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Home > Cats > Is Cat Constipation an Emergency? Causes, Signs & FAQ

Is Cat Constipation an Emergency? Causes, Signs & FAQ

veterinarian examining a devon rex cat

If your feline pal keeps experiencing infrequent episodes of constipation, you don’t have to worry too much. Constipation is fairly normal in small animals, and there are many ways you could help them get those bowel muscles going. However, if it’s a regular occurrence that usually lasts for more than 48 to 72 hours, contact the vet as soon as possible.

In today’s article, we’ll be looking at some of the signs and symptoms of constipation, its causes, diagnosis, and more importantly, treatment options. We’ll also be answering some of the commonly asked questions, so read on below if you’d like to learn more.

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What Is Constipation?

Constipation is a medical condition that affects many mammals. We often assume that an animal is constipated if the feces can’t seamlessly pass through its bowels.

Peristaltic waves are normally responsible for moving food through the digestive tract, but if they aren’t working the way they are supposed to, the system will be pushing down feces at a very slow rate—or not pushing at all. You’ll come to learn that this condition is prevalent among overweight or older cats, as their digestive systems are usually slow.

More often than not, a good number of healthy cats that show up at a vet’s office constipated are those that inadvertently ingested non-food items. We’re talking about litter, bones, hairs, cloth fiber, etc. Our feline friends have very sensitive digestive systems. Hence, the reason why they clog up any time they are forced to push past their usual limits.

The 4 Common Causes of Constipation in Cats

1. Lack of Sufficient Dietary Fiber

The number one cause of constipation in the feline community is the lack of sufficient fiber. Without fiber, the cat’s stool won’t be bulky enough or be able to draw water from its immediate surroundings. Fiber is the reason why animal stools are soft, bulky, and usually take on a solid form.

a calico cat eating from metal bowl at home
Image By: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

2. Dehydration

Inadequate intake of water, which leads to dehydration, is yet another common cause of constipation. If the water levels in the system are below average, the stools will be harder than usual. Peristaltic waves are not strong enough to push hard feces, thus resulting in non-mechanical obstruction. But the good news is, this cause of constipation can easily be resolved, as you only need to give your cat more water or wet food.

Dehydration can be a symptom of an existing condition, so if you’ve been giving your cat more than enough water, a more thorough medical examination should be conducted.


3. Not Exercising

Different forms of exercise stimulate the various parts of the body, including the digestive system. So, encouraging your cat to be couch potatoes will slow things down, hence making their stool hard to pass.

Making sure that your cat always gets the required dose of physical stimulation on a daily basis is not a difficult task, as they love playing with anything that piques their interest. Just buying a cat tree and then placing it next to their favorite toys is often enough.

cat running on exercise wheel
Image By: Dmitri Ma, Shutterstock

4. Medication

Constipation can be a side effect of a medication that’s meant to treat a particular illness. That’s why it’s always important to know about such side effects beforehand, to mitigate the situation. The same applies to some of the supplements that are designed to ensure our felines achieve their daily nutrient intake. Even if it’s just a multivitamin, do your due diligence before serving them.

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Which Medical Conditions Are Known to Cause Constipation in Cats?

Diabetes and hyperthyroidism are the other notorious triggers of chronic constipation in the feline community. The former can damage the nerves in the stomach and intestines, while the latter influences the hormonal production in the system. Needless to say, damaged nerves and excess hormones usually lead to digestive problems.

Though rare, some cases of incessant kidney complications lead to acute dehydration, which ultimately triggers chronic constipation. And the situation can become so serious that it morphed into a medical condition called megacolon—the abnormal dilation of the large intestines due to a non-mechanical obstruction.

Abdominal discomfort is the most obvious symptom, which usually leads to sepsis, peritonitis, or colonic perforation.

What’s The Difference Between Mechanical and Non-Mechanical Obstruction?

Mechanical obstruction is a blockage caused by a non-food item, while non-mechanical obstruction is the result of paralysis of movement to the bowel.

Even though cats that have a non-mechanical obstruction usually experience pain and discomfort, this condition is often classified as a non-emergency case. But that’s only because vets believe the non-mechanical form of obstruction can be resolved through minor adjustments in your cat’s diet.

The adjustments could mean giving your cat more water, increasing their fiber intake, or serving them food items that typically offer high fiber. Constipation in cats is normally treated as severe if exercising and dietary changes have done little to mitigate or resolve the problem.

veterinarian is making a check up of a adult maine coon cat
Image By: Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

Distinguishing Constipation Symptoms from Other Medical Conditions

To effectively treat constipation, you first have to recognize the symptoms. Unfortunately, telling if a cat is constipated or grappling with an unknown medical condition is not as easy as it sounds.

Even though pain and discomfort are often listed as obvious symptoms, they are also symptoms of other diseases. In our opinion, the best way to go about it is to watch out for both physical signs and behavioral symptoms.

At the start, you’ll notice that your cat seems uncomfortable while defecating. If you’ve seen them making endless trips to the litter box, but it’s still empty, that’s a sign that they might be having trouble releasing any stool—though, they clearly want to. Make the requisite dietary changes, and then monitor the situation.

You have to keep them under observation because if the situation worsens, the pain will be intolerable. In severe cases, the cats won’t stop meowing or making strange noises to let their owners know that something’s wrong.

As exhaustion sets in, they’ll seem lethargic and depressed. At this stage, you have to get to the vet as soon as possible.

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Final Thoughts

Constipation is a medical condition that affects many animals. While it’s prevalent in obese and older cats, it can also affect healthy felines. Pain and discomfort are obvious symptoms, even though we’re always advised to not jump to conclusions, as they could also be symptoms of other illnesses.

You can remedy the problem by changing your cat’s diet, giving them more water, and ensuring they stay physically stimulated through various exercises. If you suspect it’s being caused by a mechanical obstruction, contact your vet as soon as possible.


Featured Image Credit: Ermolaev Alexander, Shutterstock

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