Constipation in cats can be a fairly common occurrence. This is not a pleasant thing to think about; but it is a necessary topic because problems in this process can significantly affect the health and quality of life for your feline. Most healthy cats expel material from their colon 1-2 times a day. Others may have a less frequent bowel movement cycles, predisposing them to constipation. The longer material sits in the colon, the more likely it is to become hard, dry, and difficult to pass. The process of expelling firm debris can cause straining, and can be a painful process for these pets. Symptoms of constipation include but are not limited to straining, hard/dry feces, mucus, blood, defecation in abnormal places, vocalization, agitation, infrequent bowel movements, lethargy, inappetance, and vomiting.
Hairballs, dehydration, and obesity can all be contributing factors that lead to constipation. Nerve deformities, pelvic fractures, anxiety, and other medical problems can also be triggers. Controlling underlying health problems is an important step in reducing constipation, keeping your feline comfortable, and preventing the progression to advanced colon motility problems. Sometimes the underlying cause of difficulty with defecation is unknown.
Megacolon is an advanced disease process that can happen over time if issues with constipation are left unchecked. Chronic irritation and strain at the colon allows the diameter of this intestinal loop to stretch out. Over time, the muscle in the wall of the colon no longer contracts well. Nerves here may also not work as well. As a result, stool sits in the colon for much longer periods of time. As the wall of the large intestine expands to a much larger size, the fecal matter coalesces sometimes up to 3-4 times the normal diameter. Eventually the fecal material gets so large; it becomes physically impossible for a feline to expel it without medical intervention. These problems are more common in older cats, at least 6 years of age; and males seem to experience this more typically for unknown reasons.
Treatment for constipation is classified under immediate care and long term prevention. Immediate care may include enemas, intravenous fluids, and medications to help improve intestinal motility. Radiographs are taken both to diagnose intestinal blockages, and to track the response to therapy. Long term treatment may involve high fiber diets, laxatives such as DSS, Lactulose, and Laxatone, and motility drugs such as Cisapride. Maintaining a healthy weight and good water consumption are also beneficial. Water fountains for pets are a great way to promote felines to drink water. Having multiple containers of water is also helpful. Some prescription diet formulations contain ingredients that trigger better water consumption.
Megacolon often doesn’t respond to fluids and enemas. Commonly these patients need to be sedated and have the fecal material physically removed from the colon. Overtime, other procedures may be needed. Some felines may require surgery, in which the non-functioning portion of the large intestine is removed. Even though this improves motility, these patients often still require close monitoring, chronic medications, and preventatives.
Monitor your feline’s excrement routinely, and always provide fresh clean water. If you suspect your cat has a problem with constipation, take him or her to see your veterinarian right away. As with most medical problems, earlier intervention has a much better potential for a good outcome.