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Diagnosing Cat Constipation

Source: PetWave, Updated on December 22, 2015

Initial Evaluation

Owners who suspect that their cats may be constipated should consult with their veterinarian to determine whether the cat indeed is constipated and, if so, why that condition has developed. The veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and take a complete history from the owner about the cat’s overall health and why the owner thinks that constipation may be the problem. The history will cover the cat’s appetite, normal and/or abnormal recent behavior, diet (including any recent dietary changes) and last known bowel movements, among many other things. The veterinarian probably will take blood, urine and stool samples for laboratory analysis and will perform a digital rectal examination. The results of these routine blood and urine tests are usually fairly unremarkable when constipation is the only problem that the cat has, although they can disclose underlying systemic medical abnormalities. The fecal samples may reveal internal parasites and/or excessive accumulation of hair, both of which are common contributors to feline constipation. The rectal examination may or may not disclose an obstruction from dry, hard, impacted fecal material, depending upon where the blockage is in the cat’s colon.

Diagnostic Procedures

In most cases, the next diagnostic step will be to take radiographs (commonly called “X-rays”) of the cat’s abdomen and pelvic region. An abdominal ultrasound may also be advised. These diagnostic procedures can reveal physical impactions in the small and/or large intestine that are preventing the cat from passing its stool normally. Medication and dietary changes also may be used as diagnostic techniques. This involves treating the cat with anti-inflammatory or antibiotic drugs, and/or modifying the components of its diet, to see how it responds to treatment. If its bowel movements return to normal after one or both of these treatments, then a bacterial infection and/or food allergies may be presumed to be the cause of the constipation episodes. Owners should recognize that prolonged constipation can be extremely dangerous for cats. It is important for affected animals to be seen by a veterinarian, diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible, once the possibility of constipation surfaces.

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