By Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM, contributing writer
Some body parts are easy to talk about. Take ears, for example: they’re easy to visualize, accessible for quick examination and furry to boot. The colon, on the other hand, presents a little more of a challenge. While it often takes no more than a trip to the litter box to realize something is amiss with the large intestine, cat parents sometimes find it hard to discuss the topic of their feline’s elimination issues. Which is a shame, because colon issues are fairly common in cats. Here are five common cat colon complaints:
1) Acute colitis
Diarrhea that seemingly pops up out of nowhere is one of the leading causes of visits to the veterinarian. It is most commonly seen in young cats, cats in high stress or cramped environments, and outdoor felines, but any cat can be afflicted. Stress, parasites, diet and infectious agents are all common causes of the occasional bout of diarrhea.
In these cases, a sample of the stool is evaluated to check for parasites. Most uncomplicated cases resolve with a bland diet and medication, as directed by the veterinarian. Cases lasting over two weeks may require additional testing.
2) Lymphocytic Plasmacytic Colitis
Chronic diarrhea, that lasting longer than three weeks, may be indicative of an inflammatory bowel condition in cats called lymphocytic-plasmacytic colitis. In affected felines, two types of cells- lymphocytes and plasma cells- overgrow in the walls of the colon, leading to inflammation and signs such as poorly formed stools, straining to defecate, or blood in the stool. A biopsy is the only way to definitively diagnose the condition. Once diagnosed, felines are often managed with a combination of dietary changes and medical therapy.
3) Constipation and Megacolon
The opposite of diarrhea, cats can also experience hard, difficult to pass stools. While an occasional bout of constipation may happen to any feline, some cats suffer from a chronic form that is harder to control. Over time, permanent damage to the colon may occur. A large, distended colon is the hallmark of the painful condition known as megacolon. This disease can be caused by obstructions that constrict the colon and prevent the passage of stools, or by nerve disease that impedes the normal activity of the colon.
For immediate relief, veterinarians may perform enemas and manual extraction of large, impacted fecal masses. Due to the painful nature of the problem and the delicate tissues of the colon, this procedure may require anesthesia. Follow-up therapy may include dietary changes and stool softeners. Additional medications to help stimulate the colon may be indicated.
Although less common than other forms of cancer in the cat, colon cancer does occur. Lymphoma, adenocarcinoma and mast cell tumors are three of the most common types of cancer found in the colon. Because many colon diseases cause similar symptoms, colon cancer may be difficult to diagnose particularly in the early stages. If the veterinarian suspects cancer may be a problem, he or she may recommend an x-ray or an ultrasound to evaluate the structures of the abdomen. The prognosis for colon cancers is generally guarded.
5) Urinary Tract Disease
Wait a minute- why is urinary tract disease on a list of colon problems? Interestingly enough, one of the most common presenting complaints for a cat with urinary tract disease is “constipation.” Cats straining to urinate look an awful lot like cats straining to defecate, and pet parents may mistake the increased trips to the litter box and uncomfortable posture for colon problems.
Urinary tract obstruction is a life-threatening emergency in cats. A veterinarian needs to examine the cat to assess whether or not the cat is blocked, so for this reason any pet parent calling a clinic with a complaint of constipation is encouraged to come in right away.
Even with a fastidious cat, life can sometimes get messy. The colon is an organ that is easy to take for granted, until something goes haywire. If your cat is experiencing colonic distress, have him or her evaluated promptly. You’ll both be glad you did.