What to do if your cat is constipated? What is constipation in cats? Constipation is defined as an abnormal accumulation of faeces in the large intestine, which makes it difficult to defecate. This may decrease the frequency or prevent bowel movements. Faeces remain in the large intestine (large intestine). Because one of the colon’s primary functions is to absorb water, the remaining stool becomes hard and dry, making it more difficult for the stool to pass through. Cats with constipation tend to tense up when they try to defecate, causing stomach pain. Some constipated cats may pass small amounts of liquid stool or blood due to excessive exercise. Although liquid stools are sometimes mistaken for diarrhoea, small amounts of liquid stools can be compressed around solid stools when your cat is actually pushing them.
What causes constipation in cats
Constipation can occur at any age but is most common in middle-aged adult cats. Factors associated with the development of constipation include:
- hairballs, especially in long-haired cats.
- swallowing foreign objects such as bones
- Pelvic injuries that result in a narrowing of the pelvic canal
- Obesity and/or lack of exercise
In some cases, no obvious cause is identified. Constipation is a common symptom associated with idiopathic (unexplained) megacolons.
What is megacolon constipation in cats?
Megacolon is the most common cause of constipation in cats. In this condition, the weakened muscles of the colon are unable to expel stool from the colon. This may be due to a nerve disorder, a problem with the muscles that surround the colon, or both.
Megacolon can be considered a primary or secondary condition after prolonged constipation. When the colon is filled with faeces for a long time, it can reduce or lose its ability to contract, resulting in megacolons. The stool then accumulates in this abnormally enlarged and enlarged colon. For more information on megacolons, see the Megacolon in Cats handout.
How are constipation and megacolon diagnosed?
In most cases, the diagnosis of constipation can be based on the cat’s clinical symptoms and medical history. Affected cats are usually unable to defecate and may complain of pain. All stools are hard and dry. Cats may also show signs of lethargy, cravings, pain and bloating, and vomiting.
Unless your cat is obese or tense, your veterinarian can often palpate or feel the accumulated faecal material in the colon. Further tests may be needed in order to diagnose the cause of constipation. These may include abdominal and pelvic radiographs (Xrays) to look for pelvic injuries, colonic strictures, or tumours, as well as bloodwork and urine testing, to look for underlying disease conditions that can contribute to constipation. Radiographs are also the primary test for the diagnosis of this condition.
How can constipation in cats and megacolon be treated?
Treatment varies depending on the cause of constipation. If an obstruction such as a colonic tumour is present, surgery may be required.
Initial treatment of a cat with constipation may involve administration of enemas and manual extraction of faeces by a veterinarian. Removal of faeces from the colon often requires an anaesthetic or sedative. Intravenous fluid therapy is usually needed to correct fluid imbalances and dehydration that make constipation worse. If constipation recurs or becomes a long-term problem, you may need diet or medication to prevent a recurrence. Several treatments are available to soften stool and ensure regular bowel movements. In mildly affected cats, a high-fibre diet, lubricating laxatives, or stool softeners may help prevent a recurrence.
When might need surgery?
Surgery may be recommended if you develop megacolon or if you have severe constipation and medication fails. Surgical treatment involves removing the affected part of the colon in a procedure called partial colectomy or partial colectomy. Most cats are doing very well after this surgery with few side effects.
What is the long-term outlook for constipation in cats?
The long-term outlook depends on the cause of constipation. However, most cats can be properly treated without surgery and can return to a normal, healthy life. The prognosis is good for cats that need surgery to correct the megacolon.