If you’ve gone to the litter box for a few days in a row now and still haven’t found anything to scoop, your cat could be constipated. While sometimes your cat may let you know they are experiencing discomfort with loud meowing from their box, it may not always be so obvious. So, unfortunately, it’s up to you to be a detective of sorts and figure out what the main issue is and how to help your cat's constipation.
The last thing you want is for your cat to be uncomfortable, so make sure to get acquainted with these tips from Dr. Nicholas Garside BVetMed MRCVS, veterinary advisor at VioVet so you can spot any potential digestion issues with your cat, and make sure to get it help ASAP if it seems time to see a vet.
Of course, not finding anything to scoop is a telltale sign something could be off with your cat, but according to Dr. Garside, there are even more clues to feline constipation to be aware of. “Difficulty defecating and hard stools in the litter tray are the most common signs,” Dr. Garside says. “Cats may even yowl in discomfort as they try to defecate the hard stools.”
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If your cat is a bit more private about their bathroom visits, you may have to keep an eye on their mood and look out for any changes. “Some cats are very discreet when they toilet, doing this away from their owners, so the only signs an owner sees is lethargy due to the discomfort,” says Dr. Garside. If your cat is unusually lethargic, that’s one of the first signs that something’s not right.
Common signs your cat may be constipated include:
Hard, dry poop
Straining/yowling in the litter box
More frequent litter box trips (with nothing to show for it)
According to Dr. Garside, one of the most common reasons your cat could be constipated or having difficulty making regular bowel movements could be due to scavenging. “Bones and hair from wildlife in particular are difficult to digest, these form clumps of hard feces in the intestinal tract,” says Dr. Garside.
But if you have an indoor cat, they could become constipated simply from ingesting large quantities of their own hair. “Long haired cats can also become constipated due to normal grooming as they ingest their own hairs,” explains Dr. Garside. “There are rarer causes such as the condition 'Megacolon' but these require diagnosis by a vet.”
Other reasons your cat could be constipated include:
“Constipation can be managed effectively at home but the initial diagnosis should really be done by a trained professional,” says Dr. Garside. Why? Just because you don’t see your cat defecating doesn’t mean it’s not happening — especially in the case of outdoor cats.
“I have seen cases where clients have started giving laxatives to cats that they thought were constipated, but actually the cat had diarrhea and was defecating outside (not seen by the owner). The owner only saw the signs of straining and assumed the issue was constipation,” he says. Laxatives will only worsen diarrhea, so it’s important to get a professional opinion before you begin any sort of at-home treatment. Your vet can easily feel your cat’s abdomen and understand if your cat’s discomfort is due to constipation, bladder issues, or something else.
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If you’re sure your cat is constipated, you can begin laxative supplement treatments at home. “Laxatives are usually prescribed to treat mild/moderate constipation,” says Dr. Garside. “If it is severe then an enema under anesthetic may be required. In the long term, laxatives can be given at a low dose to keep the issue at bay for cats that are prone to constipation.”
Increased water intake helps to prevent the problem too, make sure there are fresh bowls of water around or even invest in a cat water fountain for fussy cats. It may be that a transition to wet food is needed as well.
Other helpful ways to treat constipation in cats include:
Include fiber supplements/probiotics
Try a different cat food
Increase your cat's water intake
Make your cat exercise more
Clean your litter box/get a second litter box