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    Backed Up or Blocked - Feline Constipation or Intestinal Obstructions?

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    Because of our cats’ litter box habits, it is relatively easy to notice when they are not as “regular” as they should be. When daily scoopings turn up empty multiple days in a row, it is pretty clear that something is wrong.

    Constipation is unfortunately somewhat common in cats and can be very dangerous to their health, but the underlying cause of the condition is not always clear. However, pet owners should be wary of whether their cat’s constipation is rooted in something like dehydration and inappropriate diet or whether it is a result of something much more severe like an intestinal blockage.

    Understanding constipation

    Feline constipation is a cat’s inability to defecate or to only produce small, hardened stools with great difficulty. While in the colon, feces loses moisture, and the longer it remains there, the more dry and hard it can become.

    Constipation can occur because of a number of different problems inside the cat’s bowels. The inability to defecate is most often a result of a poor diet and/or a lack of adequate water intake, which hardens the stool to the point of the cat being unable to pass it.

    Dehydration can occur because your cat simply does not drink enough water, or it can be a symptom of another, more serious disease. Either way, it can prohibit your cat from pooping on its usual once- or twice-daily routine.

    Constipation may also be the result of a more serious condition called megacolon, in which the colon expands, and the muscles of the colon weaken. This makes your cat unable to move feces through the intestines to expel it. Megacolon can be fatal if it is not detected and treated.

    Or, constipation could be a result of your cat choosing not to defecate. If it can’t easily use the litter box or the action causes it pain, your cat may avoid going until the stool hardens.

    You can usually tell that a cat is constipated when it hasn’t pooped in multiple days. It may also strain while in the litter box and may even vocalize out of pain. Severely constipated cats may also begin to vomit.

    Mild constipation may be alleviated by encouraging your cat to drink more water, switching it to canned food and giving it food rich in fiber like pumpkin. If constipation persists, your vet may recommend the use of an enema or laxative to relieve your cat. More serious cases of constipation, such as those caused by megacolon, may require surgery to rectify.

    Could a blockage be the cause?

    Intestinal blockages, however, can be different. Although constipation can cause an obstruction in your cat’s colon because of hardened feces, your cat may also be experiencing a blockage caused by non-fecal matter.

    Intestinal blockages are often the result of a cat ingesting something that is not digestible, like a small toy or object. Blockages may also occur because of hairballs that are too large to safely move through the colon. In some cases, blockages are caused by tumors or polyps within the intestines themselves.

    If you suspect your cat ate a small toy and is showing signs of constipation, don’t delay in making a vet appointment. It’s likely that the object is causing problems within the colon.

    Intestinal blockages can look very similar to normal constipation. Your cat will have a difficult time defecating, it may appear to strain and vocalize in the litter box and it may also begin to vomit. Cats experiencing an obstruction also tend to refuse to eat, experience abdominal pain and are lethargic.

    However, the usual tricks of giving it more water or feeding it pumpkin to get things moving are unlikely to be effective. Instead, veterinary attention and an endoscope or surgery are generally required to remove the blockage and resume normal intestinal movement.

    Visiting the vet

    If your cat maintains its inability to defecate for a few days, you should bring it into the vet to be examined. The problem may be severe constipation due to colon issues, it may be due to a gastrointestinal blockage—or it may be something else entirely.

    During your trip to the vet, your vet will ask about your cat’s symptoms and feel around your cat’s stomach and intestines to identify the presence of hardened stool or a blockage. This may help the vet understand the problem, but scans may be necessary to determine the precise issue.

    From there, your vet will create a treatment plan to properly remove the blockage (of feces or objects). This may include a round of laxatives and close supervision to let feces or a hairball work itself out, or more intense removal using an endoscope or surgery if the feces or object won’t come out on its own.

    Overall, it can be difficult to discern exactly what is wrong with your cat’s GI tract at home, so close monitoring and fast action will be necessary to ensure it makes a full recovery.

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    Meet Our Expert

    Dr. Janice Huntingford

    Pet Wellbeing's own Dr. Jan has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years. Since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, she's founded two veterinary clinics and lectured extensively on pet herbal therapy, nutraceuticals, acupuncture, rehabilitation and pain management.

    Dr. Jan has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities, helping us to formulate all of our supplements. She is an essential part of Pet Wellbeing.

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