Constipation in Cats


Elderly indoor kitties (i.e., if sedentary), especially, may be subject to constipation - but any cat who gets hairballs, or is ailing (and perhaps on drugs which are binding), or is simply avoiding water for some reason, may suffer from constipation of the bowels...  And it's dangerous enough that we'd better pay attention and do something about it as soon as possible.

In humans, constipation is likely to creep up slowly as a result of an inappropriate diet (which, unfortunately, is a description of the American diet in general!) and not enough intake of water, combined with a lack of exercise.  Cats, along with other animals, have similar needs to keep their digestive/eliminative tract working properly - plus they lick their fur!  If they're not getting the exercise, water, fiber, oils, and digestive enzymes and bacterial flora they need - for proper digestion and assimilation of what they eat, as well as for proper bowel functioning - any hair that goes in is that much less likely to move on through.  And for whatever reason constipation starts, the resultant toxin buildup/distribution and water imbalance will cause disturbances to the system that negatively affect the critter's (our our) health in general.

At least with indoor cats, we're more likely to notice that they're constipated...  We see their stools (and note whether they're smaller and harder than before, and how often produced), and we might notice them straining and not producing stools.  And of course we may see hairballs that have been urped up, or notice that the cat is trying unsuccessfully to cough them up and out... but not all hair is this "noticeable" (and certainly not all constipation is a result of clogging hair). 

Veterinarians stress that it's important to be aware of any signs of constipation early on and deal with them quickly, as life-threatening fecal impactions or enlarging of the colon can result.  (This latter is called "megacolon" - i.e., stretched and flaccid, either from a defect in the nerve supply to the colon [spinal subluxation? nerve injury? - chiropractic and acupuncture come to mind] or, more likely, from long-standing constipation... and no longer able to contract as it should.  And since one job of the colon's is to absorb excess water from fecal material, this super-large stool gets too hard to pass through kitty's poor little rectum.)  Unfortunately, at this point you will likely need a veterinarian to sedate the cat for administering an enema, and probably for drug treatment (stool softeners and "motility-enhancing" drugs - i.e., those that stimulate peristalsis of the intestine, get it moving) if not surgery.

It should be noted that poorly healed pelvic injuries - like those sustained from being hit by a car - can also obstruct the bowel, creating another kind of constipation.  In this case, I would encourage you to consult your veterinarian on how to handle this life-long.

Also, it could be useful to point out that it's thought that constipation can generate urinary problems... and people (including vets) might mistakenly treat only the urinary angle and ignore the underlying intestinal problem.  (If you feed your pet a diet that contains "species-inappropriate" foods, as most common manufactured pet foods do, it might be a good idea to assume that your animal needs some colon help.)

Constipation can result from medications given your pet for other ailments.  Notably, it often follows a course of antibiotics ("anti biotic" = against life, i.e., killing all live bacteria, including the good ones needed for digestion).  Probiotics (like acidophilus - tasteless) can be added to food to ensure that this important factor is in good supply.  (Probiotics also "support healthy colon cell growth, immune function, and optimize intestinal motility," says one health website - all good reasons to add them in!)

Other hidden causes of constipation could be parasite infestations and blockages caused by ingested, and undigested, grass or bones.

(Since there are a number of possible causes of constipation, I would highly recommend consulting a holistic veterinarian who uses applied kinesiology muscle testing as a diagnostic aid... so you know just what to treat and how to prevent it from happening again.)

What Constitutes Constipation? 

We should first consider what constipation really is, for your cat...

Because not all healthy cats pass the same amount/type of stool on a daily basis.  Cats on a "low-residue diet" (which includes a raw meat/bones diet as well as manufactured low-residue diets) logically enough don't necessarily pass a stool every day. ...Because such diets are designed to reduce the amount of fecal material to be excreted.  (And the feces of raw-fed cats tend to be dry and crumbly normally - though we expect moister and more pelleted stools from manufactured-fed cats.)

