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What to do if your cat is constipated

Updated on June 06, 2012
Is your cat constipated?
Is your cat constipated? | Source

Tips for helping constipated cats

You are sitting by your dining room table and you hear your cat scratching the litter-box repeatedly. You think to yourself what an overly clean cat you have that tries its best to cover the smell!But the scratching continues and you decide to take a look. There is your cat scratching and straining, straining and scratching when you finally come to the conclusion that your kitty must be constipated. Over all, this may be a pretty common scenario even though it is most common in obese and middle aged and senior aged cats.

Be aware that some cats may be found straining in other spots other than the litter box. The reason? Pretty understandable if we get into some cat psychology. The cat goes to the litter box and strains to have a bowel movement, this causes pain, the pain is then associated with the litter box so the poor cat tries other places such as the bathtub or your favorite rug. Do not scold your cat for this; just show him/her some empathy!

It is very important to distinguish a constipated cat from a cat with a urinary tract infection as these often cause very similar symptoms and can be easily confused. This is vital because a urinary tract infection in a male cat can be life threatening and may need immediate emergency veterinarian care. There are some hints that can help distinguish these two conditions: a cat with a urinary tract infection will be straining to pass urine instead of feces and you may see that there may be some small urine drops often mixed with blood (even though in more severe cases there may be no urine output at all). Also a urinary tract infected cats will lick his/her genital area often but you must consider that some constipated cats may do the same. You can also turn into detective and investigate kitty's litter box, check for feces and urine: whichever is lacking can help you understand what he/she is straining for.

Constipated cats may turn irritable and we may understand why, some may even cry out while straining, poor babies, and in more severe cases of constipation the cat may become lethargic, depressed, weak, may not want to eat and to add more, may vomit.

Constipation may leave you wondering and scratching your head at times, as the cat may be straining one instance and then having diarrhea the next, the explanation of this is that in some cases liquid stool is all that can pass through the mass of dry impacted feces. This diarrhea may be mixed with blood or mucous. So even though this sounds and looks like diarrhea it still may be a case of constipation.

So once you are pretty sure that constipation is what is affecting your cat (if not sure bring the cat to vet promptly to diagnose) we can go to the course of action to make kitty more comfortable and give him/her relief.

Vet explains home remedies for cat constipation

How to Help a Constipated Cat

Cats mostly defecate once to twice a day but a constipated cat will only go every two to four days. This period of constipation may cause cats to become dehydrated so make sure the cat gets its water. You can check the level of dehydration in a cat by lifting the skin over its shoulder blades, in a hydrated cat it should spring back promptly. Does not? Most likely the cat is dehydrated and may need fluids from the vet.

Canned food versus a dry food diet helps the bowel a lot more. Diet wise you may want to increase its fiber intake. Sometimes adding canned pumpkin (plain canned pumpkin not the pie filling one as this contains spices) a 1 to 2 teaspoonful amount to the cat's food may help get things moving. Special senior diets or hairball diets also contain a good amount of fiber, however if you need to change your cat's diet this must be done slowly to avoid stomach upset).

Other fiber that can help is adding Metamucil about 1/4 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon a day (added to canned food only) or wheat bran 1 tablespoon per day. These should help soften the stools and promote relief soon. We had a client once with a cat suffering from megacolon noticed great improvement after sprinkling a bit of Benefiber on top of the canned food.

Most cats are lactose intolerant and sometimes some milk can help the cat however, it may not work or your cat may get the opposite problem but sometimes it is worth a try.

Laxatone, which vet offices often sell over the counter is a good stimulant and now is available in new yummy flavors. It is usually given to cats with hairball problems and may stimulate a bowel movement however shouldn't be used long term. It is best given on an empty stomach because it can prevent from absorbing the nutrients found in food. You can offer some from your fingers, your cat may happily lick it off.

