animal care and veterinary topics. Dr. Coates lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, daughter, and pets.