HEALTH & CARE

What to Do If Your Cat is Constipated: The Symptoms, Causes, and Remedies of Cat Constipation

A kitty and a Luxury-White-Poopoopeedo-Cat-Litter-Box-7 (1)
Stella Noble
Written by Stella Noble

Constipation in cats is not the most frequent problem your feline pal will encounter, but it’s certainly a difficult one. And what’s worse—it can actually be the symptom of something quite dangerous. As such, cat constipation should never be ignored. Knowing what to do if your cat is constipated could mean the difference between life and death.

The vet is the most qualified person to treat your cat’s constipation, but that doesn’t mean all you can do is sit back and watch while your feline friend suffers. Other than following the vet’s recommendation on treatments and dosage administration, there are plenty of other things you can do to improve their condition. Your cat will thank you for staying by their side in their time of need just like how they usually stay by your side while you’re doing your business in the restroom.

A sleepy cat looking at the camera

In this article, we’ll go over all the usual symptoms of cat constipation, as well as the things cat constipation can be a symptom of. We’ll cover the various treatments and remedies to relieve your cat of constipation as well as how to prevent the same thing from happening again. In short, we’ll make sure that by the end of this article you know everything there is to know about cat constipation and how best to help your four-legged friend.

Cat Constipation Symptoms

There are quite a lot of symptoms of cat constipation, and a few of them are rather easy to ignore. A lot of cat owners are prone to interpreting some of the symptoms as simply “bad cat behavior.” Worse, some cat owners may not even pay attention to what their cat is doing in the litter box at all. It’s important to notice abnormalities while you’re cleaning the litter box. Examples include:

Lack of Excrements

Let’s start with the obvious one. Your cat should generally be eliminating stool once or twice per day.

Image of Japanese litter box

A healthy stool will be big and moist, and the litter will stick easily to it. If your cat doesn’t do this for more than 24 hours, this is a rather categorical sign of cat constipation.

Crying Out in Pain

You wouldn’t ignore it if going to the toilet hurts you and you definitely shouldn’t ignore it if your cat is in pain as well. Even if you hear your cat whining just once while in her litter box, you should take immediate action (after your cat is done with the litter box, of course).

Abnormal Stool

If you notice that your cat’s stool is smaller, drier, or harder than usual, suspect constipation immediately. Often, the stool could also be covered in mucus and/or blood.

Going to the Litter Box too Frequently

This is another symptom that’s easy to go unnoticed, particularly by cat owners who are outside of their home for most of the day. Plus, cats do go to their litter box to pee as well, which can further confuse your observations.

A cat and the Poopoopeedo Cat Litter Box

Nevertheless, if your cat is going to her litter box specifically to poop and she does so several times per day, this is a strong symptom of constipation too. It might seem more like a symptom of diarrhea, but this also happens to constipated cats. The difference is that constipated cats go to the litter box to poop often, but nothing or very little stool will come out.

Loss of Appetite

To step away from the litter box, there are other signs of constipation as well—a loss of appetite, for example. If your cat starts eating less, this could be a symptom of constipation. Your cat is feeling full and bloated, so she may refuse to eat.

Lethargy and Depression

These can also be symptoms of other health problems other than constipation. They can even be the cause of the aforementioned loss of appetite. Nevertheless, lethargy and depression are very understandable symptoms of constipation.

Weight Loss

With the loss of appetite, a loss of weight is often quick to follow. It’s a pretty undesirable symptom to notice, because it often means that your cat’s been constipated for a long time.

Kitty and a food bowl in front of her

Of course, weight loss can occur even without a loss of appetite—perhaps due to an underlying internal condition (we’ll mention those below). Either way, if your cat is losing weight, you should immediately contact your veterinarian. It could be a symptom of both cat constipation and a myriad of other health concerns.

Vomiting

Vomiting is another symptom that often accompanies constipation. Of course, some cats vomit cat hair, but this is another issue that a responsible cat owner should take care of separately. If your cat starts vomiting without an apparent cause, constipation might be the cause of it.

Cat Constipation Treatments and Remedies

The first obvious action you should take whenever you notice that your cat is or might be constipated is to contact your vet. There are a lot of possibly very serious causes of constipation. Ignoring them or deciding that it is not a big deal and that a quick home remedy can fix it puts your cat in grave danger.

Your vet is the one that is qualified to diagnose your cat and capable of running all the necessary tests. Once your vet determines the cause of your cat’s constipation, he or she will either administer a treatment if necessary or give you advice on how to deal with it, if it’s not too serious. Never give your cat any medication or cat constipation remedy without first consulting your vet. The possible treatments and remedies that your vet may administer or tell you to administer include:

Pumpkin

There are a lot of different types of stool softeners you can use for your constipated cat. Pumpkin, for example, is an effective natural laxative.

