Constipation in cats can be a painful and stressful condition, both for the constipated cat and his or her owner. Constipated cats are often suffering from a more serious, underlying condition or malady in the gastrointestinal tract. In order to effectively treat and prevent constipation in cats, the route causes must be identified and corrected.
What is Constipation, and Why Does My Cat Get Constipated?
Constipation is a condition that occurs when a disruption in the intestines causes a reduction in the amount of bowel movements. Stools left in the colon become progressively dry and hard, making them difficult and painful for cats to pass, leading to even fewer bowel movements and a progressively serious and very uncomfortable problem.
Symptoms of constipation
Include repeated trips to the litter box, and a strenuous effort to produce bowel movements without result, or small dry/hard bowel movements. Cats suffering from severe constipation may loose their appetite, become lethargic, walked hunched, and experience abdominal pain.
Constipation is not its own disease, but rather a symptom of other problems occurring in the cat’s body that disrupt the normal formation and elimination of stools. The most common causes of constipation in cats include:
- Dietary Problems- These can occur as a result of feeding a diet low in fiber, or if a cat is not properly digesting the nutrients in the food. Food sensitivities and feeding of commercial diets that are high in “filler” (carbohydrate sources that are virtually indigestible to cats) can also lead to constipation, as the colon struggles to keep up with the demand being placed on it.
- Dehydration- Cats undergoing stressful situations (boarding, hospital stays) may not drink enough water, leading to dehydration. Cats fed a primarily dry-food diet are also at increased risk of becoming chronically dehydrated, due to the extremely low moisture content of the food.
- Kidney Failure- Senior cats suffering from kidney problems are often chronically dehydrated and suffer from poor appetites. This can lead to constipation, which in turn causes the cat to stop eating and often drinking altogether, which can quickly turn a chronic kidney problem into an acute emergency. In addition, cats suffering from kidney problems often have low levels of potassium, which can alter the metabolism and lead to constipation.
- Hairballs-Cats suffering from hairballs will often retch and vomit to relive themselves of hairballs which accumulate in the stomach. Smaller hairballs may make it through the stomach into the intestines, where the indigestible hair may become lodged somewhere within the GI tract, leading to constipation.
- Senior Cats- Older, sedentary cats may become constipated due to lack of physical activity and a progressive loss of abdominal muscle condition.
- Obstructions- these can occur as a result of ingesting a foreign body, or due to other physical causes, such as tumors occluding the intestinal tract.
Is Constipation a Serious Problem?
Constipation can become a serious, life threatening condition if it is not corrected. Constipation that continues for several days can cause dehydration due to an uncomfortable cat not eating or drinking. In addition, as the problem in the intestines progresses, the intestinal tract may draw water from the rest of the cells in the body to try and correct the problem naturally. Unfortunately, this can lead to severe dehydration for the rest of the body, and can quickly lead to other serious complications.
If a constipated cat is unable to resolve the blockage and the condition is not treated, the intestines surrounding the blockage will begin to loose their blood supply and die off, causing the contents of the bowel to leak into the abdominal cavity. Infection will result, and a fatal condition called sepsis will result.
Treating Constipation in Cats- Naturally!
Thankfully, constipation in cats is both treatable and preventable.
Historically, veterinarians have typically treated acute cases of constipation with a combination of direct fecal manipulation (usually by administering enemas to soften and lubricate the stool, as well as manually evacuating the colon rectally) and laxative medications. If these measures fail, nerve stimulants and other medications may be given to help bring about a bowel movement. If medical management fails to relive the problem, surgery may be recommended to relieve the obstruction.
While these invasive treatments of constipation are usually effective in correcting the problem, they do nothing to treat the underlying cause of the problem, or prevent it from reoccurring.
Because GI problems or dysfunction are often the route of the problems that can lead to constipation, by improving the health of the GI tract through diet changes and supplementation, you can solve your cats’ constipation problems without drugs or painful procedures.
Most commercially available cat foods are comprised of mostly filler, and have little nutritional value. In dry foods especially, the high heat and pressure used to create the “nuggets” of food denatures the ingredients, and steams away nutritional value. In addition, the extremely low moisture content of dry food can lead to chronic dehydration, as many cats will not drink enough water to offset the extremely dry “dry” food.
By feeding your cat as nature intended
Through a raw or home cooked, high quality meat based diet, you can ensure that only the best ingredients are being fed to your cat. Fresh meat has a high moisture content, and can help to keep your cat hydrated. In addition, feeding this way can help to solve many other GI problems in cats, including food sensitivities, irritable bowel disorder and chronic vomiting and diarrhea.
In addition to feeding a more natural diet, there are many nature-based remedies that can help to prevent and treat constipation in cats. Probiotics, the “good” bacteria that live in the intestinal tract are vital in disseminating nutrients from food and dispersing them throughout the body. Probiotics can promote a healthy GI tract, lowering the risk of constipation and other GI problems.
Fiber content is an essential part of solving constipation in cats, as fiber is the bulking agent that can help stools move through naturally in the GI tract. One of the most effective and commonly used bulking agentsin cats (and people) is Psyllium Seed Powder. Psyllium absorbs water and brings it to the gut, as well as adding bulk to and normalizing stool. Psyllium is also an effective treatment for hairballs, as daily administration can help small hairballs pass through the gut impeded, and prevent larger hairballs from forming.
Another natural remedy, slippery elm bark powder is also valuable in treating and preventing constipation, as it coats the lining of the stomach and intestines, allowing for greater ease of digestion and reducing inflammation in the GI tract.
Constipation is cats is a painful, and potentially life threatening condition. Instead of treating episodes of constipation as they happen with medication, by identifying the core cause of the problem and correcting that cause, you can prevent many episodes of constipation.