Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
Dr. Jacob Vencil, Veterinarian, Palencia Pet Clinic
How to Help a Constipated Cat
You are sitting by your dining room table and you hear your cat repeated scratching the litter box. At first, you might feel blessed to have such a clean cat that tries its best to cover its smell! However, the scratching continues, so you decide to take a look: There's your cat, scratching and straining, straining and scratching. You finally come to the conclusion that your kitty must be constipated.
Constipation in cats is a pretty common scenario, especially for obese, middle-aged, and senior cats. Here are the signs to look for and what you should do.
It is very important to distinguish a constipated cat from a cat with a urinary tract infection (UTI). These conditions present with similar symptoms and are easily confused. A male cat with a urinary blockage or UTI requires emergency veterinary care.
First, Determine if It's a Urinary Tract Issue or Obstruction
It is vital to rule out a UTI in a male cat. A urinary blockage can cause a life-threatening electrolyte imbalance and is a medical emergency. Here are two standard indications of a UTI:
- Inadequate or blood-tinged urine. A cat with a UTI will be straining to pass urine instead of feces and you may observe small urine drops mixed with blood (in severe cases there may be no urine output at all).
- Incessant grooming of genitals. A cat with a UTI will lick his/her genital area often; consider that some constipated cats may do the same.
Turn into a detective and investigate your kitty's litter box by checking for feces and urine. Whichever is absent may help you understand why he/she is straining.
Obstructions also require prompt veterinary attention. Obstructions are alternate blockages and may be caused by intestinal hairballs, foreign bodies, tumors, and parasites, to name a few. Car accidents, or any type of trauma that may cause pelvis injuries and/or damage nerves, can also cause constipation.
Next, Look for Signs of Constipation
Now that you've ruled out a UTI, let's address constipation. Be aware that some cats may be found straining in locations other than the litter box. The reason? Cat psychology. The cat goes to the litter box and strains to have a bowel movement. The straining causes pain and the pain is then associated with the litter box. Your poor cat may attempt to go to the bathroom in places such as the bathtub or on your favorite rug. Do not scold your cat for this as scolding will feed the negative association.
What are the signs of constipation in a cat?
Constipated cats may exhibit the following:
- Irritability (we may understand why)
- Vocalization with straining (also symptomatic of a UTI)
In more severe cases of constipation requiring veterinary care, your cat may exhibit:
Feline constipation may be confusing at times. Your cat may be straining one instant and have diarrhea the next. Liquid stool is all that can pass the mass of dry impacted feces; this diarrhea may be mixed with blood or mucous. Keep in mind, even if what you see in the litter box looks like diarrhea, it may be secondary to an impaction.
How to Help a Constipated Cat
Ensure Proper Hydration
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 your cat gets 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. If the skin "tents," and slowly returns to position, your cat is most likely dehydrated and should be taken to the veterinarian for supplementary fluids.
Offer Wet Food
Wet food helps the bowels significantly more than dry food. You may also want to increase your cat's fiber intake. Sometimes adding 1 to 2 teaspoons of canned pumpkin (plain pumpkin, no pie filling or spices) to the cat's food may help get things moving. A special senior diet or hairball diet also contains a good amount of fiber. Keep in mind, if you need to change your cat's diet you must do so slowly to avoid gastrointestinal issues.
Use Psyllium Husk
Incorporating fiber into your cat's diet can also provide relief. A pure psyllium-containing product should help soften stool. Some veterinarians will prescribe 1/4 to 1 teaspoon of Metamucil a day, or 1 tablespoon of wheat bran per day incorporated into wet food. Always check with your veterinarian before incorporating new supplements into your cat's diet, especially if your cat has dietary sensitivities and restrictions. Products should not contain the artificial sweetener xylitol. Xylitol is toxic to cats.
In my veterinary practice, we once treated a cat suffering from megacolon. The owner noticed a great improvement after sprinkling a bit of Benefiber on top of her cat's canned food.
Most cats are lactose intolerant and sometimes some milk can help the cat, but this is generally avoided due to undesirable side effects.
Administer Oral Stimulants
Laxatone, which vet offices often sell over-the-counter, is a good stimulant and is available in yummy flavors. It is usually given to cats with hairball problems but may stimulate a bowel movement. It should not be used long-term. Laxatone is best given on an empty stomach because it may interfere with nutrient absorption. You can offer Laxatone on your finger—your cat may happily lick it off.
Use Aggressive Solutions
If your cat is in discomfort and/or fails to have a bowel movement despite gentle remedies, your veterinarian may take a more aggressive approach:
- Lactulose is a sugary syrup that retains water in the stool and makes feces easier to pass.
- Docusate sodium (Colace) is a gentle laxative that may be used for constipation.
- Cisapride may be used for stubborn cases. Cisapride should be used only in instances where gastrointestinal motility won't harm the patient due to mechanical impaction.
Vet Explains Home Remedies for Cat Constipation
Preventing Constipation Is Key
Once the constipation episode resolves, it is important to prevent future episodes from happening. Over time, the colon may lose muscular motility and cause a condition called megacolon (enlargement of the large intestine which often requires surgical correction). In such a case where medications are tried with no results, the cat may need external help to evacuate the bowels. Techniques may include enemas and the manual extraction of impacted feces; this is a permanent condition requiring repeated medications, trips to the veterinarian's office, or surgery.
Do not use human enemas on cats! Fleet enemas and those containing phosphate, sodium phosphate, or saline, can be fatal.
Why Is Your Cat Constipated?
It is vital at this point to find out the root cause of the constipation. Some common causes include age, obesity, and lack of exercise, but some triggers are harder to pinpoint. You can follow these steps to reduce the likelihood of an episode:
- Always allow access to clean, fresh water.