Sometimes though home remedies are not sufficient and if the cat seems in discomfort and/or does not obtain a bowel movement soon then a vet may prescribe some stronger treatments. Lactulose is a sugary syrup that retains water in the stool and makes them easier to pass. Docusate sodium (Colace) may be another choice and Cisapride may be prescribed for the most stubborn cases. This medication was once prescribed for humans and may be challenging to find but some compound pharmacies may still have it available.

Once the constipation episode resolves it is important to prevent future episodes from happening as overtime the colon may lose its muscular motility and cause a condition called mega-colon, in this case after medications are tried with no result the cat may need external help to evacuate the bowels such as enemas and manual extractions of impacted feces. This is mostly a permanent condition requesting repeated medications, trips to the vets office or surgery. It is very important that you do not use human enemas on cats as these can be very toxic!

It is vital at this point to find out possible causes of constipation. There are various causes and we can go over a few. Age, obesity, lack of exercise, play a good role. It is important that the cat has always access to clean fresh water. Diet plays a major role, strictly dry cat food does not provide sufficient water intake and many cats have done better once on a good canned fiber content food. Sometimes stress may cause constipation, being in a new environment may cause a cat to hold it and even post surgery the cat may not go for two reasons: the pain and stress of surgery but also because most surgeries are done on an empty stomach so there is not much to evacuate until the pet eats again. Obstructions are another cause of constipation and are part of the categories that need prompt veterinarian attention. Obstructions can be caused by whatever can block the intestines; hairballs, foreign bodies, tumors,parasites etc to just name a few. Car accidents or any type of trauma may cause pelvis injuries and/or damaged nerves that will cause constipation.

On a lighter note sometimes a dirty litter box may discourage your cat from going. Make sure it is clean and avoid the cover litter boxes that may cause concentrated smells that can easily offend your cat.

So next time you hear kitty scratching in the litter box be ready to turn into a thorough investigator as there are many causes out there to evaluate.

You can provide your vet with a lot of helpful insight when trying to find together what the culprit is, chances are it is just a lack or exercise or just that kitty needs a diet change and soon the cat will be back to its normal self.

Disclaimer:The above article is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a veterinarian nor is the source to be used as a diagnostic tool as there may be various conditions that may resemble the descriptions provided


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    • Bug Mee profile image

      Bug Mee 8 years ago from Great Midwest

      Hmmm....interesting, the constipated cat....

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 years ago from USA

      Yep, many cat owners deal with it, there are some home remedies out there though!

    • mathan1234 profile image

      mathan1234 8 years ago from Oklahoma City, OK

      Nobody want a cranky cat.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 8 years ago from USA

      Lol! Cranky constipated cat!

    • Patruschka 7 years ago

      When this is such a common problem why don't Vets, and pet stores forwarn pet owners, all cats are suceptable, but long haired cats especially. For example, my cat got this because I took 3 or 4 months off bathing him overall, and he got a bug from a neigbours cat and got a bit run down. My cat went from the sweetest most loving cat of 11 years to a near death traum, to weeks of ongoing and costly treatments including enemas, drugs, etc. He does not tolerate the meds so has to go back again after clearing inpaction. He seems pretty down, and eats a small fraction of what he did before. Most likely cause he knows I will come along & shove more drugs & lactulose down his throat afterwards. I try talking calmly coaxing loving, and it works about 40-50% of the time. I want to see about switching him to Mirilax instead of lactulose-as it is hard on him he hates it, & it is know to build up toxins in cats! I really hope to save my lil' buddy.

    • JanieK 6 years ago

      Thanks for the excellent article on constipation in cats. Your detail is incredible. I'm positive that most cat owners aren't aware of the problem or the treatments available. Thanks again.

