Constipation in Cats

Constipation in CatsConstipation in cats occurs occasionally and is characterized by large, dry feces that are difficult for the cat to pass. Sedentary, overweight cats with diets low in fiber are particularly prone (predisposed) to constipation. Any condition resulting in dehydration can dry out the cats feces and result in constipation. Sometime cats refuse to use the litter box especially if it is not changed frequently enough to suit the cat. Occasionally if the pelvis bones have been fractured in the past the canal (birth canal) may be narrowed and prevent large feces from passing normally. Similarly if the cats spine has previously been damaged by trauma or disease the nerves to the colon may be inadequate to stimulate normal colon motility (contraction). Other uncommon medical problems like tumors can also cause obstruction of the pelvic canal resulting in obstipation.

In-Home Treatment of Constipation in Cats

Treatment aimed at increasing the fiber content of the food with canned pumpkin, bran, or psyllium can be rewarding in prevention of constipation if underlaying medical conditions are not present. Two easy to locate products that can be tried are canned pumpkin and psyllium powder. If you want to try canned pumpkin, be sure to not purchase pumpkin pie filling! Mix the canned pumpkin into your cat’s wet food, and see if she will eat it. Psyllium powder is also easy to locate. A favored brand is Miralax. It easily dissolved in canned food, and will usually be eaten readily.

When Constipation in Cats becomes Obstipation

If constipation is untreated over an extended period of time the cat may eventually be totally unable to have a bowel movement and the term obstipation is then applied.

Obstipation is a term used by veterinarians to indicate severe constipation. Cats are particularly predisposed to developing obstipation though the exact reason is not well understood.

If this process happens frequently and for long duration the colon can be quite distended and

X-ray of cat's colon

In this X-ray you can see three distinct balls of feces in this cat’s colon.

eventually loses its normal muscular tone which is called megacolon. Your cat’s colon therefore can not contract adequately in order for a bowel movement to occur. Your veterinarian will usually be able to palpate (feel) the large accumulation of feces in the colon. If the cat is obese or fractious an x ray (radiograph) may be necessary to diagnose the condition. At that point it may be necessary for your veterinarian to perform repeated enemas in order to soften the feces enough to allow it to pass. Failing that, the cat will need sedation and even anesthesia, repeated enemas, and physical removal of the feces. This process can be difficult and time consuming proportionate to the severity of the obstipation.

Preventing Constipation in Cats

Prevention of reoccurrence of constipation in cats is based on increasing the amount of fiber in the diet and or actually administering high amounts of fiber as a medication. Lactulose is the classic drug used for this purpose. It comes as a liquid that can be administered in ever increasing amounts sufficient to cause the stool to become actually soft rather than just “normal”.

Medications used for hair balls, which are predominantly Vaseline based, are not adequate to treat or prevent obstipation. Once a cat has been obstipated it is often necessary to treat for the remainder of the cat’s life in order to prevent reoccurrence of obstipation.

Medications aimed at increasing the contractility of the colon may also be needed temporarily of for the duration of the cat’s life depending on the severity and frequency of the obstipation. The most common drug your veterinarian will prescribe is cisapride. This is a drug which increases the contractility of both the stomach and colon in people and animals. It has been taken off the human market for reasons that do not apply to animals therefore it needs to be compounded for use in animals but is considered quite safe.

Rarely if cats are treated vigorously with maximum amounts of both lactulose and cisapride and obstipation is unresponsive surgery can be performed. The veterinary surgeon removes the section of the colon that is permanently damaged and the two ends are re attached. A colonostomy bag is not needed in this surgery as stool is passed normally through the rectum.

Working closely with your veterinarian in preventing or treating this distressing condition can be rewarding but requires constant close observation and follow up care as directed by your primary care veterinarian.

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Dr Roger Johnson

Roger K. Johnson, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include cardiology as well as using advanced diagnostics to help his patients. His particular favorites include echocardiography, abdominal ultrasonography, and endoscopy.

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