Most cats have one or two stools a
day. However, some cats have a bowel movement every two or three days. These
cats are quite likely to be constipated. Constipation is the infrequent passage of small, hard,
dry stools. When feces are retained in the colon for two to three days, they
become dry and hard. This results in straining and pain during defecation.
Straining also occurs with colitis and feline lower urinary tract disease
(FLUTD. Be sure the cat is not suffering from one of
these conditions before treating for constipation. An overlooked urethral
obstruction is especially serious, since it can cause damage to the kidneys
Your new cat is coming home from the animal shelter tomorrow. Busily you shop, checking off the items on your list, including cat food, toys, a scratching post and myriad other goodies.
And at the very top of the list are litterbox necessities. You head to the nearest pet supply superstore, and are faced with row after row of “all things litter.” Pastel-colored clumping litter, good old clay litter, some that’s made from pine and some that’s made from newspaper...What to choose, what to choose?...
Dehydration, such as occurs in
a cat with renal
disease, is a common cause of constipation. The problem is intensified if
the cat does not drink enough water. In fact, because they are descended from
wild cats who inhabited an arid climate, cats tend to drink less water than
most other animals.
Hairballs are a common cause of hard stools, particularly in
longhaired cats. Suspect this if your cat vomits hair or if you see hair in his
The urge to defecate can be overridden voluntarily. Many cats
will not defecate when in unfamiliar surroundings; others may refuse to use a
dirty litter box. Older, less active cats experience reduced bowel activity and
the muscles of the abdominal wall may weaken. Either can lead to prolonged
retention and increased hardness of stools. Obese cats are also more likely to
suffer from constipation.
Occasionally, chronic constipation is due to or results in an
enlarged, sluggish, poorly contracting colon, a condition called megacolon.
Cats with this condition require lifelong treatment with stool softeners and
special diets. Veterinary supervision is necessary.
A chronically constipated cat may have a bloated look, seem
lethargic, and pick at his food.
Constipation and fecal incontinence can occur in tailless cats, such as the
Manx, who have developmental deformities of the spine and incomplete enervation
of the colon. Also, cats who have suffered from a broken pelvis may have nerve
damage to the colon or a mechanical narrowing of the pelvic canal, causing a
Treatment: Cats with chronic or recurrent episodes of
constipation may benefit from a high-fiber diet. Some commercial weight-loss
cat foods and some hairball prevention formulas are high in fiber. There
are also prescription high-fiber diets, such as Science Diet w/d, Royal Canin
HiFactor Formula, and Purina OM Feline Formula. However, some veterinarians
believe that a low-carbohydrate (and, therefore, low-fiber) diet may be better
for constipated cats. They suggest feeding the cat only canned foods for the
increased water and lower carbohydrate content, adding 1 teaspoon (1.2 g) of
rice bran or powdered psyllium, if needed. For mild constipation, adding
bulk-forming laxatives is beneficial. These laxatives absorb water in the
colon, soften feces, and promote more frequent defecation. Wheat bran (1
tablespoon, 3.6 g, per day), canned plain pumpkin (1 teaspoon, 5 g, twice a
day) or Metamucil (1 teaspoon, 5 g, per day mixed into wet food) is
recommended. Lactulose, a synthetic sugar that draws water into the bowel, is
often helpful and can be powdered and put in capsules if your cat won’t eat it
in with his food. Bulk laxatives can be used indefinitely without causing a
Stimulant laxatives are effective for simple constipation but repeated use
may interfere with colon function. Several products are available that are made
for cats, including Kat-a-lax and Laxatone. The latter is especially effective
for cats with hairballs. These products should never be used if there is any
possibility of an obstruction. Always consult with your veterinarian before
giving your cat any laxative product.