    • ingrid 6 years ago

      i'm taking care of my cousins cat which is like 16 years old in cat years, she's really old (but she doesn't look like one) right now she looks like she's constepated cause she doesn't do very much, she alaways looks for me and meows really loud, like a baby cry sometimes, i go to her and check what's wrong, her litter box only has pee and gas 1 poop and she hasn't pooped in like what... 4 days, i was thinking that maybe it was because i left for a weekend to camping and sh stayed home only with my dad.. did she get depressed?? i don't know but it seems to me that she does because all she does is sleep and sometimes when i come into the room she stretcges out her paws in a very awkwardly way like she's in pain or something.

      yesterday when i woke up to go to school i saw rthat she had pooped on the carpet, i didn't get mad at her cause she seemed like she was sick or something so i just picked it up and when i did the poop was hard but had pee, kind of like a hard diahrrea, hahah i don't know it was weird.

      right now she's laying down on my lap, i looked into her eyes and i noticed that the black circle wasn't like an oval like its supposed to be.... =\ i got sacred cause the eyeball was more like a circle.. so i don't knowwhat to do!!!


    • SDH 6 years ago

      Take that cat to vet right now!

    • P90X Fan 6 years ago

      My cat had this constipation problem and we took him to the vet and they proscribed lactulose which we gave him one ML.twice per day.Within a day he was feeling better and back to his old self.But it is important to take your cat to the vet and let them get examined.

    • Tessa Murry 6 years ago

      its evrywhere so to speak.

    • alps 6 years ago

      this has been a huge help! thank you!

    • wolfood 6 years ago

      My cat was so constipated that he pooped once a week or so but not in the box. The vet suggested wet food, Miralax (I gave him 1/4 tsp) and a Furminator which is a great and expensive brush. It is much cheaper on Ebay. Takes out a lot of hair which was part of his problem. After months of trying different dry foods I now use Wellness Core. I have taken him off the Miralax and he is doing well.

    • Monet Peterson-Ortiz 6 years ago

      Thanks so much for the info. This was/is very helpful. My 20 y.o. cat has not pooped and I just noticed yesterday. I'm going to try your suggestions. Thanks again!

    • Jules Oille 6 years ago

      My cat was constipated and I tried the mineral oil paste, wet and high fibre cat food- nothing worked. My poor cat was stressing every time she needed to defecate. I went to the vet and he prescribed me: polyethylene glycol 3350; I was advised to mix 1 teaspoon a day into her food. I decided to only use half this amount and the results were the same.

      This product is a gentle laxative; it works by keeping stool moist and easier to pass. The price was $30 for a 119 gram bottle. I was pleased to discover that this product is also adequate for humans and it is sold as an over the counter product named: Lax-A-Day (in Canada). I use this product now a since the cost is only $11 and it is the same thing as polyethylene glycol 3350.

      After four months of use, I am pleased with the results of this product and my cat poohs with joy. I highly recommend Lax-A-Day or polyethylene glycol 3350 for cat constipation.

    • joe 6 years ago

      This is for all the helpful info on cat constipation that I researched on the internet. I have no time to post more than once and hope to "pass the buck" as they say. Here is my story please share with the distressed cat constipated community and ask those to pass it on. Ok, my male cat (junior) up to about 7-8 years old was an inside outside cat, very healthy. I moved into a second floor apartment for a short time and he one day jumped off the balcony and fell 20ish feet. No visible problems. Within days a stray found me and I took him in. Surprisingly the cats got along, but now there was two cats using letterboxes. Week or so later I found junior struggling to poo. First edema, He went poo but for two years he kept getting constipated over and over. He had at least 20 vet edemas, 4-6 manual extractions. I tried everything, lactulose, pumpkin, soupy food, no dry food, mineral oil on and on. Than I had scheduled an appointment with a surgeon to get part of his colon removed. I backed out last minute and seen a different vet, not that mine was bad, I just needed another option. Now this is important, I didn't know if a) he had nerve damage, b) going in a litter box problem, c) mega colon. The new vet gave me a combination of medications that worked now for 2 months and he is now only on one over the counter laxative. His poo is now soft yet not too soft, other words perfect. This was my miracle solution. He was on for one full week, ( colace - docusate sodium, 50 mg capsules, one capsule twice a day ). ( cisapride 2.5 mg capsules I was told to give one capsule three times a day, I gave one capsule twice a day ). And then ( Miralax - 1/2 tsp with food twice a day ). He is now only on the mirilax and doing great. Also changed his food to at least 5% crude fat cat food mixed with some water, not soupy but kind of wet. Please share this solution.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 6 years ago from USA

      Thank you Joe, I hope it will help other cat owners as well. Obviously always consult with your vet before administering any medications!

