Some cats suffer from constipation. If the blockage is very large and for a long period of time, it may be classified as obstipation (intractable constipation) or megacolon (abnormal dilation and paralysis of the colon and large intestine). It is an uncomfortable condition which often will need intervention to clean out the hardened stool.
Most cats eating a normal diet will produce a bowel movement daily. The size and consistency will vary greatly depending on diet type (eg. canned vs dry), volume of intake, activity level, water intake, treats, etc. Cats who are skipping 2-3 days between bowel movements and/or producing large diameter, hard pieces should be assessed for constipation.
How do you know if your cat is constipated? In many cases these patients will act normal until they reach a tipping point, after which they will strain and make frequent trips to the litter box to “try again”. This may even be accompanied by vocalizing/yowling while trying to push. If the situation is not corrected, the discomfort and distress will increase, appetite will decline and vomiting will typically follow.
The blockage can often be removed via a series of enemas which slowly loosen and soften the fecal material to enable passage. It is quite common for cats to be hospitalized for 1-2 days and receiving IV fluids and anti-vomiting medication during this time.
Once the blockage is corrected a change of diet, increased water intake and stool-softening medication are needed, typically for life. It is important to note that constipation may develop as a result of other health issues such as arthritis (pain) inhibiting use of the litter box (especially if high sides) and any condition which causes dehydration (eg, diabetes, kidney failure). For this reason, constipation developing for the first time in an older cat should be investigated for other disease processes and these problems addressed.
Written by: Dr. S. Longridge