Cats are pros at hiding their discomfort from us humans. As a result, many health problems often fly under the radar. Constipation is very common among cats and goes unnoticed by those who don’t know how to look for it. But, if you look close enough, you might pick up on the subtle signs of constipation—hard and dry stool, straining, pooping outside the litter box, failure to produce feces and infrequent defecation.
Identifying symptoms is the easy part, though. Owners must then consult a veterinarian about potential underlying causes so your kitty can receive appropriate treatment and get back into a normal flow. Veterinary guidance is the only way to ensure your cat’s constipation is treated safely without any further complications, especially if the cause is chronic disease.
Here are some of the most common causes of constipation in cats:
- Megacolon: This bowel condition is characterized by weak colon muscles that fail to move fecal matter through the large intestine. This causes feces to accumulate in the digestive tract, and the pressure leads to an enlarged colon that’s even weaker. Megacolon is one of the top reasons cats suffer from constipation, yet the condition has no known cause. You won’t know if your cat has megacolon until you receive a professional diagnosis. Megacolon quickly becomes serious, so visit your vet right away to rule out this bowel condition.
- Excessive grooming: A key contributing factor to constipation is copious amounts of fur stuck in the large intestine. Cats who frequently get hairballs are more likely to become constipated because excessive fur can mat and obstruct bowel movements. Breeds with long hair are especially prone to recurring bouts of constipation. Regardless of breed, excessive grooming is associated with many different health concerns that require attention before the vet can resolve the constipation issues.
- Stress and anxiety: Cats dwelling in a stressful environment will likely use the litter box less frequently. Stress and anxiety take their toll on the body in various ways, and the digestive system usually takes a critical hit. If your cat isn’t pooping as often as they should, take an honest look at your home environment and determine which factors are triggering their anxiety. Do what you can to put your feline friend at ease and schedule a vet appointment to rule out other potential causes.
- Foreign objects: Every cat is bound to eat something they shouldn’t. Some objects are easy to pass in the litter box, like grass or tiny bits of a napkin. However, a lot of hard objects are indigestible and might cause intestinal blockages. Kitties like to snag chicken bones, yarn, hard plastic and many others that pose a danger to their digestive tract. Foreign objects easily lead to constipation, and in severe cases, surgery is required in order to remove the obstruction.
- Dry food: Generally speaking, it’s safe for cats to eat dry food. However, diets that consist solely of dry food lack fluids and can make your kitty dehydrated. Cats who don’t ingest enough water in tandem with their food often suffer from hard, dry stool that’s difficult to pass. Inadequate amounts of fiber can also add to the constipation. The good news is that owners can easily incorporate more fiber and hydration—just be sure to consult a vet before making big changes to your kitty’s diet.
- Inflammatory bowel disease: For cats and humans alike, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is known for causing a host of digestion problems. IBD that resides in the small intestine often leads to diarrhea, but constipation has been known to occur, as well. Chances are, your cat has IBD if they exhibit additional symptoms like weight loss, bloody stool or sudden loss of appetite. Keep track of your cat’s symptoms so the vet is better able to make an accurate diagnosis.
- Perianal fistula: If your cat experiences one incident of constipation, usually there’s nothing to worry about. However, recurring struggles with constipation often result from diseases like perianal fistula. The condition occurs when tissue surrounding the anus becomes inflamed. Perianal fistula makes it very painful to pass stool, causing it to build up in the colon. Eventually, the intestine will reabsorb moisture from the waste, resulting in hard stool that’s even more difficult to eliminate.
The main takeaway here is that constipation itself shouldn’t be your main concern—recurring constipation should be. Frequent constipation usually indicates the presence of a more serious issue that’s compromising your kitty’s digestive health. Constipation stems from any number of causes, so vets advise against diagnosing cats at home. Always consult a professional whenever your cat starts displaying symptoms or behaviors that are out of the ordinary, especially when it comes to their litter box habits.