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What Is Cat Constipation?

Constipation is defined as infrequent or difficult defecation. This may mean hard stool; large, uncomfortable pellets; or no production of poop at all.

Cat constipation is a short-term problem. If your cat continues to be constipated, it can become obstipation (painful defecation) or even megacolon, which is the advanced stage of chronic cat constipation that is often nonresponsive to medical management.

Always take your cat to the vet if they are straining in the litter box. The underlying cause could possibly be serious or deadly if untreated.

Symptoms of Cat Constipation

Symptoms that your cat is constipated include:

  • Little to no fecal production while attempting to poop

  • Frequent visits to the litter box

  • Vomiting

  • Decreased appetite

  • Abdominal pain

  • Decreased energy

  • Decreased interest in interacting with family

Causes of Cat Constipation

Cats can become constipated for many reasons, from stressful situations to health issues. You should always see the vet within 24 hours to rule out health-related causes or underlying diseases.

Litter Box Issues

Sometimes cat constipation starts with a litter box issue: maybe the box isn’t cleaned frequently enough or isn’t easy to access. Or the litter box could be associated with pain while attempting to poop, or with something that’s scary to a cat, like the washing machine buzzer going off.

In these cases, your cat not wanting to go can quickly become not being able to go. To help your constipated cat, examine your litter box and its surroundings, and consider:

  • Moving it to a quiet location with no noises or activity that would be scary to your cat

  • Moving it away from your cat’s food, water, and bed

  • Cleaning it more often to reduce smells

  • Switching to a low-sided box that is easier to access

Not Drinking Enough

Cat constipation could also be caused by not drinking enough water. Your cat’s reluctance to drink might be related to an underlying health concern such as mobility issues, mouth pain, or digestive discomfort. Take them to the vet to rule out any of these issues.

Your cat might also be reacting to an issue with their water dish, such as stagnant or dirty water, or even the type of bowl. Always rule out medical issues first, especially when it comes to dehydration. Then you can also think about:

  • Using a cat water fountain with flowing water that mimics a stream or river

  • Trying water bowls made out of other materials, like glass, ceramic, plastic, or metal

  • Cleaning the water bowl more often

Underlying Disease

Many diseases, both acute (short-term) and chronic, can lead to constipation in cats. These include kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. All cases of straining in the litter box should be evaluated by a veterinarian, because each of these illnesses can become very serious or even deadly if left untreated.

Obstruction

A toy or other nonfood item can obstruct the intestines, preventing the passage of poop. This is considered an emergency. If your cat is constipated and shows any symptoms of obstruction, take them to the vet immediately:

  • Vomiting

  • Lethargy

  • Refusing to eat

  • Swollen belly

  • Refusing to lie down

  • Fever or low body temperature

The inability to urinate is also an emergency for your cat; take them in to see a vet as quickly as possible to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Not Enough Exercise

Inactivity can also lead to constipation. You should aim for at least 10-15 minutes of activity interactive play (with you) per day, or more if you have a younger cat or kitten. Here are some tips for making sure your cat gets enough exercise also move enough throughout the day:

  • Cat trees provide opportunities for climbing and exploration

  • Scratching posts allow cats to express the instinct to scratch

  • Toys that mimic prey animals can attract a cat’s attention

  • Smart toys that move on their own motivate hunting and chasing

  • Catnip makes all of these activities more fun for your cat

How Vets Diagnose Cat Constipation

First, your veterinarian will get a history of the problem. You’ll describe the symptoms, when they started, and other factors that may be related to your cat’s constipation.

Providing a full history is very important because straining in the litter box can also be a symptom of lower urinary issues and diarrhea.

After getting your cat’s history, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam. In constipated cats, a vet can often feel the hard stool, but not always.

Next, your veterinarian will recommend X-rays to evaluate the extent of constipation to determine the best initial treatment for your cat. Bloodwork is often required to assess underlying diseases that may predispose your cat to constipation.

Treatment for Cat Constipation

Treatment for constipated cats depends on the cause and severity. Constipation that is left untreated can lead to megacolon, a form of constipation that is not responsive to medical treatment and can be fatal.

The first step in treatment is to remove the obstructing feces, which sometimes requires administration of fluids or an enema at the clinic. Never give an enema to your cat at home, as human enemas are not safe for cats.

If the constipation is moderate or severe, your cat will need to be sedated for the enema or deobstipation (manual removal of feces).

The next step is to determine the underlying cause of your cat’s constipation and address it. You may need to make changes in your cat’s environment, like moving the litter boxes, cleaning the water bowl or litter boxes more often, or trying a cat water fountain or a different type of water bowl.

The vet may also recommend switching your cat to low- or high-fiber food and adding medication specifically for constipation.

But more often, treating any underlying disease, such as kidney disease or arthritis, is the most important treatment to prevent a recurrence.

Recovery and Management of Cat Constipation

Once the hard stool is removed, recovery is usually rapid. Unfortunately, if you don’t deal with the original cause, whether it’s treating a health issue or making lifestyle changes, then your cat is very likely to become constipated again.

Follow the instructions provided by your veterinarian. Often the food changes or medications will need to be continued for life. Just because your cat is feeling better doesn’t mean you can stop treatment.

Pro Tip

Hang a calendar on the wall near the litter box to keep track of your cat’s poop schedule. This will help you be proactive at the first sign of a problem.

Cat Constipation FAQs

How can I help my cat with constipation?

See your vet within 24 hours to determine if there are any underlying health issues so you can treat them right and prevent ongoing constipation.

The best thing you can do is try to prevent constipation from happening in the first place. Litter boxes should always be clean, easy to access, and located in a safe place. Make sure your cat drinks enough water and gets enough daily exercise.

Will fish oil help cat constipation?

No, fish oil will not help cat constipation. Too much fish oil can cause painful cramping and diarrhea, and will not address the cause of constipation.

What do you feed a cat with chronic constipation?

Nutritional management depends on the cause of chronic constipation. This is a discussion you should have with your veterinarian about your cat’s specific needs.

What is a natural laxative for cats?

Consult your vet before giving your cat a laxative.

You may be tempted to give your cat over-the-counter products like mineral oil and petrolatum. While they can both help with short-term constipation, they may not be safe for all cats.

How long can my cat go without pooping?

A typical healthy cat should defecate at least once per day. Unless they just had surgery or are recovering from diarrhea, a cat should not go longer than 48 hours without pooping.

Can kittens get constipated, too?

Constipation is rare in kittens that are well cared for, which means they are in a home with access to clean water and a commercially formulated cat food diet. However, any cause of abnormal litter box habits should be evaluated by a veterinarian, no matter the age of the cat.

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