- Choose an appropriate diet. Strictly dry cat food does not provide sufficient water intake. Many cats have fewer episodes when on food containing good fiber content.
- Reduce environmental stress. Being in a new environment may cause a cat to hold a bowel movement.
- Cats that are post-surgery may not go potty for two reasons: the pain and stress of surgery, and an empty stomach (there is not much to evacuate until the pet eats again).
- Sometimes a dirty litter box may discourage your cat from going. Make sure it is clean and avoid covered litter boxes that concentrate smells that can easily offend your cat.
Next time you hear kitty scratching in the litter box, be ready to turn into a detective. You can provide your veterinarian with helpful insight when trying to piece together what the root cause of the constipation is. Chances are, the cause may be a lack of exercise or just that kitty needs a diet change and will soon be back to normal.
The above article is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a veterinarian nor is this content to be used as a diagnostic tool. Various medical conditions may resemble the descriptions provided above.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My 6 year old female cat has been going in and out of the litter box 5 times in a row. Is she constipated?? We just got a kitten in November but they are fine together.
Answer: More likely you are seeing the signs of urinary tract infection, which is far more common than constipation in cats. This pretty painful and the cat will repeatedly squat and strain and only produce a few drops of urine at a time or none. If the litter box is associated with the pain, you can see the cat try to use other areas such as the bathtub or sink. Please see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Question: My adult long-haired cat has mostly hair in his stool. What can I give him?
Answer: Your vet's office or local pet store may carry a product known as Laxatone. Laxatone helps cats who have hairballs and helps prevent them. Daily brushing can lower the amount of hair ingested.
Manisha on March 24, 2019:
Hi near my house there is a cat she is not eating and doing washroom as today is Sunday and I live in Kalamboli there is no way to take her to hospital can u plzzzzz suggest some medicines plzzz
Susan on October 26, 2018:
My now 18 year old cat used to get so constipated I would have to take him to the vet for an enema every couple of months for a time. Very stressful and unpleasant for the poor cat and my wallet! A humane society supervisor told me about Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Fiber Response dry food which requires an initial vet prescription and you can buy it at Chewy.com. This food is a miracle worker! It cured his constipation in two days! And he loves it! It’s rather expensive-about $48.00 for an 8.8 lb bag, but compared to multiple enemas it’s so worth it. Pretty lousy that vets don’t tell more people about it. Wish I could have spared my cat that discomfort and stress all those times.
Audrey on September 05, 2017:
I have 3 2 month old kittens that are having trouble going poop. It is like they are impacted. They strain to go and cry in pain. If you touch any where back the back end of them they cry out in pain. I took them to the Vet at 1 month old they gave me some lax to give to them and told me to make them drink water. That did not work it just made things more painful for them. I feed them dry and wet cat food. They eat pretty good but still try to nurse on mother cat. When they do nurse on mother cat it will come back up. I have tried to wash there behinds as the pop is very sticky and it stick to there bottom. I let the warm water run on them thinking this would help and all they do is cry and when you touch their bottoms they care like it hurts very bad. Also their butt hole is push out almost a inch and if you touch it it is very hard. Now they are getting very thin and they are small for their age. I need to find them new homes but I do not want to give them to someone if they are sick.
Viola on May 17, 2017:
We went to the Vet first day she was constipated she got meds and
can food dry food watering dry food she went poo small normal
Second Day small normal just once hasn't went all day she eats good drinks water plays happy 4yr old cat I just don't get why she isn't going regular she is my baby will she be ok.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 23, 2013:
I hope all goes well, keep me posted if you wish, best wishes!
Heather on March 23, 2013:
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.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 21, 2013:
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 on March 21, 2013:
I'm sorry. It was 4 days ago when he stopped eating.
Heather on March 21, 2013:
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?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on November 27, 2012:
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?
Amber on November 27, 2012:
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?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on August 10, 2012:
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.
GORGIOBONO on August 10, 2012:
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.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 28, 2012:
Great to hear, another user also claimed that Alpha helped their dog as well.
HollyP3 on March 28, 2012:
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.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on March 01, 2012:
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,
hellokittyXD... on March 01, 2012:
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?
Jacki on February 12, 2012:
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!!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 17, 2012:
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
Amber on January 17, 2012:
whoops! I meant to say People over the counter laxatives *
Amber on January 17, 2012:
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!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on December 29, 2011:
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.
KK on December 29, 2011:
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??
BaronDeLuca on September 14, 2011:
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.
Kea on April 28, 2011:
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
Quinton on March 21, 2011:
My grandma got REALLY worried 'cause her 20 year old cat is constipated so now she's probably gonna take it to the vet...
Katt on March 06, 2011:
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 !!!!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 20, 2011:
Thank you Joe, I hope it will help other cat owners as well. Obviously always consult with your vet before administering any medications!
joe on January 19, 2011:
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.
Jules Oille on January 08, 2011:
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.
Monet Peterson-Ortiz on January 08, 2011:
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!
wolfood on December 06, 2010:
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.
alps on August 11, 2010:
this has been a huge help! thank you!
Tessa Murry on July 22, 2010:
its evrywhere so to speak.
P90X Fan on May 06, 2010:
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.
SDH on March 09, 2010:
Take that cat to vet right now!
ingrid on February 23, 2010:
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!!!
I DON'T WANT HER TO DIE!!!!! CAN ANBODY TELL ME WHAT I CAN DO??
JanieK on January 25, 2010:
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.
Patruschka on May 27, 2009:
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.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 08, 2008:
Lol! Cranky constipated cat!
mathan1234 from Oklahoma City, OK on February 08, 2008:
Nobody want a cranky cat.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 07, 2008:
Yep, many cat owners deal with it, there are some home remedies out there though!
Bug Mee from Great Midwest on February 07, 2008:
Hmmm....interesting, the constipated cat....