Constipation in Cats
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 and death.
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 stool.
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 partial obstruction.
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 problem.
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.
A fecal impaction is a large mass of dry, hard stool that can develop in the rectum due to chronic constipation. This mass may be so hard that it cannot come out of the body. Watery stool from higher in the bowel may move around the mass and leak out, causing soiling. Affected cats often pass blood-tinged or watery, brown stool. This may be mistaken for diarrhea. Fecal impaction is confirmed by digital examination by your veterinarian using a well-lubricated glove.
Treatment: The removal of impacted feces requires both a laxative and an enema. As you may imagine, giving a cat an enema is no easy task, so it is best left to a veterinarian or a veterinary technician. For a severe impaction accompanied by dehydration, fluid replacement is necessary before attempting to remove the impaction.
This article is excerpted from “Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.
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