    • Katt 5 years ago

      Thank u for all of your feedback and stories my cat has had a problem with constipation too hard impacted I've taken him to vet twice last week he has had 5 enemas and then vet put him on colace 50 mg aday. Then the ah cisaprode 2 ml 2x daily so far nothing has come out been on mads for 3 days Hopefully this will help him this is my baby !!!!

    • Quinton 5 years ago

      My grandma got REALLY worried 'cause her 20 year old cat is constipated so now she's probably gonna take it to the vet...

    • Kea 5 years ago

      I find this to help a lot. I came home this morning and my cat wan't acting right. She is only 6 months old and is usually very playful, I have her sister too. They spend a lot of time together and if my cat was sick her sister would be also. My cat is experincing a lot of the syptoms of constipation. I will try some home remidies tonight and if they don't help she will be taking a trip to the vet tommorrow. My poor baby

    • BaronDeLuca 5 years ago

      For constipated cat ...nothing works like my discovery. When all medications were not effective and my cat was close to die, I found a miracle way to save him. If you are interested send me a letter and I will disclose what to do. I spent over $3000 (vet bills and medication)for my cat without positive result. Now he is like a new born baby (8 years old), It is two way - natural approach in treatment, no harmfull medication.

    • KK 5 years ago

      My poor pet kitty is constipated. She is 7-8 months old now. One day she stopped using the bathroom because her litter box was full. Today it got cleaned and she sat in the box. She didn't do #2 in it at all. She is still constipated and won't drink her water! How do I get her to drink it??

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      You can try to increase her fluid intake indirectly by soaking her kibble in warm water or diluting canned food. A little bit of milk may provide fluids and soften her stools since many cats are lactose intolerant, however, give too much and you may risk the opposite problem. Laxatone may be helpful, you can find this at pet stores or at the vet's office. Please have her seen if she still does not produce a bowel movement. Best wishes.

    • Amber 5 years ago

      Hello! I have a cat that suffers from severe constipation because he has mega colon. I do not know the reason of the mega colon because I got him from the pound. My vet thinks he has some sort of nerve damage along his spinal cord near his colon that causes him to back up the way he does... He started developing problems when he was just 2 years old. After a near death experience with him and no BM in about 7 days, he had to be taken to the ER because his stool was backed up to the point he was dry heaving because the stool was pressing against his diaphragm. MY poor baby. The ER sedated him and have him 3 enemas to cleanse out his colon. I am an RN and deal with severe constipation in the hospital all the time. After no help with the vets recommendations, I suggested over the people counted stool softeners and laxatives. My vet first gave me Lactulose, but my poor cat hated the sweet sweet flavor in his food and stopped eating. I then tried to squirt it in his mouth using a syringe and that became a huge mess and lots of scratches! I then asked if Ducolax would be safe for a cat.. MY vet said YES! I now give my kitty one 5mg tab of ducolax crushed in every meal. I stopped feeding him dry cat food all together and switched to can cat food only. WOW. This has helped tremendously! MY kitty has a soft bm about once every 2-3 days and his belly is no longer bloated and sore! If he goes longer than a few days without a bm, I give him a Pediatric size fleet enema...( I emptied out the laxitive solotion that came in the bottle and fill it up with half mineral oil and half warm water). My vet approved me to do this! This will ALWAYS produce a good size bm after just a few minutes and my cat doesn't seem to mind it that much!

      I hope this helps! My kitty is pain free, as long as i keep an eye on his litter box and make sure he gets 1 ducolax with every meal!

