What are cat constipation remedies?

posted: 05/15/12
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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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Canned pumpkin, a good source of fiber,is said to helps make the "go" a bit smoother.
Beth Caldwell/DCL |

Most cats produce stool at least once a day, although habits vary from cat to cat. Depending on how much they eat, and the kind of food -- canned or dry -- the cat may go to the litter box twice or more. An older cat or one that's been ill sometimes may have a bowel movement every other day, but he should never go longer than 48 hours between movements. In a healthy cat, regular stools should be well-formed, deep brown in color and not runny. If you notice a difference in frequency or the stool is hard and dry, consult your vet.

Treating Feline Constipation

If the cat is mildly constipated, your vet may recommend a stool softener or laxative (the kind designed for cats, not humans) to get things moving. Adding fiber to the cat's food, including natural bran cereal or pumpkin, or fiber granules such as Metamucil, can also help. Special high-fiber cat foods are also available for cats with repeated constipation problems.

If the cat is severely constipated, the vet may administer an enema, or evacuate the compacted feces from the cat's colon manually. Cats that have bowel obstructions, such as foreign objects or bones, require surgery to remove the blockage.

Keeping Kitty Regular

Removing the possible causes of constipation will help your cat to eliminate regularly. If he is long-haired or prone to hairballs, daily brushing will remove some of the fur that's getting into his digestive tract. Your vet may also suggest a hairball formula food or oral hairball medication.

Your cat should receive routine treatment for parasites. His litter box should always be clean so he won't hold his feces to avoid a dirty container (More than one cat? Set up a box per cat, plus one extra). Offer the cat fresh water daily, or blend some into his food to ensure he'll stay hydrated. Add some fiber to his food, like pumpkin. And be sure to play with your cat so he gets enough exercise, which also boosts regularity.

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