Spotting signs of cat constipation

Cat lying down on the floor
Although cat constipation is relatively common, it can be a sign of a serious disorder. By learning to spot the signs, you can make sure your cat gets the help it needs right away.

A cat is constipated if it’s unable to pass stools (feces) or if it only defecates infrequently. 

When feces remains in the colon for longer than usual, it dehydrates and becomes hard, which causes the cat discomfort. 

As constipation persists, the feces becomes impacted. This can cause the colon to become distended and unable to push the feces towards the rectum – a severe form of constipation known as obstipation.

Both constipation and obstipation need immediate treatment. However, they often indicate that another underlying disorder is at work. Contributing factors could include diet or an obstruction. 

That’s why it’s so important to seek veterinary help whenever you notice signs of cat constipation.

How can I tell if my cat is constipated?

Constipation may range from mild to severe and can be caused by a number of conditions, which means signs vary greatly. However, typical cat constipation signs are:

  • Straining
  • Hunched posture
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Agitation
  • Abdominal pain or tension
  • Behavioral abnormalities
  • Small, hard, dry stools
  • You may notice your cat visiting their litterbox more frequently or trying to defecate outside of the box. 

If your cat usually defecates outdoors, it’s possible they may have been experiencing constipation for some time before you notice how infrequently they defecate.

Understanding what to look for in the consistency and color of your cat's poop can also help identify when your cat is suffering from constipation.

On some occasions, a cat might be straining because they’re unable to pass urine. This indicates a blocked bladder, which is a life-threatening condition. If your cat is frequently visiting the litterbox and straining without producing urine, you should contact your veterinarian immediately for an emergency appointment.

What causes cat constipation?

Constipation is much more common in cats than dogs, and older or senior cats are generally more susceptible. However, cats of any age can be affected by constipation.

Any condition that causes dehydration may lead to cat constipation. But there are other reasons your cat may be affected too – some of which are serious.

Illustration of a red bowl of cat food

Diet

Dietary causes that can contribute include not enough dietary fiber, lack of water intake, or obesity.

Illustration of a cat using a litter tray

Environment

Stress, inactivity, a dirty litterbox, the arrival of another cat, or a change in their habitat may cause constipation. 

Illustration of a cat and a hairball

Foreign bodies

Cats consume hair when they lick themselves. Usually, it’s regurgitated but sometimes it can cause digestive problems. Eating litter, plants or bones can also cause digestive problems or an obstruction.

Illustration of an obstruction in the intestine

Obstructions

Any physical blockage can cause constipation, including tumors, fractures, deformities in the pelvis, or a rectal prolapse.

Illustration of a brain

Neurological problems

Defecation is a voluntary act controlled by the nervous system and so a neurological trauma may cause constipation.

Illustration of an injection

Drugs

Some medical drugs cause constipation as a side effect.

Illustration of a cat with a red pain point circle

Pain

If your cat is in pain due to a wound or a narrowing of the colon, it may prevent them from defecating. 

Idiopathic megacolon illustration

Idiopathic megacolon

This refers to a condition where megacolon occurs without an obvious reason or disease. Megacolon is when the colon becomes dilated and loses normal motility, resulting in severe constipation and obstipation.

Vet carrying out assessment on cat

How to help a constipated cat

With so many potential causes, we always recommend that you contact your veterinarian when you first notice your cat is constipated. They’ll perform an examination and identify any underlying conditions that may be causing constipation.

The treatment your cat receives will vary accordingly, but may involve:

Medical treatment

There are several cat constipation remedies available that your veterinarian may recommend, including laxatives and drugs to help the colonic muscle contract. In some circumstances, your veterinarian may perform a colonic lavage. 

Diet change

A high fiber diet is often used in combination with medication for cases of constipation. Your veterinarian may recommend a diet including balanced fibers, like psyllium, to help soften the stool.

Habit change

Your veterinarian may recommend increasing your cat’s intake of fluids, changing any existing medication, and improving the hygiene and number of litter boxes in your home. 

Surgery

If these options are unsuccessful, or the underlying condition is particularly severe, surgery may be required. 

Increasing their water intake

Dehydration may contribute to constipation. By increasing a cat’s water intake, you may help to alleviate signs and help prevent a recurrence. Feeding your cat wet food is one solution, but you can also encourage your cat to drink more by adding extra water bowls around your home, using a pet water fountain, or letting them drink out of a faucet.  

Cat constipation is fairly common but can be an indicator of something even more serious. If you have any questions about your cat’s health or the cat constipation signs you need to look out for, speak to your veterinarian.

  • Digestive health