Constipation is one of the diseases that occur very frequently in cats. What doesn't sound too bad at first can be life-threatening for cats. In this guide, we explain how to recognise constipation in your cat, how to treat it and what preventive measures you can take.
Constipation in cats - How to help your feline friend
Constipation in cats refers to a reduction in the amount of faeces produced. This can be seen in the amount and frequency of defecation, or even in the complete absence of defecation. In medicine, there are three different stages with a corresponding medical term:
Causes of constipation
The large intestine has the important function of recovering water and electrolytes such as potassium from the faeces. If the faeces remain there for a long time, too much water is extracted. This causes the intestinal contents to thicken and the cat will only defecate with great difficulty and irregularly. In most cases, this results in regurgitation and accumulation of faeces in the intestine. This leads to dilatation of the large intestine: the medical term for this megacolon. What causes faeces to remain in the large intestine and ultimately triggers constipation in cats can have very different causes.
- Lack of water or low-fibre food, often diet-related
- Foreign bodies, such as cat hairballs
- Herniated disc
- Potassium deficiency
- Mental stress
- Lack of exercise
- Parasite infestations, such as roundworms, tapeworms or hookworms
- Bacterial infections leading to abscesses, for example around the anus, or inflammation of the intestines
How can you recognise constipation in your cat?
If your cat is suffering from constipation, it can manifest itself in different ways. Constipation can occur either as an acute illness over a period of up to two weeks or with a chronic course, in which the symptoms persist for several weeks or even months. Depending on the cause of the constipation, your cat may show other symptoms alongside faeces that are slightly round and sometimes very hard:
- Decreased general condition coupled with tiredness and behaviour changes
- Problems and pain during defecation: increased meowing, long attempts to push without defecating
- The volume of the faeces may be reduced, and sometimes there will be blood or mucus in it
- Change in eating behaviour, loss of appetite, vomiting
If you notice one or more of these symptoms in your cat, it is very likely that they are suffering from constipation. As described above, the degree of constipation can vary, so it is important to try and assess the severity of the condition. The signs mentioned first usually indicate milder courses while those mentioned last can indicate severe constipation, which can become life-threatening if not treated.
If you are unsure and/or troubled about your cat's condition or the degree of constipation, you should always consult a veterinarian. Then you can be sure that your cat will receive the help they need.
1. Mild constipation
If your cat shows symptoms of mild constipation, a visit to the vet is not immediately necessary. You can try to help your cat yourself by treating the constipation with home remedies. In most cases, you will be able to relieve mild constipation in cats.
Similar to humans, time-honoured high-fibre foods such as flaxseed, wheat bran, or high-fibre vegetables can help relieve pain as they have a laxative effect Pumpkin is one of the high-fibre vegetables that cats can tolerate well in their diet. If you mix your chosen laxative into your cat's regular meals three times a day, you will usually be able to stimulate their bowel movements.
Oils also work as a mild laxative. Simply add a teaspoon of olive oil or other cooking oil to your cat's wet food to relieve constipation. Sometimes cats will not accept the oil because of its strong taste. In these cases, tasteless paraffin oil is also suitable.
Lactose is also a home remedy that can be given to cats for relief. This is because adult cats are lactose intolerant, meaning that the enzyme lactase, which is needed to digest milk sugar, is no longer present in the intestines. This creates substances in the intestine that cannot be digested, which leads to diarrhoea in cats. If your cat is constipated, you can take advantage of this process by offering them milk. Cream is an alternative to milk and has the same effect.
2. Severe constipation
If the signs of constipation persist over a longer period of time, occur very strongly in a very short time or other attempts to alleviate the condition fail, it is time to consult a veterinarian or a veterinary clinic. They will first try to find out the cause of the cat's constipation by means of exclusion diagnostics. In any case, a general clinical examination will take place to evaluate your pet's condition and to ensure a timely response in the urgent event of a life-threatening intestinal obstruction.
If your cat's condition is very severely reduced, it is usually an emergency. In these situations, the circulation must first be stabilised and then the cause of the disease must be determined and localised. Imaging procedures such as X-rays or ultrasound scans are necessary for this. Examination of the blood can also provide information about the electrolyte balance and uncover other health problems such as inflammation or organ damage. If, despite all examinations, no clear sources of pain are found, medical practitioners may also resort to medication with similar effects to those of the home remedies mentioned above. In addition, fluid therapy by infusion may be ordered, as well as pain medication and antiemetics.
In some very severe cases, investigations may conclude that urgent surgical measures must be taken. This is followed by immediate surgery under general anaesthesia. If it turns out that a cat is suffering from an infection that has triggered constipation, antiparasitics or antibiotics will be administered. Depending on the cat's condition, they may need to stay with the vet or in the veterinary hospital for a few days.
! You should never try to treat constipation in a young cat yourself. Firstly, because the approach required is different and secondly, because some therapies that help with adult cats cannot be controlled in young cats. Always consult a vet or veterinary clinic if your kitten is constipated!
Chances of recovery
The cause and severity of constipation determine the prognosis While neural restrictions or late recognition and/or intervention in case of a complete intestinal obstruction can have life-threatening consequences, the chances of a complete recovery in the case of milder constipation are quite high. In any case, a positive prognosis is more likely the sooner the disease is recognised and the earlier it is treated.
Some factors that lead to constipation in cats can be curbed by taking simple but helpful steps:
- Promote your cat's digestion: allow your feline friend to get plenty of exercise on a regular basis and use high-quality, high-fibre cat food.
- Keep your cat hydrated: make sure your cat drinks enough water. This will help to prevent digestive problems, hard faeces, and pain when defecating.
- Health checks: have regular faeces checks at the vet and prevent parasite infestations with the right medication.
- Cleanliness: remove cat hairs that have been shed in your household. This will help prevent your cat from swallowing hairballs.
- Promote your cat's mental balance: help your cat to cope with stress and to lead a balanced lifestyle. Provide cat scratching posts or cat toys to give your cat a way of getting rid of excess energy.
Constipation is a common occurrence in cats. In most cases, however, it is harmless and disappears after a short time - either by itself or with the help of some home remedies. If your cat's digestive problems persist for a longer period of time or if its general condition deteriorates, you should always consult a vet.