Constipation in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Cat Digestive Tract

Constipation is not only a discomfort for cats but can also be a cause for concern. It refers to the abnormal accumulation of feces in the colon, leading to difficulty in bowel movements. In this article, we’ll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for constipation in cats.

Understanding Constipation

Constipation occurs when feces are retained in the colon for an extended period, causing them to become hard and dry. This hardening makes it even more challenging for cats to pass stool, resulting in abdominal pain. Some cats may pass small amounts of liquid feces or blood due to excessive straining, which can be mistaken for diarrhea.

Causes of Constipation

Constipation in cats can have various causes. Some common factors associated with its development include:

  • Hairballs, especially in longhaired cats
  • Ingestion of foreign bodies, such as bones
  • Pelvic injuries leading to a narrowed pelvic canal
  • Obesity and lack of exercise

In certain cases, there may be no obvious cause identified. Constipation can also be a symptom of idiopathic (unknown cause) megacolon, which is a condition characterized by a dilated and weak colon causing severe constipation.

Diagnosing Constipation and Megacolon

Typically, a veterinarian can diagnose constipation based on the cat’s clinical signs and medical history. Straining to defecate, hard and dry feces, lethargy, reluctance to eat, abdominal pain, distension, and vomiting are common signs. Palpation or feeling the accumulated fecal material in the colon by the veterinarian may be necessary.

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Further tests, including X-rays, bloodwork, and urine testing, may be required to diagnose the underlying cause of constipation. X-rays, in particular, are crucial for diagnosing megacolon.

Treating Constipation and Megacolon

Treatment for constipation depends on its cause. If an obstruction like a colonic tumor is present, surgery may be necessary. In less severe cases, initial treatment may involve enemas and manual extraction of feces by a veterinarian. Intravenous fluid therapy is often administered to correct fluid imbalances and dehydration.

To prevent recurrence, dietary management or medications may be recommended. High fiber diets, lubricating laxatives, and stool softeners can help soften feces and promote regular bowel movements. For more severe cases, drugs that stimulate colon contraction can be prescribed.

It’s essential to maintain access to a clean litter box to encourage frequent defecation. Regular grooming, especially for longhaired cats, can reduce hair ingestion, while “hairball remedies” or hairball diets may help prevent hairballs from causing constipation.

When Might Surgery Be Necessary?

In cases where megacolon develops or when severe constipation doesn’t respond to medical treatment, surgery may be recommended. This surgical procedure, known as partial or sub-total colectomy, involves removing the affected portion of the colon. Fortunately, most cats recover well with minimal side effects following this surgery.

Long-Term Outlook

The long-term outlook for cats with constipation varies depending on the underlying cause. In most cases, cats can be managed without surgery and resume normal, healthy lives. However, for those requiring surgery to address megacolon, the prognosis is generally good.

If you notice signs of constipation in your cat, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. With proper care and management, constipation can be effectively addressed, ensuring your feline companion’s well-being and comfort.

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