Vet’s Choice: Best Cat Foods for Constipation (Wet & Dry) 

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Mr. Kitty was a senior cat I knew many years ago who suffered from horrible chronic constipation. Even though he ate high fiber cat food, he still got so sick he needed to have his stool manually removed every couple of weeks. Back then, most vets believed high fiber cat food was the best choice for constipation. Now we know that different constipated cats need different types of food.

The best cat foods for constipation come from one of four categories: high fiber, low fiber, low-carbohydrate, and hypoallergenic food. Try one type at a time to see how your cat reacts. Two weeks is usually long enough to know whether or not a particular cat food helps your cat’s constipation.

Best Cat Foods for Constipation: 4 Categories

It’s impossible to know which food is best for your individual pet without trying it for a couple of weeks. Some do better with high fiber foods while others thrive on low-carb diets. 

When treating your cat’s constipation, it’s reasonable to start with wet food that’s higher in fiber than your cat’s current diet. You can use dry kibble with similar qualities if your cat absolutely won’t eat moist food. 

If there is no improvement after 2-4 weeks of eating 100% of the new food, move on to lower fiber, easy-to-digest cat food for 2-4 weeks. If that one fails to get things moving, you can try low-carb food. The final stop is hypoallergenic prescription cat food. 

To summarize, the best cat food for constipation is moist food from one of the following categories:

  1. Higher fiber cat food
  2. Lower fiber, easily digestible cat food
  3. Low carbohydrate cat food
  4. Hypoallergenic cat food

Take 2-4 weeks at each step before deciding to move to the next one. 

Read on for DRY & WET food recommendations…

Vet-Recommended Cat Food for Constipation

We are fortunate to live in these times with a huge number of pet food products from which to choose. It does make it a bit overwhelming to choose just one, though. This article should give you a decent list of products to try. 

Choose one food from the following categories and feed it for a full 2-4 weeks before trying a different one. I recommend starting with higher fiber, then low fiber, then low carb and finally hypoallergenic food. 

Wet cat food is strongly recommended for constipated cats but I’ve also listed dry food options below.

fat gray and white cat wearing orange tshirt (best cat foods for constipation)
This cat needs high fiber food for constipation and weight management.

High Fiber Food for Cats With Constipation

Some of the buzzwords cat food manufacturers use to signify a product is high in fiber are 

  • Hairball Control
  • Indoor Cat
  • Weight Control

Higher in fiber foods are often lower in calories than average adult cat food. That’s great for overweight cats but not great for normal and underweight cats. 

If your cat doesn’t need to lose weight, check the calorie count and make sure you’re feeding enough to avoid weight loss.

High Fiber WET Cat Food

Macronutrient Ratio: Protein 39%, Fat 57%, Carb 4%; Fiber 9%

Pros

  • Higher in fiber
  • Low in carbohydrates
  • Soluble fiber from flaxseed & guar gum
  • Lower cost & available in stores

Cons

  • Only 2 flavors: chicken & salmon
  • High in fat
  • Only available in pate form

High Fiber DRY Cat Food

Macronutrient Ratio: Protein 36%, Fat 37%, Carb 27%; Fiber 7%

Pros

  • Higher in fiber
  • Low in carbs for kibble
  • Moderate in fat
  • Soluble fiber from peas & flaxseed
  • Grain-free for sensitive cats
  • Low cost & convenience of dry food

Cons

  • Calorie dense
  • High in carbs
  • Low in moisture

Low Fiber Easily Digestible Food for Cat Constipation

Ingredients of the products in this category have been processed in such a way that they’re easy for the digestive tract to break down and assimilate. Low-residue diets are also designed with a low fiber level.  

Some pet food manufacturers do digestibility studies, especially for prescription low-residue foods. But most commercial formulas are not analyzed this way. 

Without this testing, we can really only guess at how digestible a given recipe is based on its ingredients. 

