What are cat constipation remedies?

Many remedies for cat constipation can be concocted out of items you already have in your pantry.
Beth Caldwell/DCL |

When my tabby Piper, prone to constipation, didn't respond well to a vet-prescribed laxative -- he literally made a face at the taste -- I was desperate to find a better alternative. I'd heard that some cats will eat canned pumpkin, a good source of fiber. I dutifully prepared "cat meatballs," coating a dollop of pumpkin in Piper's food to hide this helpful surprise in the center. He accepted it, and the daily serving kept him regular for his remaining years. My kitchen cabinets were quickly filled with a disaster-level stash of canned pumpkin.

While this worked for me, since constipation can be a symptom of more serious problems, such as rectal obstruction or diabetes, a constipated cat should always be examined by a vet first. If untreated, constipation can lead to the cat's colon losing its elasticity. Here's what you need to know to help your cat "go":

Causes of Feline Constipation

Cats get constipated for a variety of reasons: lack of exercise, too little water, or by swallowing too much hair when they groom. Ingested bones, string, or other foreign objects can cause colon blockage, preventing the cat's elimination. Too little fiber can cause constipation, but so can too much -- because fiber absorbs water and causes retention of stool. Sometimes a cat that shares a litter box won't use it because of another cat's aggression. Cats may also get constipated from an environment change, such as a move to a new home, being hospitalized, or visiting an unfamiliar place such as a vacation house.

Signs and Symptoms

The most obvious tip-off that a cat is constipated is straining to defecate. A mildly constipated cat may cry as he attempts to "go," then pass only small amounts of watery feces. In more severe cases, the cat may squat in his litter box for an abnormally long period, passing either no feces, or hard, small stools. He may also pass a bit of bloody diarrhea. Constipated cats may also try to poop outside the litter box, or repeatedly return to it with just a short time between visits. They'll crouch and strain, but produce nothing. The cat will seem lethargic, with a poor appetite, and he may lose weight. You may also notice vomiting, and a hunched, unnatural posture, while sitting or walking, due to discomfort.

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