Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He works with dogs, cats, exotics, and livestock.
If your cat is constipated, you probably already realize they are in pain and need to be taken care of. If you just ignore it, however, your cat will suffer, and there are serious side effects like the development of megacolon. From being constantly constipated, the cat is no longer able to push fecal material down into the rectum, and it just builds up in the colon, resulting in constipation so severe that it becomes obstipation, the inability to pass stool.
Giving a cat an enema is usually a pretty unpleasant task so if you have a veterinary clinic nearby you should take your pet in and try to determine why your cat has become constipated. If you have already done this, do not have a vet available, or just cannot afford it, here are some suggestions that might help.
Before proceeding with an enema, be sure to watch this video and see the signs of a blocked cat, a pet that is not able to pee.
What to Use When Giving Your Cat an Enema
Do not use a product you have at home like Fleet enemas; they are not safe for your cat. They contain sodium phosphate that can be absorbed into the blood and can kill your pet.
You can purchase a premixed cat enema that has a "cat friendly" tip (although it still needs to be lubricated with KY or at least vaseline) and contains dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate in glycerine. That product pulls water into the colon and softens the stool so that it can pass.
If this is a recurring problem, or if you want to try something from home you can use just 50 ccs of warm water, 5 ccs of mineral oil for lubrication, and 5 ccs of lactulose (available from your local pharmacy.) That method may take a little longer on some cats since the feces has to soak up the water, so if your cat is harder to work with I would recommend the commercial product.
If you decide to go with the homemade enema you will need a few things that you do not have at home. The first is a small syringe with a feeding tube. The lactulose you will need to get at your pharmacy but even if you only purchase the 15-milliliter bottle, it will last for 3 enemas.
If you cannot get your cat to drink enough, this veterinarian discusses subcutaneous fluids as one of the methods of treating constipation at home.
How to Give Your Cat an Enema
If you are sure that your cat is constipated and not blocked (unable to pee) and an enema is the only relief, follow the steps below.
- Get everything ready before restraining your cat. The bathroom is usually the only room to do this since it can be messy. Get your gloves out and put on some old clothes. Place your Pet-ema or the bowl with the water/mineral oil/lactulose mixture within easy reach of where you are going to be working. The tip of the Pet-ema or the feeding tube will need to be coated with vaseline or KY too.
- Wrap your cat in a towel and place them on the floor of the tub or shower stall. (Be sure to watch the video.)
- Put some more KY on the cat and insert the tip of the enema or the tip of the feeding tube.
- Push very slowly so as not to damage or scare your cat. It is okay to go in as deep as 5 centimeters (about 2 inches).
- You can push about half of the syringe of the water mixture (about 20cc) or one 6 cc Pet-Ema but go slowly. If you are giving water go ahead and give the rest slowly (take off the syringe but leave the feeding tube inside) but if you are using the Pet-Ema wait and see if one is enough. If not a second might be needed.
- Some cats are helped if you massage the belly after it is full of water from the enema but if your cat does not like this, just leave them alone and skip this step.
Some cats will pass their feces as soon as 5 minutes, but you can expect it to take at least an hour. If after that time nothing has happened, you can try again. (If it does not work a second time, do your best to find a local vet. The cat may end up needing manual removal or even surgery.)
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Can Things Go Wrong After the Enema?
Lactulose, dioctyl sodium sulfate (Pet-ema), and even Miralax (a stool softener) work by drawing water from the cat´s body into the large intestine so that the stool will be softer and easier to pass.
The cat has a much greater chance of becoming dehydrated after this. If you have subcutaneous fluids and know how to give them, great. If not, and your cat is very easy to handle, use another syringe and encourage him or her to drink by holding them in your lap and dribbling water into the corner of the mouth. If your cat is swallowing, give as much as you can, if not, then stop. The only way to increase fluid consumption for a cat that is hard to handle is the water fountain and giving wet food.
Injuries can result if the syringe or the Pet-ema is pushed in without lube. Your cat will bleed from the rectum. It is also possible that if this has gone on too long that fecal material in the colon will develop into a type of stone and will injure your cat and will not be able to come out.
Rarely a cat will drool and vomit after an enema. It is usually from nausea, and will stop. If it does not, and if your cat also develops diarrhea, he or she is most likely dehydrated. They will need fluids given by your veterinarian, but if no vet is available try to rehydrate your cat at home.
How to Avoid Doing This Again
If your cat has already developed megacolon, the chances are that you will need to give another enema in the future.
Here is a list of what you can do to avoid this problem:
- Increase water consumption
- Increase dietary fiber (Food, pumpkin, flax, psyllium)
- Give propylene glycol 3350 (Miralax)
- Use a prokinetic drug
If it is still early, you can try treatments like increased dietary fiber and increased water consumption. Water can be increased by giving wet food and using a water fountain, and fiber can be added by feeding pumpkin or a supplement like psyllium, which is sold under the brand name Metamucil in the US (give at least a teaspoon or up to 4 in the food, depending on how well it works). Always feed moist food and be sure to purchase a water fountain so that your cat will drink more.
Miralax, one of the common brand names for polyethylene glycol 3350, is a human drug that can also help some constipated cats. It is not approved for cats so it has not been studied much but most people report that it does not have side effects. (It may cause dehydration since it pulls water from the cat´s body into the stool.) Cats just need about 1/4 teaspoon on their moist food a few times a day.
Already tried all of them without success?
There are some other drugs that might help your cat. These medications, called prokinetic agents, are used to treat motility disorders in humans and can also help cats that need extra smooth muscle contraction to force the stool out. None of them are approved for cats yet as they are still being developed for humans, but you can ask your vet about them and find out what is available where you live.
Cisapride is a common medication for megacolon, but it was discontinued in the US because of side effects in humans and is available for cats only through compounding pharmacies. Another medication, called ranitidine, may also be helpful but be sure to ask your vet. If you cannot ask a vet, look for ranitidine where you live. (The human strength tablets are way too strong, as a cat only needs 5 to 10 mg once a day.)
When there is a veterinarian present, you need to be aware that chronic constipation and megacolon are serious problems, and it is best to take your cat in for assistance.
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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.