A tabby cat walking out of its litter box

If your cat usually uses the litter box without issue or you've noticed that you're going longer between cleanings, she could be constipated. To understand how to help a constipated cat, you'll need to know what to look for as far as symptoms, possible causes, effective treatments and when to seek veterinary care. We've covered all that and more in this article so you can help get your cat back to feeling better in no time.

Cat Constipation Symptoms

The main symptom of a constipated cat is a lack of bowel movements. If you don't see stools in a period of 24 hours or more, that's a good sign that your cat is probably constipated. However, unless you're manually cleaning out the litter box every day, you may not know that your cat isn't going as regularly as she used to. Other cat constipation symptoms to look out for include:

  • Hard, dry and small stools
  • A hunched-over posture
  • Lack of appetite
  • Straining or appearing to have difficulty urinating
  • A tense abdomen

If you notice any of these symptoms, it's a good idea to start keeping close track of your cat's bowel movements so you can confirm the suspected constipation and start working toward treatment.

Causes of Constipation in Cats

Constipation in cats can be caused by many things, which can make it hard to pin down the exact issue behind your cat's difficulties. One of the most common causes of constipation in cats is dehydration, so keeping an eye on water intake can also be helpful. Other possible causes include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Fibre imbalance in the diet
  • Not enough activity
  • Hair ingestion
  • Refusal to use a litter box
  • Pelvic tumours
  • A hernia
  • A nerve disorder
  • Medication side effects
  • Ingestion of a foreign body

Some of these, such as dehydration, lack of activity and a fibre imbalance, are fairly easy to deal with at home. However, others require veterinary care — sometimes immediate such as in the case of a foreign body blocking the intestinal tract. If your pet is exhibiting symptoms of constipation and you're not sure what the cause is, it's important to schedule a vet check to rule out anything more serious.

Cat Constipation Treatment

If your cat's constipation symptoms seem to be minor, you can probably treat them at home as long as your cat is behaving and eating normally and symptoms begin to improve. However, it's always a good idea to check in with your vet to determine if the home treatment is appropriate or what you should do if symptoms reappear. Below are a few strategies to try to alleviate your cat's constipation at home.

Make Sure She's Drinking Plenty of Water

Because dehydration is one of the most common reasons for cat constipation, it's also the first place to start when you are trying to treat it at home. Make sure that you're providing several water bowls throughout the house so that your cat has plenty of reminders to drink. You may also want to change to ceramic or metal bowls and look for water bowls with wider openings, which can help keep your cat's whiskers out of the water and make drinking more comfortable for her. Cats also often prefer to drink away from their food and litter box areas.

Pet water bowls can be a breeding ground for bacteria, so it's a good idea to clean your cat's bowl every day, as she may refuse to drink from a dirty bowl. Some cats prefer to drink running water, so another tactic is to leave a sink dripping or try a pet water fountain. You can also help increase your cat's water intake by feeding a wet diet.

Provide More Play Time

Keeping your cat active is important for overall health, and this includes ensuring that the digestive system is working and moving as it should. Upping your cat's activity level can be as easy as engaging in a few play sessions a day with special toys only brought out for this purpose to help keep curiosity and attention levels high. You can also use a harness and walk your cat if she enjoys getting out to explore the neighbourhood.

Increase Fibre Intake

Just as fibre is an important part of the human diet, it also plays a key role in the health of your cat's digestive system. If your cat is getting too much or too little fibre, it can throw the delicate balance off and cause constipation. Check with your veterinarian to find out how much fibre your cat should be getting, and if it's too low, add in more via a change in food or a supplement. If your cat is getting too much fibre, cutting back may help alleviate constipation quickly.

When a Constipated Cat Requires Veterinary Care

Constipation is something that happens to almost all cats at some point in their lives. It generally passes on its own and may not require much in the way of treatment. However, constipation that doesn't clear up and isn't treated can be very dangerous and may also be a sign that there's some underlying medical issue. If your cat seems lethargic, isn't eating, appears to be in pain or discomfort or has had recurring bouts of constipation, a veterinary appointment is a must.

Your vet will do a physical examination of your cat to confirm constipation and may also order additional tests or scans to rule out other illnesses or check for obstructions. If necessary, your vet can administer a laxative or give an enema to help clear constipation. However, you must never try to do these things at home on your own, as it could end up causing an even bigger problem.

Once your cat is feeling better, your veterinarian may recommend ongoing proactive measures such as a change in food, more activity or a supplement such as probiotics.

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