Therefore, I strongly recommend using a prescription low-residue food for this step of your experiment. If you absolutely cannot do that, here are some of the key phrases to look for on labels on non-prescription products:

  • Sensitive Stomach/Skin
  • Gentle
  • Gastrointestinal/Digestive
  • Low Residue

Low Fiber WET Cat Food

Macronutrient Ratio: Protein 39%, Fat 49%, Carb 12%; Fiber 5%

Pros

  • Moderate fiber level
  • Low carb
  • Grain-free for sensitive cats
  • Simple ingredients
  • Wet food

Cons

  • High in fat
  • Higher cost for an OTC product
  • Not a good option for cats sensitive to chicken

Low Fiber DRY Cat Food

Macronutrient Ratio: Protein 34%, Fat 15%, Carb 34%; Fiber 2%

Pros

  • Low fiber
  • Moderate fat
  • Low cost
  • Convenience of kibble

Cons

  • Highly processed
  • Contains grains
  • High carbohydrate content
  • Low moisture

Low Carbohydrate Cat Food for Constipation

When it comes to low carbohydrate food, it’s difficult to tell which ones are and which ones aren’t. In general, dry foods are hardly ever low-carb. Canned foods may or may not be. Don’t be fooled into thinking grain-free formulas are necessarily low-carb because they usually contain starches to replace the grain. 

If you’re looking for low-carb canned or raw food, the best resource for you is Dr. Pierson’s food list at catinfo.org. Try to find one that has less than 15% of calories from carbs on that list (there are many options). 

She doesn’t list any dry foods because they’re not ideal for overall health. Also, there aren’t very many dry cat foods that have a low carbohydrate level. I’ve listed a couple in the chart that you can use if you absolutely cannot get your cat to switch to canned food.  

Low Carb WET Cat Food

Macronutrient Ratio: Protein 65%, Fat 32%, Carb 3%; Fiber 3%

Pros

  • Lower fiber
  • Low carbohydrate level
  • High in protein
  • Moderate in fat
  • Grain-free for sensitive cats
  • Very high moisture content

Cons

  • Costly for non-prescription food
  • May be difficult to find

Low Carb DRY Cat Food

Macronutrient Ratio: Protein 65%, Fat 32%, Carb 3%; Fiber 3%

Pros

  • Lower in fiber
  • High in protein
  • Low carb DRY cat food!
  • Great for kibble addicted cats
  • Multiple fiber sources
  • Relatively low cost
  • OK for KITTENS

Cons

  • Low moisture level
  • Smaller company
  • Only available on the YoungAgain website

Hypoallergenic Cat Food for Constipation

Don’t use non-prescription food for cats who need to go through a hypoallergenic food trial. These OTC foods are often contaminated with traces of animal proteins not listed on the label. They are not pure enough to make a food allergy trial accurate. 

Prescription hypoallergenic cat food is well worth its cost. If you’re going to go through the hassle of doing a food trial for several months, you might as well do it right the first time. 

But if you just want to try changing protein sources, you can choose a non-prescription product that contains limited ingredients. Rabbit, duck, and pheasant are novel protein sources that work well for cats. 

Hypoallergenic WET Cat Food

Macronutrient Ratio: Protein 31%, Fat 58%, Carb 11%; Fiber 9%

Pros

  • High in fiber (good or bad?)
  • Low in carbs
  • High moisture level
  • Grain-free for sensitive cats
  • One novel protein source
  • Moderate price

Cons

  • High fat content could irritate a sensitive stomach
  • Not the gold standard for a hypoallergenic diet (may contain trace amounts of other proteins)
  • Peas are a controversial ingredient

Hypoallergenic DRY Cat Food

Macronutrient Ratio: Protein 30%, Fat 29%, Carb 41%; Fiber 4%

Pros

  • Moderate fiber content
  • Moderate fat level
  • Grain-free for sensitive cats
  • Widely available
  • Low cost compared to prescription diets

Cons

  • High in carbs
  • Low in moisture
  • Not the gold standard for food allergy trials–may contain traces of other proteins
  • Relatively high cost for non-prescription food

Best Cat Food for Megacolon

Megacolon is a condition in which a cat’s colon is stretched out and underfunctioning. It is often the result of severe, chronic constipation.

High-fiber cat food is usually not the best cat food for megacolon. Fiber can make things worse because a megacolon is unable to have normal contractions. Cats with megacolon tend to do better with lower fiber, highly digestible diets. 

It’s very important to consult your veterinarian when choosing the best food for megacolon.

Can Changing Cat Food Cause Constipation?