U.K. veterinarian Kevin Wright states (, "Most healthy cats poop once or twice a day, but some, if they are being fed too much, defecate every other day.  As long as the poop is soft but well-formed, and the cat doesn't strain, it's normal.  The every-other-day cats are not constipated, they just march to a different drummer.  On the other hand, if a cat produces hard, dry stool, like small brown pebbles, and it cries and seems to have trouble producing a bowel movement, then it is constipated."  Well, why wouldn't too much food cause constipation? - it sure does in humans!  

(I would have to disagree with Dr. Wright here that anything about over-feeding would be "normal" - too much fecal matter built up in the colon is not healthy, it's a toxic strain on the whole system. ...But other vets have stated that it's normal for some cats to defecate only every 3-4 days.  Hmm...  And some people think it's normal for a human to have a bowel movement only once a week!  Personally, I would seek to normalize my cat's diet so as to enable it to have a bowel movement about once a day, once every other day with a low-residue program.)

So, be on the lookout for changes in kitty's daily bowel output.  And if your cat ever strains to produce a stool (whether it can or can't), has a bloated belly, has a newly sensitive abdomen, is heard to meow in the litter box, or otherwise seems agitated for no apparent reason, assume that it may be constipated and act accordingly.  If you can't begin a home treatment pretty quickly, you'll probably want to consult a vet.

Overall, I would say that it would be an excellent idea to take preventive measures to avoid constipation rather than wait for it to occur (perhaps unbeknownst to you until it results in agony for your cat friend).  If you are starting late in a cat's life and think that your cat may have a long-standing history of constipation, you may want to consult a holistic veterinarian to determine whether or not there is a large impaction that would alter the course of your own treatment regimen.

Some Simple Measures You Can Take to Prevent/Alleviate Feline Constipation

Naturally, you'll want to brush your cat regularly (particularly if its hair is long and/or thick) so as to keep your kitty from having to groom itself "by tongue" and ingest all that loose hair.

About your cat's food...

Cats, as well as dogs, are designed to eat fresh-killed meat, which naturally contains live enzymes and fats as well as the protein they so need.  Particularly when there is any digestive ailment or constipation, or if a cat is losing weight even though it's eating normally (i.e., is certainly not assimilating the nutrients properly), I would think in terms of adding digestive enzymes to its food.  

If your cat is on a dry-food diet, you might also do well to add up to a tablespoon of olive oil to the food a few times a week (assuming your cat will tolerate it! - start slowly, and try another cold-pressed nutritive oil if not). ...But some cats already in questionable health have trouble digesting oils - so perhaps this is better as preventive advice for the still-healthy critter.

As with humans, fiber in the diet is important for moving waste along the colon... and some pet food manufacturers offer high-fiber formulations (as well as hairball versions).  Canned pumpkin (unsweetened, of course - just pumpkin) might also be mixed in with other food for good fiber content, if palatable.  But if you aren't really intimate with your pet's bowel habits, adding fiber might not be a good idea - because extra fiber in an impacted and distended colon may only compound the problem (literally).  This is where the low-residue diet would be recommended. ...Though unfortunately, you would have to screen the manufactured special diet foods for species-inappropriate by-products and hard-to-digest "bulkers" like grains, soybeans, and milk products (any of which I'd be very reluctant to give an already ailing pet).  This is definitely not the kind of fiber that is going to do your cat any good! - and this low-quality, less-digestible food will just produce larger stools that are, under the circumstances, that much harder to pass.  (Keep this in mind, of course, when choosing your cat's food at any time.)

If you're up for spending some time on creating super-nutritious raw-meat cat food on your own, here's a how-to page from veterinarian Lisa Pierson:

If not, it's a good idea to make sure that your cat can't eat too much at once.  It's better to feed small amounts more often (just like with us humans with poor digestion and assimilation).

About your cat's drinking water...

Even if you're uncertain about whether or not to add fiber to your cat's diet, do everything you can to ensure that it drinks enough water.  Dr. Kevin Wright reveals that cats "are designed to ingest feathers, hair, and skin from their prey, all sources of water-soluble fiber that keeps the faeces flowing.  If your cat doesn't drink enough water, that makes any diet issues even worse."

