Constipation is the frequent or difficult evacuation of faeces from the colon and rectum. While an occasional bout of constipation is probably no cause for alarm, untreated and ongoing constipation can lead to serious consequences, such as (though not limited to) obstipation or megacolon.
Symptoms of constipation in cats are sometimes not very obvious, especially if your cat toilets outside. These may include: vomiting, decreased appetite, being less integrative and straining or vocalising when in the litter tray.
Constipation is affected by several underlying factors:
- Behavioural – STRESS (changes in diet, routine etc), lack of appropriate places to toilet (not enough privacy, dirty litter, chemical smells around litter tray), excess grooming of long hair
- Dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities – often secondary to other issues such as kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, poor access to clean water or dental pain
- Medications – some medications such as opioids can cause constipation
- Pain or nerve dysfunction – e.g. a broken pelvis, arthritis.
What your vet may do:
- Rehydration - via intravenous fluids (which involves a hospital stay), fluids under the skin or by increasing the fluid content of food;
- Physical removal of impacted stools - via enemas or suppositories which may require general anaesthesia;
- Blood and urine testing – to find the underlying cause of the constipation (e.g. evidence of kidney disease, electrolyte abnormalities);
- Imaging – via ultrasound or x-rays to check for extent of constipation, evidence of megacolon or possibility of masses or strictures.
Once your cat is home, the following may be helpful to help him/her defecate normally:
- Private spaces for toileting – provide several trays around the house in quiet, private areas. Some cats prefer hooded trays while others don’t. We recommend about 1.5 to 2 trays per cat in each household
- Hydration: Access to clean water is vital. Cats are picky about the taste of their water, so filtered water in a large, flat glass or ceramic bowl is best. Running water in the form of a water fountain of straight from the tap can encourage your cat to drink more. Cats prone to chronic constipation should be fed a canned diet (which contains about 70% water).
- Exercise: For sedentary cats, try to spend at least 20 minutes once or twice a day playing with them and encouraging them to run around (e.g chasing a toy on a string or laser light)
- Medications: your vet may prescribe laxatives, fibre, stool softeners, prokinetic agents. The most common laxative is Lactulose or Polyethylene glycol (PEG) which attract water to the stool in the colon, thereby allowing it to be softer and more easily passed (as long as your cat is adequately hydrated).
In severe, repeated episodes a permanent solution can be reached by total surgical resection of the colon.
If you have any questions or are concerned about your cat, please call one of our hospitals.
Albion Park Veterinary Hospital - 02 4256 3638
Gerringong Veterinary Clinic - 02 4234 1317