Black-Cat-On-Pumpkin

And, surprisingly, it’s not that difficult to administer, because most cats tend to agree with pumpkin’s distinct flavor. If your cat doesn’t seem too fond of it, there are always ways to mix it discreetly with the rest of your cat’s soft food.

Fiber Fix

Adding fiber to your cat’s soft food is often a great idea when she is constipated. Something like oat bran cereal or nugget-style fiber cereal can be a great additive to your cat’s diet. Don’t add too much of it—just a teaspoon or so per serving will be enough.

bowl of oat bran cereal

Such fiber fixes can take a couple of days to have a noticeable effect, but on the other hand, they are something you can keep adding to your cat’s food without any side effects (still, in small dosages), if she likes it.

Food Supplements, Digestive Enzymes, and Probiotics

Cat constipation is far from a new problem, so there are a lot of food supplements, digestive enzymes, or probiotics in vet clinics that are specially designed to help your cat in need.

Image of a ginger cat taking a pill

A lot of these remedies typically contain things such as acidophilus, folic acid, and vegetable enzymes. Once again, don’t forget to consult your veterinarian before giving anything to your feline pal.

Lubricants and Oils

There are a lot of different natural oils that can be of great help if your cat has problems defecating. Olive oil, for example, is often a great choice that is also free of any side effects. All you need to do is dribble a tablespoon of olive oil over your cat’s kibble or wet food and watch the cat constipation olive oil magic happen.

Image showing Extra Virgin Olive Oil

If you don’t have olive oil, vegetable oil can do the trick as well. If your cat refuses to eat her food after it’s been “augmented” you can also get some cans of tuna, packed in oil. Very few cats can resist the taste of canned tuna, and the oily delicacy will have an amazing effect on your cat’s constipation.

Dairy Isn’t Always Bad

Vets typically advise cat owners against giving their cats milk, and that’s usually in good sense. Milk, particularly cow’s milk, can give your cat a nasty case of diarrhea.

a cat-in-litterbox

However, if your cat is heavily constipated, a little milk can be just what she needs; not too much though—just a big tablespoon a couple of times per day. Preferably give them goat or lamb milk instead of cow’s milk.

Once the constipation is gone, you can stop the “milk treatment.” Also, if you are worried—or even if you are not—talk with a vet beforehand. As we said, milk is generally ill-advised for cats, even though it can be quite useful in the case of constipation.

Cathartics

Cathartics are different from laxatives in that they accelerate defecation instead of easing it. Cathartics increase the colon’s motility by irritating and stimulating the mucosa. That’s typically achieved by the hyperosmotic laxatives that cathartics usually include—namely things such as polysaccharides (e.g., lactulose) and PEGs.

Little kitten on weight scale at the veterinarian

There are all kinds cathartics, and some of them work both as a cathartic and as a laxative. Either way, always consult a veterinarian before administering one to your constipated cat.

Chiropractic, Acupuncture, and Massages

Each of these three techniques can help with chronic constipation—particularly the last one. Depending on the cause of the cat constipation, sometimes giving your furry friend a cat constipation massage can be a very effective treatment. However never try to administer either of these remedies yourself. Trust your vet to tell you whether or not they are appropriate as well as how to apply them.

Enema (Always by a Professional!)

A lot of over-the-counter enemas contain toxic substances so you should never buy or administer an enema to your cat on your own. A lot of people view enemas as something simple and straight-forward, but in truth, you risk doing more harm than good to your furry friend if you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Close-up imge of an Enema

For those wondering what an enema actually is, it is fluid that’s injected into the lower bowel through the rectum. Simply put, it cleanses the bowel. This can be done either for constipation or as preparation for surgery.

Surgery

Speaking of surgery, it can be necessary as well. We don’t need to tell you that surgery should always be done by a surgeon in a vet clinic. There are a lot of possible reasons for cat constipation that would require surgery—from a tumor or an abnormality in the colon to a large ingested object that needs to be removed surgically (more on that below).

An Increase of Exercise

This is a very common problem for house cats, particularly as they get older. As we stop playing with them that frequently, the loss of exercise can lead to a lot of problems, including constipation.

Cat playing with a toy

Always play actively with your cat for at least 20-30 minutes per day.

An Increase in Water Consumption

As we wrote in our article about cats’ water consumption, there are a lot of problems that can stem from dehydration. At the same time, there are a lot of ways to increase your cat’s water consumption.

Cat Constipation Prevention

We’ve listed out everything you need to know about what to do after you realize that your cat is constipated. Now we’d like to take a minute to expound on some preventive measures. What can you do to make sure that your cat suffers from constipation as rarely as possible? You can prevent cat constipation simply by avoiding the causes.

