2851 W. IRVING PARK RD  CHICAGO, ILLINOIS  60618     PHONE  (773) 539-9080   FAX  (773) 478-0605

Constipation In Cats

Constipation is a relatively common condition affecting primarily older cats. Your cat may be constipated if he or she is straining in the litter box, eliminating less frequently, vomiting while defecating or attempting to defecate, or eliminating outside the box. Small, pebble-like, unusually firm pieces of stool are often seen in constipated cats, though this may be missed by some owners due to the stool being covered with litter, multiple cats in the home, etc. In many cats with chronic constipation, the condition may go unnoticed by owners because the symptoms are so vague. These cats may simply be eating a bit less, and/or defecating less often, but they may otherwise appear overall normal. Unless an owner is astute and aware of each cat's individual litter box habits, these subtle signs can easily be missed in the early stages.

For those cats with chronic constipation (i.e., not an isolated incident, that can happen to all of us!), full laboratory work, and often x-rays, are recommended to rule out secondary causes of constipation, such as kidney insufficiency, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, arthritis, etc.

One of the most common causes of constipation in cats is a lack of water intake. For this reason, it is important to feed moisture-rich canned food. We will often suggest that owners add water to the canned food. (For those cats that refuse to eat canned food, adding water to the dry food, if acceptable to the cat, is also an option). The amount to add will depend on how much the cat will accept. We usually recommend that cat guardians start by adding a teaspoon per canned meal, and work up from there. Some cats will actually lap up 3 oz. of canned food mixed with 3 oz. of water at each meal! Even in cats that seem to be healthy water drinkers in the eyes of their owners, additional water is needed if constipation with firm stools is occurring.

For those cats that refuse to eat "watered down" canned or dry food, addressing "water bowl dynamics" may be helpful in encouraging those cats to drink more. In other words, depending on your cat's preferences, consider offering a large casserole-dish type water bowl (for cats that prefer their whiskers not touch the side of the bowl), a drinking glass or mug (yes, some cats actually will drink readily from a coffee mug!), or purchasing a pet water fountain. Additionally, because cats may be less inclined to drink water from a bowl that is near their food dish, offer at least one water bowl option that is in a separate room from the food dish. Making "tuna flavored" (or salmon-flavored, chicken broth-flavored, etc.) ice cubes and adding one of those ice cubes to the water bowl may also help to encourage cats to drink more. All water bowls should be freshened at least twice daily to increase appeal to the cat.

In addition to water in the diet, some constipated cats may benefit from prescription diets available through veterinarians that are specifically formulated for gastrointestinal problems. These diets include high fiber diets, low residue diets, etc.

Arthritic cats may experience discomfort when positioning to defecate and so may defecate less often, thus contributing to more firm, often drier stools, and constipation. If arthritis is a factor in constipation, in addition to water in the diet, these cats may benefit additionally from having access to litter boxes with low sides, easy access to fresh water bowls (fresh water in several rooms in the home), as well as supportive medication/pain relievers or supplements to enhance their comfort level in general, as well as when defecating.

In addition to those measures mentioned above, some cats may also benefit from stool softeners, colon stimulants, administration of fluids under the skin at home (by injection), increased activity, strategic litter box placement, etc. We also suggest that owners of older cats, and always those with constipation issues, keep litter boxes within easy access of the cat, as well as in areas where owners can better monitor urine and bowel habits.

« Return to Library

Cat Friendly Practice         AAHA Accredited