- Dehydration of fecal matter is a common cause of constipation in cats.
- Constipation is common in middle-aged to older cats and cats with chronic health conditions.
- Your veterinarian can help by correcting dehydration and removing dried fecal matter. They can also identify and treat underlying diseases to help keep constipation from recurring.
Cats are such awesome, self-cleaning pets. It’s not unusual for pet owners to overlook changes in a cat’s bowel movements until several days go by. And while a brief pause in pooping can be normal, if your cat hasn’t pooped in 5 days, your kitty may be in trouble!
Dehydration of feces is a common cause for a cat not to poop for several days. This can be caused by whole-body dehydration, as in the case of kidney disease. Other times it happens when a sluggish intestinal tract allows too much fecal water to be resorbed.
In this article, I will discuss the common causes and symptoms of cats who are not pooping but seem otherwise normal, and the steps veterinarians take to diagnose and treat the problem. Plus, I’ll share some tips to help with mild cat constipation and prevent its recurrence.
Normal Cat Digestion
A cat’s digestive system starts at the mouth and ends at the anus. First, they pick up food and chew it, mixing it with saliva to start the digestion process. The food travels to the stomach through a muscular tube called the esophagus. Once in the stomach, food is broken down more by muscular contractions, chemicals and enzymes.
Once the food is more or less in paste form, it travels out of the stomach into the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. Indigestible matter such as dietary fiber are passed along by muscular contraction to the large intestine. The large intestine has the important job of absorbing whatever water the body needs from the digested matter.
Finally, the large intestine pushes the food waste into the rectum. The waste matter is normally formed into the classic “log” shape before it’s pushed from the cat’s body into the litter box.
Cats must get this digestive waste matter out of their body regularly to avoid toxin absorption and to make room for more waste products. When your cat can’t have a bowel movement, the entire digestive system grinds to a halt and you start seeing the symptoms discussed below.
Causes of Constipation in Cats
If your cat isn’t passing feces that are present in their digestive tract, by definition they’re constipated.
Constipation is pretty common in middle-aged to older cats. Breeds more likely to experience constipation include Siamese and Manx. Obesity and chronic kidney disease are also associated with constipation in cats. (1)
Let’s go over some of the primary diseases that can cause secondary constipation…
|Disease||How It Causes Constipation|
|Anxiety||Psychological distress can decrease intestinal contractions. Also, if a cat is too nervous to visit the litter box, feces can become dry and difficult to pass.|
|Cancer||Tumors in the intestine, abdomen or pelvis can interfere with normal bowel movements.|
|Diabetes||Excess glucose in the blood causes increased water loss through the kidneys. This leads to whole-body dehydration.|
|Dietary Issues||Ingestion of large amounts of fur from grooming can cause constipation (hairballs)– more likely in long-haired cats. Eating bones, soil or other indigestible matter can also cause dry, hard feces.|
|Drugs||Anti-diarrheal drugs can slow intestinal contractions and dry out the intestinal contents. Diuretics like Lasix can also lead to dehydration.|
|Hyperthyroidism||Cats with hyperthyroidism often have deteriorating kidney function which leads to whole-body dehydration.|
|Inactivity||Lack of body movement due to injury or confinement can cause decreased intestinal contractions.|
|Inflammatory Bowel Disease||Inflammation in the intestines causes abnormal water resorption. Inflamed tissue also doesn’t contract normally.|
|Kidney Disease||Diseased kidneys don’t retain body water normally, causing whole-body dehydration.|
|Neurological Problems||Abnormal pelvic nerve function can occur as a birth defect (like in Manx cats) or can occur as a result of trauma, cancer, etc.|
|Obesity||Can cause decreased mobility and less frequent trips to the litter box. This leads to the retention of hard, dry poop in the rectum.|
|Pain||Pain from joint and spine problems is common (2). Pain can also come from soft tissue problems like rectal strictures and anals sac inflammation.|
Most constipated cats have at least a few of these symptoms. A few cats never show the typical symptoms of constipation until the situation has progressed significantly.
It’s important to note that bladder disease and urethral obstruction cause many of the same symptoms. can be hard to tell the difference between bladder trouble and constipation.
- Less frequent bowel movements (especially if the animal is eating normally)
- Straining in the litter box (can also be a bladder problem)
- Vocalizing in the litter box (can also be a bladder problem)
- More frequent visits to the litter box (can also be a bladder problem)
- Licking tail and bottom more than usual (can also be a bladder problem)
- Anus protruding more than normal
- Blood or mucus on the poop that is passed
- Dry, hard stools, either larger or smaller than normal
- Pooping outside litter box
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
If you notice any of these symptoms, your cat should see a veterinarian as soon as possible.