A cat laying down

We’re somewhat used to ignoring our own constipation because we usually have a clue as to why we have it (perhaps we’ve eaten something bad, we’re under a lot of stress, etc.). Cats, however, particularly the ones in our care, are usually on a regular diet. So “eating something unusual” is not often the cause of cat constipation. Instead, there are a lot of other possible causes that we need to consider.

Low-Fiber Diet

The most obvious and rather frequent cause of cat constipation is a low-fiber diet. Always make sure to feed your cat properly, just as you do with yourself. If you are buying commercial food, make sure it’s well and nutritious. If you are preparing your cat a home-cooked meal, double check the recipe with your vet first.

Dehydration

We talked about dehydration and how much your cat should drink in a previous article. It sounds like a silly problem since your cat always has water in her water bowl, but dehydration is not that uncommon.

cat drinking from faucet

Cats in the wild satisfy their need for water through the food they eat, whereas domestic cats have to get used to drinking water from a bowl. If your cat isn’t drinking enough water, it can lead to a drier stool and therefore, to constipation.

Hairballs

Hairballs are another frequent cause of dehydration. A lot of cat owners view them as something normal that can be ignored, but this isn’t the case. Hairballs can lead to constipation and other internal problems when they become too big or too frequently-occurring. A hairball can literally form an entangled barrier at the exit of the buttocks and prevent your cat from eliminating her stool. To avoid and prevent hairballs, always help your cat by brushing her hair. Additionally, there are food options that can help with the degradation of hairballs in the stomach.

Tumors or Other Serious Intestinal Problems

Let’s not forget possibly the worst category of causes of cat constipation: tumors and other intestinal obstructions such as an enlarged prostate gland, blocked/abscessed anal sacs, or abnormal colon shape or motility.

Fat cat laying on the floor

This is a large category with a lot of possible inclusions. None of them are too common, of course, but all of them come with constipation as their first symptom. This is one of the main reasons you should never ignore your cat’s constipation.

Neurological Disorders

There are a lot of possible neurological disorders that can cause constipation as well. Unlike intestinal problems, a neurological disorder has a lot of other ways to manifest itself, but constipation is nevertheless one of the possible symptoms.

The Ingestion of Foreign Objects

This may seem like a return to the “less scary causes,” but an ingestion of a medium to large indigestible objects such as a bone, toy, or a yarn ball can cause a lot of problems to your cat’s health.

A cat lying down and playing with something

It can even lead to death by asphyxiation.

Obesity

Obesity is an even bigger problem for our cats than it is for us. For a lot of cat owners, their obese cat is just “fluffy” and “healthy.” This isn’t the case, however. Just like us, a cat’s body isn’t made to be obese—it’s made to be fit and athletic. Always make sure that your cat is fit or else constipation could be the least of your worries.

A Side Effect of Medication

Lastly, constipation can also be a side effect of some medication. If your cat was recently treated for something, there’s always the risk that the medications for it can cause constipation. Your vet will likely warn you of this risk, but you should also familiarize yourself with the medication you’re giving to your feline pal.

Cat feeling lazy lying down

While you should never ignore your cat’s constipation, don’t hasten to panic either. There are some very nasty possible causes of constipation, but there are a lot of mild ones too. Even if the case is severe, if the problem is caught early, the chances of your cat recovering to full health is high. That’s why you should always be on the lookout for any cat constipation symptoms. Don’t immediately conclude the worst, but don’t ignore your cat’s constipation either; always consult a veterinarian the moment you notice your cat’s stool troubles.

Always feed your cat with high-quality food, always make sure that she is properly hydrated and exercised, always make sure to help her with her coat and hairballs, always make sure that your cat doesn’t eat any inedible foreign objects, and so on. Of course, some of the more serious, internal troubles cannot always be prevented, but with proper care, you can take care of most of the issues before they even happen.

Wrap Up

These are pretty much the key points to all the causes, symptoms, treatments, remedies, and prevention of cat constipation problems. Your cat’s constipation can be caused by something mild like a bit of stress or slight dehydration due to a dirty water bowl, but they can also be caused by some major internal problems.

That’s why you should never ignore your cat’s constipation (or try to treat it yourself), or any of its symptoms. You should also always be on the lookout for strange behavior around the litter box or in general, as it can offer invaluable clues as to your cat’s physical condition.

Cat pooping in liter box

The answer to the question what to do if your cat is constipated is simple: take them to the vet. Your vet will guide you through the recovery process and tell you what to do. There are home remedies you can administer to help your cat feel better as well—such as by massaging them or feeding them olive oil—but only do so after your vet has given their approval.

And that’s it. We hope that you found the article informative and useful, but most of all—that you never actually need to use the information in it! We pray for the continuation of your cat’s unfailing health. And if you think we missed anything, please let us know in the comments below!

About the author
Stella Noble
Stella Noble

Stella Noble lives in Warren, Michigan with her family and three cats. She is a Certified Cat Trainer and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

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