Causes of Constipation in Cats
Constipation is a fairly common problem in domestic cats. The causes of this condition are many and varied. They include behavioral and environmental things, such as sudden changes in a cat’s household routines, household members or daily activities, lack of enough exercise and dirty litter boxes. Dietary indiscretion (so-called “garbage gut”) is a major cause of constipation in dogs, but not so much in cats. Some cats do get constipated by eating indigestible things, like paper, poultry bones, fabric, pieces of rugs, plastic, rubber, metal, pebbles, sticks, leaves or grass. Cats are especially prone to becoming constipated from dehydration when they don’t have free access to or drink enough water. They also can become constipated from swallowing hair from their daily rigorous self-grooming activities, which causes hairballs (accumulations of fur and food products) to build up in their digestive tract.
Constipation can be caused by hormonal abnormalities, pain in the pelvic area from trauma or arthritis, spinal disk disease and injuries or masses that adversely impact the colon, such as polyps, anatomical deformities or cancer. Anal gland infections, rectal foreign bodies and bite wounds around the cat’s rear-end can interfere with normal bowel movements and contribute to constipation. Certain drugs impair the contractility of muscles in and around the colon, and certain food products increase the chance of a cat becoming constipated. Cats that are obese, dehydrated, elderly, inactive or stressed may defecate less frequently than normal, which predisposes them to constipation and colonic impaction. Cats with chronic renal failure often are constipated. Some cats get constipated when the fur around their anus becomes tangled and matted, which causes a physical barrier to the passage of “poop”.
A condition called “megacolon” can also contribute to constipation. Cats with this disorder have abnormally large colons that can’t contract and move fecal material forward like they are supposed to. These cats need lifelong treatment with stool softeners, motility modulators and special diets, of course under the supervision of their veterinarian. Cats that are born without a tail, such as members of the Manx breed, are prone to getting constipated from developmental abnormalities associated with their tail-less condition.
Preventing Constipation in Cats
Cats are especially vulnerable to becoming constipated because of their constant grooming activities, which cause hair to accumulate in their digestive tract and “clog up the pipes”. The best way for owners to prevent this is to brush their cats frequently and use an oral hairball preventative. Keeping the fur trimmed around the anus can prevent matting from forming a physical barrier to passage of stool. Good hydration is essential. A healthy diet and moderate activity also promote regularity. A veterinarian can teach owners how to palpate their cat’s abdomen to assess whether and to what extent it has retained fecal matter.
Chronic constipation is uncomfortable and can permanently damage the sensitive lining of the colon. Owners of constipated cats should consult with their veterinarian to determine the best diagnostic and treatment protocols.