    • Amber 5 years ago

      whoops! I meant to say People over the counter laxatives *

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      Amber, thanks for sharing, just wanted to point out, that enemas made for adults can be toxic to cats due to their phosphorus content. According to what this vet says online it looks like enemas for human infants containing dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DSS, ColaceTM), glycerin or bisacodyl (DulcolaxTM) may be acceptable. Here is the reference:

      Here is a link about dulcolax

    • Jacki 4 years ago

      Our cat recently went through bladder block, a very painful (and expensive) condition to treat. His urinary catheter was removed on Wednesday. It is now Sunday and he has only had one bm. At first I was afraid he was reblocking, but he is voiding wonderfully. After reading through these posts, I started him on the polyethylene glycol (which we happen to have because our younger daughter has GI issues). I'll probably take him to the vet tomorrow if this doesn't help out. Thanks to everyone who posted on the things that could help!!

    • hellokittyXD... 4 years ago

      i am at home and it is at night but my cat is sqwelling** and evey sencond she goes back to the kitty liter what is wrong anyone know need help?

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Please check if perhaps she is trying to urinate instead of defecate. She may have a urinary tract infection. here is a hub, see your vet for it,

    • HollyP3 4 years ago

      My kitty Marcy used to get constipation all the time and I think it was from what I was feeding her because now that I switched her food she hasn’t gotten it since. Lots of bad stuff in grocery store brands (I won’t name names) can cause lots of issues, not just constipation, but allergies, etc. I found a natural balance cat food with prebiotics in it that doesn’t have grains. It really helped to get her to make regular BMs. We only feed her Alpha now.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Great to hear, another user also claimed that Alpha helped their dog as well.

    • GORGIOBONO 4 years ago

      You will be thankful forever for my advice. You can try million thinks, but they don't work. You can spend $5000 on vet's bill and it will work temporarily (like "lactulose". Taking from my personal experience with constipated cats. There is no price tag for something that can save your beloved pet.

      Now listen me...

      - mix regular milk with 2-3 table-spoon of Activia and give to cat (mouth) by using syringe once a day for several days,

      - if cat is constipated for long time give him/her enema (that is simple to do yourself without paying to vet).

      - give him/her canned cat food.

      There is nothing more. End of story, end of all constipation problems for your cat.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Thanks for sharing your tips. my only concern is the enema. Over the counter enemas for humans such as Fleet or others containing phosphate can be toxic to cats. So it is best to only use vet-approved enemas.

    • Amber 4 years ago

      My kitten is constipated now; I dont really know why, but she's been trying to go to the litter tray every 30 minutes or so, but it wont come out! She's having small biscuits, so no meat or canned food. She has water also. I could try to give her more though. It must hurt for her though, there was even a drop of blood! Does anyone have any tips?


    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 years ago from USA

      Make sure it's constipation and not a urinary tract infections. many times both are confused. If it's a urinary tract infection your cat is straining to urinate an there may be drops of blood, if that's the case, you need to see your vet for antibiotics. Can you look in the litter box and see if she is urinating tiny drops of pee?

    • Heather 3 years ago

      My cat is about 13 years old. He eats canned food, but he snacks on hard food throughout the day. He has been constipated for about 5 days now. 3 days ago he stopped eating, and laying around more than usual. The very next day he started eating again, and hes acting nearly normal. The vet recommended Lax'aire. He has been taking it for 3 days and still no BM. What should i do?

    • Heather 3 years ago

      I'm sorry. It was 4 days ago when he stopped eating.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      Report back to your vet and explain the situation. He may need an x-ray or more exams. Perhaps the vet may prescribe Lactulose a medication often prescribed for cats with megacolon. You don't want him to get sick from being constipated for too long. Best wishes.

    • Heather 3 years ago

      I called the vet Thursday and he told me to try the Lax'aire for a few more days. He did have a small BM that same day. However, I don't feel its adequate. Unless something changes, hes going to the vet when my husband gets home from work today.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      I hope all goes well, keep me posted if you wish, best wishes!

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