Most of us are familiar with how uncomfortable constipation can be; our cats can suffer from the same condition. An occasional firmer-than-normal stool may not be cause for concern, but if your cat seems unwell or has chronic constipation, this might indicate an underlying disease like kidney disease or diabetes.
While most veterinarians do not see constipated cats every day, they have all seen the range of symptoms and will be familiar with treatment options. This article will explain possible causes, symptoms to watch for, and some at-home treatment options. Even with at-home treatments, speaking to your veterinarian first for advice is important.
How long can a healthy cat go without pooping? (When to worry)
Most cats defecate 1-2 times per day, but this can vary based on their diet and how often they eat. Many cats can go multiple days without passing any feces. The occasional bout of constipation or harder-than-normal feces is generally not caused for concern as long as your cat is acting normally otherwise. If you notice your cat is straining in the litterbox or isn’t acting like themselves, it is time to schedule a visit with your veterinarian.
Top Causes for Constipation (if your cat is acting normal)
As we will see later on this page, there are many different medical conditions that can lead to constipation in cats. If your cat is acting normal and not showing other signs of illness (such as lethargy, vomiting or pain), the most likely culprits include:
- Arthritis, back and pelvis injuries
- Endocrine disorders – diabetes, hyperthyroidism
- Anxiety and stress
Key signs your cat is constipated and needs a vet
- Small, firm feces
- Increased visits to the litterbox with little stool production
- Not eating
- Uncomfortable or showing signs of abdominal pain
At-home treatments to help your cat with constipation (assuming no other signs of illness)
A cat with mild constipation may not show many other signs of illness. If your cat is still eating and drinking normally and is not lethargic, you can try a few tricks at home to help your cat pass the hardened feces.
1. Increase water consumption
Dehydration is a common cause of constipation in cats. He must have access to fresh, clean drinking water. Cats can be particular when it comes to drinking water. Encourage drinking by adding more water bowls around the home or purchasing a water fountain.
2. Increase fiber
Adding fiber to your cat’s food can help with mild constipation. There are several ways to do this.
- Add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon unflavored Metamucil to canned food.
- Pumpkin puree (NOT sweetened pumpkin pie filling) – Pumpkin is high in fiber and water and can be an excellent way to add fiber to your cat’s diet. Add 1-2 tablespoons of canned or boiled pumpkin to your cat’s meal.
3. Dietary management
- Switch to canned food – Canned food inherently has more water than dry kibble. You can also add a few tablespoons of water to make a mush.
- Consider a hairball diet or supplement for cats prone to hairballs.
Schedule time to play with the cat at least once daily. Keeping your cat at a healthy weight is essential – obese cats are more prone to constipation than lean cats.
5. Litter trays
Cats can be quite fussy regarding their litter tray (see our article “Signs that your cat is unhappy with their litter tray“) if they are not happy, this can cause them to override their urge to defecate. Make sure there are enough litter trays (one per cat, plus one extra), make sure they are regularly scooped, and keep them in a low-traffic area.
Learn more: Home Treatment For Constipation In Cats
Signs to watch for and when to call the vet
If your cat’s constipation has lasted longer than 2-3 days, or if you notice any of the following symptoms, it is probably time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
- Repeated unproductive straining or vocalizing in the litterbox
- Vomiting – While it seems counterintuitive for a constipated cat to vomit, this is quite common when cats are in pain from constipation.
- Lethargy or decreased energy
- Abdominal pain
Remember that straining in the litterbox may not always mean constipation. Many owners think their cat is constipated when they actually have diarrhea and an increased urge to defecate. Cats with urinary obstructions (predominantly male cats) may also strain and vocalize in the litterbox as well, so make sure to note whether your cat is urinating too.
What medical conditions can lead to constipation?
- Diabetes: Diabetic cats often have some degree of nerve damage throughout the body, often called diabetic neuropathy. If the nerves that interact with the intestinal tract are affected, this can slow the transition time of food and lead to constipation.
- Kidney Disease: Cats with chronic kidney disease often have underlying dehydration and electrolyte imbalances that contribute to hard feces and decreased intestinal movement.
- Arthritis: Arthritic cats may have more difficulty getting in and out of litterboxes.
- Pelvic injuries: Pelvic fractures are common in cats that have been hit by cars. These pelvic fractures can sometimes heal without intervention but can cause the pelvic area to narrow, leading to constipation.
- Stress and Anxiety: Small changes in a cat’s environment can greatly impact your cat’s health. This can be anything from a change in the brand of litter to a new baby to nearby construction.
Veterinary treatment options for feline constipation
Your veterinarian will do an exam on your cat to assess constipation. Often the vet can feel firm feces in the abdomen but will often perform x-rays to determine the extent of constipation and find any other abnormalities. If your cat is showing any other symptoms like vomiting or lethargy, bloodwork can help assess other underlying conditions. It may reveal conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, or an electrolyte imbalance.
Treatment will depend on the severity of constipation in your cat. Mild cases can often resolve with fluid therapy, medications like stool softeners, and sometimes an enema. DO NOT give your cat an over-the-counter enema – some are potentially fatal to pets. Severe cases may require enemas (sometimes under anesthesia since it can be painful).
Chronic, long-term, or recurring constipation may require slightly different treatment and prevention methods. Many veterinarians will put these patients on a low-residue prescription diet that is LOW in fiber. This differs from how one-time cases of constipation are treated. Here’s the reasoning: in chronic constipation, the colon’s nerves are often damaged, and motility decreases. Adding more fiber increases the stool’s bulk and can worsen constipation. So in these cases, we actually want LESS fiber that results in smaller stools.
- Schedule an appointment with your vet if your cat is vomiting, lethargic, straining, or vocalizing.
- Try to find the underlying cause. Your vet will likely recommend additional diagnostic tests like x-rays and bloodwork.
- Reduce stress and maintain a healthy environment for your cat: fresh water, clean litterboxes, exercise, and a balanced diet are essential.
- Treatment for constipation can vary from medications like stool softeners, fluids, enemas, and prescription diets.