Cat Constipation: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/15/20242-4 minutes
Cat Constipation

Although cat constipation isn’t uncommon, the causes and symptoms can vary wildly from one cat to another. Being informed about this condition can help you address it quickly or even potentially prevent it from occurring in your cat’s life. The solution may be as simple as switching to a cat food with less fiber, while other times it can be a bit more involved.

If you suspect your cat is suffering from constipation, you’re undoubtedly eager to figure out the cause and how to offer them relief. Fortunately, there are simple solutions you can try when you first notice symptoms. If the condition is more advanced, your veterinarian can try some cat constipation remedies to relieve discomfort and help your cat get back to their usual self.

What Is Constipation in Cats?

Cat constipation is when an abnormal accumulation of feces develops in the colon, causing difficult bowel movements. Generally, it will either present as a reduced ability or a complete inability to pass stool. In this instance, the feces remain in the colon, and since one of the primary roles of the colon is to absorb water, the stool becomes hard and dry. As a result, this increases the difficulty for your cat to pass feces, causing constipation, and thus continuing a vicious, uncomfortable cycle.

Signs & Symptoms of Cat Constipation

A feline who hasn’t produced stool for more than 24 hours is likely to be suffering from constipation. If your cat eliminates outdoors as well as in the litterbox inside, however, it may be difficult to know if they’re not defecating.

As a result, you might not pick up the infrequency of their toilet habits right away. These are some of the other symptoms of cat constipation you should keep an eye on:

  • Tense, sensitive abdomen
  • Hard, dry, small stools
  • Straining, which can be mistaken by owners as difficulty urinating
  • The occasional lack of appetite
  • Hunched posture

Causes of Cat Constipation

Tracking down the cause of constipation is just as important as recognizing the symptoms. Although dehydration is the most common cause of cat constipation, there are many other potential reasons for this condition.

  • Dehydration, which may be a result of kidney disease, especially in older cats
  • Arthritis—especially in middle-aged to older cats (hurts to posture)
  • Not enough or too much fiber in their diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity (obese cats may have difficulty posturing)
  • Hair ingestion: A primary cause in long-haired breeds
  • Litter box avoidance (when the litter needs to be changed or cleaned)
  • Hernia
  • Tumors near the pelvic reason
  • Side effects of some medications
  • Nerve disorder
  • Pelvic injuries that result in a narrowed pelvic canal
  • Eating a foreign body that obstructs the gastrointestinal tract (although you are likely to notice other concerning clinical signs, such as lack of appetite or a very sore tummy before you notice constipation)

If you’re not sure what has caused your cat’s constipation, or if they get constipated regularly, speak to your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause. Based on the findings, the treatment can vary from changes in diet to prescribed medication.

Diagnosing Constipation in Cats

Generally, constipation in cats is easy to diagnose and is done based on their symptoms and medical history. Your veterinarian will likely ask you questions about how your cat has been feeling and will feel around your cat’s colon, where they should be able to locate the accumulated fecal matter.

If necessary, your veterinarian may also carry out further tests to diagnose the underlying cause, including abdominal or pelvic x-rays to look for injuries, abnormalities or tumors of the pelvic canal. They may also do bloodwork and urine tests to rule out the possibility of an underlying disease.

At-Home Cat Constipation Remedies

When it comes to how to help a constipated cat or kitten, you can try at-home remedies for mild cases. Still, you shouldn’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian if you struggle to get your cat back to their normal routine. Here are some of the remedies you can try while waiting for your veterinary appointment:

Increase Hydration

It can be as simple as increased water intake when it comes to what to give a constipated cat. Cat constipation symptoms can be alleviated if you make sure they’re keeping hydrated throughout the day. Have water bowls within reach in different places within the house to remind your cat to drink more.

Some cats prefer to drink running water, so try and tempt them by leaving the tap dripping. Some cats also like water fountains—these should be cleaned regularly to ensure your cat keeps using them. It can be challenging to get cats to drink more water. Feeding them a wet cat food diet is one of the easiest ways to increase your cat’s water intake. Wet food is typically 80-85% moisture so the hydration is built right into their nutrition.

Increased Exercise

Introducing more activity into your cat’s daily routine will get their entire body moving and may also stimulate the intestines. Play different games with your cat or find cat toys to keep them on their toes. Encourage your cat to express their playful side more often, and they’ll be reaping plenty of health benefits.

Improve Fiber Intake

Cat constipation can be managed by paying close attention to the level of fiber in their food. If you’re not sure about the appropriate amount of fiber your cat needs in their diet, check with your veterinarian, as feeding too much or too little fiber can worsen their constipation.

Keeping the Litter Box Clean

An unmaintained litter box may keep your pet from wanting to enter and use it.

Veterinary Treatment for Cat Constipation

Your veterinarian will conduct a physical examination to determine the severity of your cat’s constipation. They will then decide on the best course of action.

For mild cases, a dietary adjustment might be all they need to get back to their regular elimination habits. An enema may be recommended in other cases, or medications, such as laxatives, stool softeners, or probiotics may be prescribed. If your veterinarian finds they’re dehydrated, they may suggest subcutaneous fluids to help.

It may be tempting to intervene yourself and try to offer some relief before the veterinary appointment. It’s crucial to avoid administering any human medications or laxatives, however. Be mindful that the risk of injury and even toxicity is real and can make an easily treated condition into a much bigger problem. You should always talk to your veterinarian before administering any treatment to your cat.

In most cases cat constipation is manageable. Keeping an eye on your cat’s daily water consumption and keeping bowls and litter trays clean with fresh water given every day should form the basis of your care. Introducing more exercise and aiming for a balanced diet will also encourage regular bowel movements.

Get more valuable cat insights by finding out what our experts have to say on our Pet Expertise.

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