Changing food too quickly can confuse the beneficial organisms living in your cat’s guts. You could see worsening constipation or even diarrhea with sudden food changes. 

Remember, always change your cat’s diet gradually over 7 to 10 days to allow your cat’s GI microbiome to adjust. 

Feed the new food for at least two weeks before drawing a conclusion about whether the litter box problems are better, unchanged or worse. 

Vet’s Tips for Choosing the Best Cat Food for Constipation

Choosing the perfect food for your cat might take some trial and error. I looked at dozens and dozens of prescription and non-prescription cat food products in search of the best options to recommend to my clients and readers. 

These are the criteria I use to evaluate cat food for constipation:

  • Moisture Content
  • Carbohydrate content
  • Fiber content
  • Digestibility
  • Palatability
  • Price and availability

Moisture Content

A constipated cat should eat moist food with at least 70% or more moisture on the label’s guaranteed analysis. You can choose canned cat food, frozen raw cat food or make a balanced homemade recipe. 

Cats eating low-moisture dry food don’t drink more water to make up for the moisture lacking in the food. They just don’t get thirsty. Cats who eat canned cat food end up taking in quite a bit more moisture (because it’s mixed into the food) than cats who eat dry cat food.  

Carbohydrate Content

Many veterinary specialists find a low-carb diet benefits many health conditions, including feline constipation. Look for products that contain 15% or fewer calories from carbohydrates. Some animals need to eat cat food with less than 10% of calories from carbohydrates to realize the full benefits. 

It’s hard to figure out the carb content of food from the label. When I send my clients out to look for an over-the-counter low-carb diet, I send them to Dr. Lisa Pierson’s cat food list at catinfo.org. She has listed the carb content on dozens of foods. 

Fiber Content in Cat Food

Some cats with sluggish bowels do better with more fiber in their food while others do better with low fiber diets.  

Cats don’t require any fiber in their diet. However, a small amount of fiber (5% of dry matter or less) is beneficial to a cat’s colon health. 

There are two main types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. 

If a cat food product claims to be “high fiber,” that usually means high in insoluble fiber (1). You’ll have to check the ingredients to make a guess as to how much soluble fiber is in the ration. 

Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is found in things like whole grains, wheat germ, and vegetables.

Insoluble fiber retains water in feces but also causes it to be bulkier. 

Insoluble Fiber Ingredients in Cat FoodEffect on Stool
Beet PulpMoistens and increases bulk (larger stools)
CelluloseMoistens and increases bulk (larger stools)
Pea FiberMoistens and increases bulk (larger stools)
Rice BranMoistens and increases bulk (larger stools)

Soluble fiber can help many cats with difficult bowel movements. This type of fiber can be dissolved in water and comes from plant-based foods.

Soluble fiber increases the water content in feces but decreases bulk. It also feeds the good bacteria in your cat’s GI tract, acting as a “prebiotic.” 

Soluble Fiber IngredientsEffect on a Constipated Cat’s Stool
PectinMoistens and decreases bulk
Citrus PulpMoistens and decreases bulk
Guar GumMoistens and decreases bulk
Soy FiberMoistens and decreases bulk
InulinMoistens and decreases bulk

Ideally, you’d feed your cat a diet with a balance of soluble and insoluble fiber.

Side effects of too much fiber in cat food:

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive gas
  • Poor nutrient absorption

Add fiber to your kitty’s diet slowly and gradually increase the amount over several weeks’ time. If your cat is currently eating food with 2% crude fiber, change to a food with 5% crude fiber rather than jumping directly up to 7% crude fiber. 

Digestibility

Ingredient processing and combination also affect digestibility. Believe it or not, it’s easier for cats to absorb nutrients from cooked food than from raw food. And lower fiber food is easier to digest than high fiber foods (1). 

Overall, veterinarians find low-carbohydrate, animal protein-based meals are better for most cats. Look for ingredient lists without a lot of plant and starch items like peas, potatoes and lentils. The food might also say it’s good for cats with sensitive stomachs.                 

Palatability (Tastes Good)

We want constipated cats to eat wet cat food but if your kitty is a dry food addict, getting them to switch might take some ingenuity. One easy trick is to sprinkle Purina FortiFlora® on the canned food. It has a concentrated animal protein-based flavoring that cats love.

