Chronic constipation in cats
Constipation is a common problem in older cats and is seen occasionally in younger ones as well. Cats who have had a broken pelvis are prone to constipation because the nerves to the intestines or the pelvic canal the colon passes through can be damaged. Some cats are born with a deficiency in the nerve connections to the colon, which then doesn’t contract properly to move stools along. In these cats the colon can eventually become so dilated and damaged that it has to be surgically removed. This condition is called megacolon. Most of the time, though, the typical constipated cat is older and the intestinal tract seems to be slowing down with age.
Signs and symptoms: Constipated cats may have small, hard stools; large, hard stools; or clay-like, sticky stools. Any of these can make it difficult for stools to pass. Affected cats are usually straining to pass stool, not eating well and are often drooling or vomiting. They usually come in to see us in a dehydrated state, which makes constipation worse.
Sometimes we can manually remove hard stool from the colon with a gloved finger. If not, we generally administer enema(s) to affected cats to clean out the colon. It’s best if your cat can stay in the hospital for a few hours, until all the stool has passed. Most cats that need enemas also need subcutaneous fluids for dehydration.
Enemas usually cause at least a small amount of diarrhea. We will do our best to send your cat home clean but he or she may continue to pass a small amount of diarrhea after going home. It’s best to keep your cat confined to a bathroom or utility room until you are sure it’s safe to let him or her back onto carpeting or furniture.
Most cats will tolerate these procedures awake but occasionally we have to sedate or anesthetize a cat to treat it. Sometimes constipation has occurred because some other illness made the cat dehydrated or there is hair or fibrous material in the stool making it hard. In these cases a single enema may be all we need to do, besides treating the underlying problem. Most of the time, however, constipation is a long term problem that requires dietary management and medication.
In young cats, feeding a high fiber diet often will work to keep the stools soft. There are two types of fiber: insoluble, which passes through undigested and provides bulk to the stool; and soluble, which is what the bacteria in the intestines utilize. We want more soluble fiber, which keeps the microbiome (the good bacteria) happy. Most cat foods contain very little soluble fiber. Diets with extra soluble fiber include Hill’s Metabolic, which is also a weight management diet, Hill’s Gastrointestinal Biome diet and Royal Canin’s Gastrointestinal Fiber Response.