have been made about this condition, but it is no joke for an
animal that has it.
overwhelming number of patients seen with constipation are older
cats, though it can occur in younger cats and in dogs. In this
article I’ll talk about the typical patient, the geriatric
constipated cats have had their condition come on gradually over
a number of weeks or months. Their human family members have either:
1.) noted their feline friend straining to defecate, acting uncomfortable
and crying, or 2.) not seen any sign of discomfort or straining,
just noted that their cat hasn’t defecated in several days.
In either case, as the condition progresses the cat’s appetite
slows, then stops. Weight loss occurs. Sometimes he/she starts
vomiting. Untreated, constipation could lead to serious, even
life- threatening problems. At the least, it noticeably decreases
quality of life.
the time a cat’s human family members are aware there’s
a problem, often their kitty is badly constipated, full of a large
volume of hard, dry stool. He/she usually needs an enema, sometimes
several enemas, to get rid of all the backed-up stool. Sometimes
he/she crosses the line from constipation into what’s called
obstipation. An obstipated cat is overloaded with huge, very hard
stools. To help him/her, a procedure called de-obstipation is
usually necessary, in which he/she actually has to be anesthetized
to be thoroughly cleaned out.
causes constipation in the older cat? There are a variety of contributing
factors. Some cats have merely one factor, others have many. The
most common contributing factors are: dehydration, poor muscle
tone in the large intestine (called megacolon), and lack of bulk
to the stool.
constipation can come about from more than one factor, the treatment
of constipation has to be tailored to each individual constipated
cat. Unfortunately, there’s not just one treatment or medication
which works for all. I can’t emphasize this enough. You
and your veterinarian need to work closely together to discover
the causes of constipation in your individual cat and to work
out a treatment plan which is effective. If you’re lucky,
you’ll hit on the right combination of things right away.
If not, it may take a while to find what works for your cat. Try
not to get discouraged; if you persist, usually a solution can
can begin the process by observing some things about your cat.
If dehydration is a factor, your cat’s stools will be dry,
hard, crumbly. His/her coat may also look dull or dry, and his/her
skin may be flaky. When you pick up a fold of his/her skin, it
may take several seconds for it to flatten out again. If this
is the case for your cat, add extra water to his/her food and
stay away from dry foods/kibble. If these changes are not enough
you may have to ask your veterinarian about putting your cat on
subcutaneous (under the skin) injections of fluid at home. There
also are stool softeners your veterinarian can prescribe for the
your cat’s stools are very small, you may need to increase
the fiber in his/her diet. There are multiple ways of doing this;
you may have to experiment with the method that works best for
you and your cat. (Some cats won’t take certain products
or eat high fiber diets; some types of fiber worsen the constipation
rather than help it, etc.) You can add fiber to your cat’s
diet in the form of canned pumpkin or Miller’s bran or metamucil
oat/wheat bran moistened with olive oil and honey. I find that
1 Tbsp once or twice a day works for the average cat. Your veterinarian
may also prescribe foods which have extra
fiber already included.
the constipation is severe/long-standing, your veterinarian will
probably prescribe a drug which increases the motility in the
intestinal tract. In a lot of constipated cats, this drug can
be almost miraculous.
lubricants can be useful in the early stages of constipation.
Hairball products are usually the most available lubricants, though
oils such as the olive oil mentioned above can work well, too.
I do not recommend mineral oil for constipated cats; a lot of
cats dislike the taste, and if they struggle when you’re
giving it, they can inhale the mineral oil into their lungs, causing
potentially fatal inhalation pneumonia.
digestive enzymes and Lactobacillus acidophilus to your cat’s
food can also help with constipation.
but not least, acupuncture and herbs can be very effective in
treating constipation. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, constipation
is considered to be caused by a deficiency of Qi, or energy, to
the Large Intestine, possible complicated by other factors, such
as Liver stagnation. There’s an excellent section on the
treatment of constipation in a book on Chinese Medicine for dogs
and cats called Four Paws, Five Directions by Cheryl Schwartz,
D.V.M. (Celestial Arts Press, Berkeley, 1996). Seek out a veterinary
acupuncturist to discuss these treatments for your cat.
all else fails, and your cat has a hopelessly enlarged, flabby
large intestine (advanced megacolon), surgery to remove the colon
may be necessary. It is not something to be considered lightly,
for such cats can then be plagued with diarrhea. If a constipated
cat’s family and veterinarian are patient and persistent
enough, usually a combination of the correct diet, medication,
supplements, and treatments such as acupuncture will be relieve