Check out Dr. Pierson’s tips to get dry food addicts to switch to wet food. Be patient, it is possible to out-stubborn your furry friend without starving her.

Price and Availability

There is a huge spectrum of cat food available at different price points. If your cat has a serious constipation problem, your vet might recommend prescription food. It costs more but could save you money in trips to the vet to treat your cat’s constipation.

Non-prescription cat food good for constipation is available anywhere you can buy pet products. There are good choices at both grocery stores, pet supply stores and online retailers.

Treats for Constipated Cats 

Unless your vet has prescribed a very strict elimination/food allergy diet, it’s OK to give your kitty a few small treats per day. Avoid high carbohydrate treats and opt instead for high-protein natural treats. 

Bonito flakes are called “kitty crack” by some because kitties go crazy for them. These are simply dehydrated fish flakes. They’re small and have a low calorie count. 

Dehydrated chicken or duck treats are a great option for cats who don’t like or can’t tolerate fish. 

Cats on a hypoallergenic diet can eat pieces of their kibble for treats. There are also a few hypoallergenic cat treats available, but ask your vet before using these. 

Tips to Help Constipated Cats

When choosing a new diet to help your cat’s bowels, consider the current diet. Look at how much crude fiber it contains, what the protein source is, and what the moisture level is. 

With any new diet, you need to change at least one of those factors and do a feeding trial for a couple of weeks. 

Feed Small Frequent Meals

You should also think about how often your cat is fed. Smaller, more frequent meals may help increase contractions in the lower digestive tract. 

When thinking about how much they’re fed, be realistic about their access to treats and other foods. If they’re eating more than one or two very small treats each day, make sure you use one that “matches” the food you’re feeding.  

Litter Box Strategies

Cats are naturally fastidious animals. They want a litter box that is private, quiet, conveniently located and clean. 

A senior feline might do better with a low-edge entry box. Consider putting a box on each level of your house, too. 

Provide one more litter box than the number of cats living in your home. Two cats should have at least three litter boxes. 

Scoop all boxes daily and dump and scrub with soap and water weekly. But be careful about changing locations or the type of litter you use because some cats are very particular about their potty! 

Increase Daily Exercise

Exercise immediately after meal time can help increase intestinal motility to form more normal feces. So if your kitty is in the habit of laying about in a “food coma” after eating, get out the toys and get him moving for 15 to 30 minutes. 

Learn more about helping constipated cats… click to read 

Weight Management

Do you have an overweight cat? Obesity is a big risk factor for cat constipation. You can use a diet formulated for weight loss and feed no more than the amount recommended on the product label. You might want to weigh out each meal on a kitchen scale since a few extra grams of food can make a big difference to an animal that only weighs around 10 pounds!

Home Remedies for Constipation in Cats

There are many, many supplements offered for every cat ailment you can possibly imagine. Most don’t cause harm but can waste your money and might cause hard feelings between you and your cat if they don’t want to take them. 

Probiotic

Supplements that are worth a try include probiotics. Some foods contain extra probiotics, but I think it’s worthwhile to try adding some to your cat’s food.

I recommend either Proviable DC which is flavorless or Purina Fortiflora which is considered absolutely delicious by most cats. Use the supplement for at least a month before you decide whether or not it’s helping. 

Canned Pumpkin

Adding natural food-based fiber to wet cat food can work well for some. Canned pumpkin has 28% crude fiber on a dry matter basis (1). A tablespoon or two per day is probably the maximum amount most cats will tolerate before they refuse to eat. 

Psyllium Husk

Psyllium husk (a.k.a. Metamucil) is a fiber supplement for humans that contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. Add ¼ teaspoon to meals one to three times per day. These are not recommended for long-term use as they can interfere with mineral absorption. 

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References

  1. Hand MS, Thatcher CD, Remillard RL, Roudebush P, eds. Small Animal Clinical Nutrition, 4th ed. Marceline, MO: Mark Morris Institute; 2000:725-881.
  2. National Research Council (2006, July 24). YOUR CAT’S NUTRITIONAL NEEDS A Science-Based Guide For Pet Owners. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.nap.edu/resource/10668/cat_nutrition_final.pdf

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