It’s often difficult to tell if your cat is straining in the litter box due to constipation, diarrhea or bladder trouble. Instead of guessing, consult with a veterinarian. We can usually sort things out pretty quickly with some diagnostic testing…
The vet will look at, listen to and feel all over your cat’s body. They might be able to feel hard feces in the colon.
Radiographs & Ultrasound Imaging
Abdominal radiographs are pretty good at showing large amounts of poop in the colon and rectum. Megacolon can also show up on x-rays. Some abdominal tumors show up on x-rays but ultrasound is better at finding soft tissue tumors. Ultrasound can also evaluate intestinal contraction.
Blood & Urine Tests
These check for kidney problems, diabetes and hyperthyroidism which are often associated with constipation.
Lab tests on fecal samples can identify parasitic infections which occasionally lead to cat constipation.
Since there is a spectrum of severity in feline constipation, treatments range from simple to quite complex. The goal is to allow your cat to pass one or two soft but formed set of feces every 24 hours. The main therapeutic strategies are as follows:
Correct Dehydration/Increased fluid intake
Depending on how sick your cat is, they may need intravenous or subcutaneously administered fluids to correct their dehydration. This may require 1-3 days of hospitalization in cases of severe constipation.
Cats who are still eating but may be slightly dehydrated can be offered high-moisture/canned cat food. Over a period of 24 hours, wet cat food can often reverse mild dehydration and get the bowels moving again.
Laxatives or Enemas
Cats with constipation that have not responded to milder treatments may be treated with a laxative. But please be aware that giving a cat a laxative or stool softener is serious business and should not be undertaken without veterinary supervision. You could make the situation worse or cause serious problems if you use laxatives incorrectly!
An enema is a procedure that introduces a substance into the cat’s rectum to lubricate, soften and move hardened feces. Enemas are also serious business in a cat. You should not try this at home as very serious injuries and death are quite possible when enemas are done incorrectly. (4)
Cats with chronic constipation are sometimes prescribed medication to increase muscular contractions in their intestines. Cisapride is one of the drugs vets prescribe and it works pretty well in many cases but must be given long-term.
Addressing Underlying Diseases
If your cat’s constipation is caused by another disease, you must seek treatment for the primary disease before you can expect constipation to improve. Kidney disease, hyperthyroidism and IBD are common cat diseases with proven therapies. Your vet will make recommendations for medication, gastrointestinal food and lifestyle changes to address the primary disease they’ve diagnosed.
You can take some simple steps to prevent your cat from experiencing constipation.
Provide one more litter box than the number of cats in your home. Keep them very clean by scooping them daily and dumping and washing them weekly before refilling them. Try different locations for litter boxes to see which your cat prefers. Try different litters to see which your cat prefers.
Find the Right Food
Find the best food for your cat. Work with your vet to try out high-fiber and low-fiber diets. Wet food often helps with constipation and some cats benefit from prescription diets. Your vet might recommend giving your cat a probiotic supplement to improve the health of their intestinal microbiome. (3)
Give your cat plenty of opportunities to drink fresh, clean water. Flowing cat fountains are popular with many cats. You can purchase the one pictured below from online pet retailers.
Brush your cat regularly. Long-haired cats need to be brushed at least several times a week to remove loose hair so they don’t wind up swallowing it. You might get away with brushing a short hair cat once or twice a week.
If you notice less frequent bowel movements or hard, dry feces in your cat’s litter box take action immediately. The longer the situation persists, the more difficult it will be to fix. Consult your vet on the first steps you should take at home when you notice poop changes like these.
- Benjamin, S. E., & Drobatz, K. J. (2020). Retrospective evaluation of risk factors and treatment outcome predictors in cats presenting to the emergency room for constipation. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 22(2), 153-160.
- Harris, J. E., & Dhupa, S. (2008). Lumbosacral intervertebral disk disease in six cats. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 44(3), 109-115.
- Rossi, G., Jergens, A., Cerquetella, M., Berardi, S., Pengo, G., & Suchodolski, J.. THE EFFECT OF THE PROBIOTIC SIVOYTM ON CLINICAL AND HISTOPATHOLOGICAL PARAMETERS IN CATS WITH CHRONIC IDIOPATHIC CONSTIPATION AND MEGACOLON. In American College of Veterinary Internal medicine (ACVIM) Forum 2015: Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, 3-6 June 2015. Lakewood, CO: American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Retrieved February 04, 2021.
- Stern, L. A. (2015). Hypertonic phosphate enema intoxication in dogs and cats. Veterinary Medicine, 110(7), 176-180.