What Is Kitten Constipation?
Kittens start to go to the bathroom on their own at 3-4 weeks old. Younger kittens require stimulation by their mama cat or pet parent to urinate and defecate. Don’t be concerned if your young kitten doesn’t poop with every stimulation, but as they get older, they should have a schedule of when they need to be stimulated or when they use the litter box.
If your kitten is litter-trained, you may not notice that they are constipated until you realize you haven't seen any feces for a few days. Kittens that cannot defecate are uncomfortable and also at risk for serious problems if left untreated.
For kittens of any age, if they go more than 24 hours without defecating, they might be constipated. Constipation is defined as difficulty defecating, and obstipation is defined as a lack of any feces being produced. Both of these conditions can occur in kittens, and both are very serious. You can try a few things at home to help, but if a kitten does not regain a normal pooping schedule within 48 hours, they should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible, as constipation can be life-threatening for a kitten.
If constipation is left untreated, the colon will enlarge to accommodate the stool that hasn’t been passed and cause a condition called megacolon. If megacolon is left untreated and stool continues to accumulate the colon can burst, spilling feces into the abdomen, which is often fatal.
Symptoms of Kitten Constipation
Signs your kitten may be constipated include:
No feces produced in 24-48 hours
Straining to defecate but nothing comes out (tenesmus)
Producing small, hard fecal balls
With or without liquid feces—not to be confused with diarrhea
Blood and/or mucus in the stool
Crying in the litter box or when trying to defecate
Decreased or total loss of appetite
Distended abdomen, bloated appearance
Causes of Kitten Constipation
The many causes of constipation in kittens include:
Very young kittens, less than a few weeks old, are unable to defecate on their own. If the mama cat or pet parent does not stimulate the kitten or if the kitten is orphaned without anyone taking care of them, they will be unable to defecate. The feces will build up in the colon and eventually become a life-threatening condition.
Dehydration is a common cause of constipation in kittens. When your kitten does not have access to a bowl of fresh water, if they eat only dry food, or during the weaning process when they are transitioned off their mother’s milk, dehydration can occur. Dehydration often causes kittens to still be able to pass small amounts of very hard stool.
When young kittens transition from nursing to eating kitten food, they may not have enough fiber in the diet if they are not on a high-quality, completely balanced diet. Lack of fiber can cause constipation in young kittens.
Kittens are very curious creatures and they have the tendency to eat things they should not, causing a gastrointestinal obstruction or blockage. An obstruction in the stomach or intestines often means they cannot defecate. Ribbons, string, toys, and hairballs are all common causes of obstructions that can cause obstipation (unable to defecate) in kittens.
Kittens that have many intestinal worms can become constipated from the worms blocking the colon. This impaction of worms also causes an intestinal blockage that stops stool from passing.
Kittens’ lack of activity or gaining too much weight can contribute to obstipation. Regular exercise and proper diet are important to avoid constipation.
Neurologic conditions are more common in older cats, but some young kittens can have disease conditions that interfere with or damage the nerve control of their hind end. Nerves coming from the spinal cord control all functions of the body, including the ability to have a bowel movement. If the nerves that control the colon and the anus are damaged or nonfunctional, a kitten can get constipated from not physically being able to push the stool out of the rectum.
How Veterinarians Diagnose Kitten Constipation
If your kitten has not produced stool in 24-48 hours, your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination, including palpating, or feeling, the abdomen. Often, since kittens and their intestinal tract are so small, the vet can feel the stool packed within the body just by placing light pressure on the belly.
If your vet suspects your kitten is constipated, an x-ray of the abdomen is needed to be able to view the problem and figure out its severity. X-rays will show the large amount of stool in the colon and can also be used to find if megacolon is occurring. An ultrasound of the abdomen can also be done to view the thickness of the colon wall and figure out if it is full or empty.
Whenever your kitten is having any issues related to bowel movements, it is always helpful to provide your vet with a stool sample. With significant constipation or true obstipation, with no stool being produced, your vet will understand that the stool sample was not possible.
Treatment of Kitten Constipation
Once your veterinarian has diagnosed your kitten’s medical problem, they will provide a complete treatment plan based on the severity of the constipation. Treatment varies from outpatient medications and dietary changes to hospitalization to even surgical intervention in some cases.
Making sure your cat is on a well-balanced, age appropriate, AAFCO-approved diet is important. Diets that are rich in both insoluble and soluble fiber are best for a kitten with constipation problems. Giving your kitten a fiber supplement can help to draw water back into the colon, hydrating the stool for ease of a bowel movement. Probiotics are also helpful to promote gut health. Both subcutaneous (under the skin) and intravenous (IV) fluids can help your kitten stay hydrated.
Kittens that have an obstruction from intestinal parasites/worms will need to be dewormed with medication for the type of parasite found in the fecal exam. Depending on your kitten’s age and degree of constipation, they might recommend a laxative to help produce bowel movements. An oral medication, Lactulose, is a sugar-based laxative given to soften stool and to treat constipation.
In cases where medications and fluids are not helpful or the degree of constipation is severe, your vet might need to give your kitten an enema. Enemas should never be tried at home and must be done by a veterinarian to avoid complications such as colon rupture.
In the most severe cases of constipation and all cases of obstipation, your cat might need to have a procedure called a deobstipation. Deobstipation is when your kitten is sedated and the veterinarian can manually remove the stool from your cat’s colon. An enema is often given at the same time as deobstipation. Although it is more common in older cats, if your kitten has developed megacolon, they will likely need both surgical intervention and lifelong medications.
Kitten Constipation Home Remedy
While there are few things you can try at home to help your constipated kitten, it is always best to have them examined by your veterinarian if you think they are having any medical issues such as constipation. If your cat is obstipated and no stool is coming out, then they do need to see a veterinarian as soon as possible—that is a medical emergency.
If you have a very young kitten, under 4 weeks old, stimulating them often with a soft cotton material around their anus will help to produce a bowel movement. Be sure your kitten is well-hydrated by giving them free access to fresh water, feeding them canned kitten food, and adding water to the food. This can all be helpful to avoid constipation.
Keeping your kitten active and moving to stimulate bowel movements can also be helpful. Bicycle the legs, gently massage the belly, and encourage walking to get things moving to try and help produce a bowel movement. A soak in a warm water bath can also be helpful to relax their muscles while you massage their belly. Be careful not to massage or put too much pressure on your kitten’s belly as the intestines are delicate. You want to avoid any internal injury.
Recovery and Management of Kitten Constipation
Once the hard stool or obstruction is removed, recovery from kitten constipation is quick. The most important step is to figure out the underlying cause so that it doesn’t happen again. Follow the instructions your veterinarian provided, and finishing medications as prescribed is another key to recovery. Most often, the diet changes and medications will be given longterm to prevent your kitten from getting constipated again.
Even if your kitten is feeling better and back to their normal self, it’s important to never stop treatment without the approval of your kitten’s veterinarian. Kittens must also have routine deworming and fecal checks to keep them parasite-free. Some types of worms are even treated and prevented with monthly flea and tick prevention products such as Revolution.
Help us make PetMD better
Was this article helpful?