You are sitting by your dining room table and you hear your cat scratching the litter-box repeatedly. You think to yourself what an overly clean cat you have that tries its best to cover the smell! But the scratching continues and you decide to take a look. There is your cat scratching and straining, straining and scratching when you finally come to the conclusion that your kitty must be constipated.
Over all, this may be a pretty common scenario even though it is most common in obese and middle aged and senior aged cats. Be aware that some cats may be found straining in other spots other than the litter box. The reason? Pretty understandable if we get into some cat psychology. The cat goes to the litter box and strains to have a bowel movement, this causes pain, the pain is then associated with the litter box so the poor cat tries other places such as the bath tub or your favorite rug. Do not scold your cat for this just show him/her some empathy.
It is very important to distinguish a constipated cat from a cat with a urinary tract infection as these often cause very similar symptoms and can be easily confused. This is vital because a urinary tract infection in a male cat can be life threatening and may need immediate emergency veterinarian care.
There are some hints that can help distinguish these two conditions: a cat with a urinary tract infection will be straining to pass urine instead of feces and you may see that there may be some small urine drops often mixed with blood (even though in more severe cases there may be no urine output at all).
Also a urinary tract infected cats will lick his/her genital area often but you must consider that some constipated cats may do the same. You can also turn into detective and investigate kitty’s litter box, check for feces and urine: whichever is lacking can help you understand what he/she is straining for.
Constipated cats may turn irritable and we may understand why, some may even cry out while straining poor babies, and in more severe cases of constipation the cat may become lethargic, depressed, weak, may not want to eat and to add more, may vomit.
Constipation may leave you wondering and scratching your head at times, as the cat may be straining one instance and then having diarrhea the next, the explanation of this is that in some cases liquid stool is all that can pass through the mass of dry impacted feces. This diarrhea may be mixed with blood or mucous. So even though this sounds and looks like diarrhea it still may be a case of constipation.
So once you are pretty sure that constipation is what is affecting your cat (if not sure bring the cat to vet promptly to diagnose) we can go to the course of action to make kitty more comfortable and give him/her relief.
Cats mostly defecate once to twice a day but a constipated cat will only go every two to four days. This period of constipation may cause cats to become dehydrated so make sure the cat gets its water. You can check the level of dehydration in a cat by lifting the skin over its shoulder blades, in a hydrated cat it should spring back promptly. Does not? Most likely the cat is dehydrated and may need fluids from the vet.
Some Home Remedies
- Canned food versus a dry food diet helps the bowel a lot more.
- Diet wise you may want to increase its fiber intake. Sometimes adding canned pumpkin (plain canned pumpkin not the pie filling one as this contains spices) a 1 to 2 teaspoonful amount to the cat’s food may help get things moving.
- Special senior diets or hairball diets also contain a good amount of fiber, however if you need to change your cat’s diet this must be done slowly to avoid stomach upset).
- Other fiber that can help is adding Metamucil about 1/4 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon a day added to food or wheat bran 1 tablespoon per day. These should help soften the stools and promote relief soon.
- Most cats are lactose intolerant and sometimes some milk can help the cat however, it may not work or your cat may get the opposite problem but sometimes it is worth a try.
- Laxatone, which vet offices often sell over the counter is a good stimulant and now is available in new yummy flavors. It is usually given to cats with hairball problems and may stimulate a bowel movement however shouldn’t be used long term. It is best given on an empty stomach because it can prevent from absorbing the nutrients found in food. You can offer some from your fingers, your cat may happily lick it off.
Sometimes though home remedies are not sufficient and if the cat seems in discomfort and/or does not obtain a bowel movement soon then a vet may prescribe some stronger treatments.
Lactulose is a sugary syrup that retains water in the stool and makes them easier to pass. Docusate sodium (Colace) may be another choice and Cisapride may be prescribed for the most stubborn cases. This medication was once prescribed for humans and may be challenging to find but some compound pharmacies may still have it available.
Once the constipation episode resolves it is important to prevent future episodes from happening as overtime the colon may lose its muscular motility and cause a condition called mega-colon, in this case after medications are tried with no result the cat may need external help to evacuate the bowels such as enemas and manual extractions of impacted feces. This is mostly a permanent condition requesting repeated medications, trips to the vets office or surgery. It is very important that you do not use human enemas on cats as this can be very toxic!
It is vital at this point to find out possible causes of constipation. There are various causes and we can go over a few. Age, obesity, lack of exercise, play a good role. It is important that the cat has always access to clean fresh water. Diet plays a major role, strictly dry cat food does not provide sufficient water intake and many cats have done better once on a good canned fiber content food.
Sometimes stress may cause constipation, being in a new environment may cause a cat to hold it and even post surgery the cat may not go for two reasons: the pain and stress of surgery but also because most surgeries are done on an empty stomach so there is not much to evacuate until the pet eats again.
Obstructions are another cause of constipation and are part of the categories that need prompt veterinarian attention. Obstructions can be caused by whatever can block the intestines; hairballs, foreign bodies, tumors, parasites etc to just name a few. Car accidents or any type of trauma may cause pelvis injuries and/or damaged nerves that will cause constipation.
On a lighter note sometimes a dirty litter box may discourage your cat from going. Make sure it is clean and avoid the cover litter boxes that may cause concentrated smells that can easily offend your cat.
So next time you hear kitty scratching in the litter box be ready to turn into a thorough investigator as there are many causes out there to evaluate.
You can provide your vet with a lot of helpful insight when trying to find together what the culprit is, chances are it is just a lack or exercise or just that kitty needs a diet change and soon the cat will be back to its normal self.