By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 December 2011)
Many cats will suffer a bout of constipation during their lifetimes. Male cats are more likely to be afflicted than female cats, and elderly cats of both genders are at increased risk overall. Symptoms of cat constipation may include some or all of the following:
- Visiting the litter box frequently without eliminating
- Straining and/or crying in pain when attempting to eliminate
- Producing hard, dry, small stools
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Failure to groom
- Indications of abdominal discomfort
- Passing very small amounts of fluid feces only
Causes of Cat Constipation
Causes of cat constipation include:
- Abscessed or blocked anal sacs
- Enlarged prostate gland in unneutered males
- Medication side effects
- Tangled hair around the anal area in long-haired cats
- Intestinal tumour
- Prior pelvic fracture
- Lack of exercise
- Neurological disorder
- Intestinal obstruction due to consumption of dirt, gravel, bones, or other small objects
- Medical conditions that cause pain in the back, tail, hips, or legs (such as arthritis), making squatting uncomfortable
- Idiopathic megacolon, a condition in which the muscles that normally propel feces to toward the rectum stop working
- Dehydration resulting from either insufficient water consumption or an underlying medical problem such as chronic renal insufficiency
Cats may also become constipated simply because they don’t want to use the litter box. Common reasons for litter box avoidance include the following:
- The litter is dirty.
- The litter has been changed to a brand the cat dislikes.
- The litter box is located in a noisy, high-traffic area of the home.
- There is competition among multiple cats for the litter box.
- The cat has been scared by a person or other animal while using the litter box and developed a phobia.
Remedies for Cat Constipation
If a cat shows signs of constipation, a veterinary check-up is required to rule out serious medical issues before using a home remedy. Remedies for feline constipation include:
- Stool softeners or cat laxatives prescribed by a veterinarian
- Enemas or manual evacuation administered by a veterinarian (do not administer enemas at home without first consulting a veterinarian, as some products developed for humans are toxic to cats)
- Dietary changes (i.e., switching from dry food to wet food) or special prescription diets
- Adding pumpkin to a cat’s meals (approximately 1 tablespoon per meal is sufficient for most cats, though a little more should be added for very large cats)
- Encouraging increased water consumption (this can be done by adding water to food, placing water bowls at many locations around the house, or purchasing a fountain-style water bowl)
- Surgery to remove a portion of the colon in extreme cases
Mineral oil is commonly recommended online as a home remedy for feline constipation, but this is a risky approach because cats may accidentally inhale it and develop aspiration pneumonia, a serious lung infection.
How to Prevent Cat Constipation
To reduce the likelihood that cats will suffer from constipation:
- Brush cats regularly to prevent hairballs.
- Trim the fur of long-haired cats around the anal area.
- Provide at least one litter box for each cat in a household.
- Place litter boxes in quiet, low-traffic areas of the home.
- Scoop litter boxes daily.
- Feed wet food rather than dry, or add water to the food (if adding water to dry food, don’t leave out out for long, as bacteria will grow quickly).
- Place water bowls at multiple locations around the home to encourage drinking.
- Ensure that cats get plenty of exercise, which can be done through interactive play or leash training to take the cat outdoors for walks.
- Prevent feline obesity and related health problems by feeding a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation and care.
- Feline Advisory Bureau. (November, 2008). “Constipation in the Cat.” FABCats.org.
- Mar Vista Animal Medical Center. (16 July 2009). “Constipation and Megacolon.” Marvistavet.com.
- Medicine.net, ASPCA. (n.d.). “Constipation in Cats: Symptoms and Treatment.”
- Vetrica. (21 February 2004). “Constipation in Cats.” Vetrica.com.
- Washabau, R. (2001). “Feline Constipation, Obstipation, and Megacolon: Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment.” World Animal Veterinary Association World Congress, Vancouver 2001, Veterinary Information Network, VIN.com.