Why Do Cats Get Constipated? Signs, Symptoms & Remedies

What Causes Cat Constipation?

If you know your cat’s habits, it’s easy to see the changes in his bathroom routine by inspecting the spot where he relieves himself. If you observe fewer stools than normal or hard, dry stools in the litter box, something may not be right with your cat’s digestion.

What causes feline constipation?

A cat may be unable to or reluctant to defecate due to illness, injury, a change in food, stress and even age.

“Constipation is typically associated with, but is not limited to, cats who are geriatric; ill from underlying diseases such as kidney disease, liver disease, or cancer; obese or those who have incurred trauma, making feces challenging to pass,” says Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a Los Angeles-based veterinarian with California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness, Inc.

Mahaney also cites other causes of cat constipation, including:

  • Inadequate fluid intake (dehydration can slow down blood flow, reducing intestinal peristalsis — contraction — causing the colon to be unable to move feces out of the body properly)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Electrolyte imbalance (often associated with dehydration)
    Nervous-system abnormalities
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Arthritic pain in the lower back, pelvis or knees (which can cause discomfort while a cat is defecating and reduce her desire to pass stool)
  • Anal sac inflammation (which can lead to discomfort when feces moves through the rectum)
  • Hairballs or foreign objects that have been ingested
  • A low-fiber diet

Cat Constipation Symptoms

Healthy cats should defecate at least once a day, and the stool should be deep brown in color and well-formed.

Signs of constipation in your cat may include a reduction in the number of and frequency of stools or hard, small stools inside or outside of the litter box. You may also notice that your cat is straining to defecate, possibly crying in pain, and has a decreased appetite.

Call your veterinarian if you suspect that your cat is constipated. This condition can be caused by an underlying illness.

Constipation can also lead to feces building up in the colon and becoming impacted, a situation that requires veterinary involvement.


Preventing Cat Constipation

Keeping your cat well-hydrated goes a long way toward preventing constipation. Circulating water fountains are a good way to get a reluctant cat to drink more water, and wet food can add more moisture to the bowels.

Regular veterinary exams — at least every six months for an elderly cat — can catch health problems before they become severe. Cats should receive a rectal and anal sac inspection at each physical exam.

Cat Constipation Remedies

Your veterinarian may prescribe medication such as a laxative or stool softener, or may intervene with an enema, which may be done under anesthesia.

You may try offering your cat the following to relieve his constipation — but only after you’ve gotten the okay from your vet:

  • Canned cat food, low-sodium tuna or low-sodium chicken or beef stock to add moisture to your cat’s diet and create softer stools
  • An omega-3 fatty acid supplement (fish oil) to add lubrication to his feces
  • A hairball remedy (available at most pet stores)
  • A higher-fiber diet, to create more stool. Do not try this with a cat who has a muscular inability to void feces, or one who is weak or dehydrated.
  • Pumpkin, squash, psyllium husk or ground flax meal to provide more fiber