Many vets advise switching to, or adding in, moist cat food if you feed only dry.  But Dr. Wright suggests not offering your cat canned food if it's avoiding water, because "the moisture of most canned foods is so high that your cat may not want to drink."  Also on the subject of drinking, he notes that "some cats are finicky and just don't like to drink.  Some like their water cold, fresh out of the tap; others like it to warm up and age a day or so.  Experiment to see whether the way you offer water makes a difference." 

Another pet health writer advises ( that "cats may prefer to drink out of places with a large surface area, e.g., the shower tray or a puddle" - so to try offering a shallow drinking tray instead of a dish.  Whatever it takes!

And while we're on the subject of drinking, of course it's always a good idea to provide healthy (filtered) water to any animal (or human), especially a sick one.

Other factors to look into...

Litter boxes:  The above author also offers this suggestion:  "In multi-cat households there should be a litter tray for each cat.  A dirty litter tray or competition for trays may mean that the cat will 'hold on'."  I can conceive of other reasons for "holding on" as well - for instance, if the litter box is in a place where there's a lot of noise, a blowing fan, an objectionable odor, too much traffic, no privacy, etc.  Here's another element that we might have to use some imagination on!

Exercise/massage:  Dr. Wright also highlights the need for exercise -  "Constipation also is more common in cats that are out of shape due to age or lack of exercise.  Flabby abdominal muscles don't give the support needed to completely empty the colon."  Getting the cat to walk and play more would be excellent, if this is feasible; even just a little more moving about could make a big difference where peristalsis is lax.  Lightly massaging the cat's belly (just gently stroking, if that's all that will be tolerated) would be supportive.  Even an elderly indoor cat could get more "exercise", even if "at second hand", by being rocked on your lap in a rocking chair (which also stimulates the lymphatic portion of the immune system - always a good thing!).

Energetic stimulation of peristalsis:  Veterinarians can prescribe various types of bowel-stimulating and stool-softening drugs - but alternative therapies can help with the former, without the complications of drug side effects.  Chiropractic treatments may help, though I can't see many cats standing (still) for that.  Acupuncture is all about stimulating energy of all kinds throughout the body, and it can certainly be used to stimulate peristalsis (if appropriate - i.e., no blockages)... and is more apt to be feasible with kitties (most pets tolerate the hair-thin and superficially-stuck needles pretty well).  Various homeopathic remedies stimulate bowel activity, such as Nux Vomica, Sulphur, and Papaver Somniferum (opium poppy).  Since each remedy relates to a different collection of symptoms - and since we would not often know what an animal's symptom picture is - in this case, you might want to choose a combination remedy for constipation, so that all the bases would be covered.  (But of course if you have access to a homeopath who works with animals - see this page for some possibilities - you could consult a knowledgeable practitioner rather than rely on guesswork or your own more limited homeopathic understanding.)

Some Helpful Products to Consider... 

HealthyPetNet's "Purr-fectly Natural Gourmet Cat Treats" (formulated by holistic vet Jane Bicks) contain:  highly digestible animal proteins (chicken, chicken liver, catfish/herring), EFAs, lactobacillus, slippery elm and glycerin (soothing), rice flour, oatmeal, barley, and cellulose (fiber), taurine, brewer's yeast - and no wheat, corn, by-products, dyes, petrochemicals, or chemical preservatives.  Suggested to feed 5-8 of them (they're little) between meals for hairballs/constipation.

PetAlive's "Natural Moves" herbal and cell salt constipation remedy contains:  psyllium husks, oats, aloe ferox, homeopathic Natrum Muriaticum 6x ("helps to maintain the body's water balance and is an essential component of all living cells.  It plays a very important role in the digestive process and in the healthy processing of food.  A systemic imbalance of Nat. Mur. can lead to a host of chronic digestive complaints such as constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, indigestion, bloating, and heartburn.  This tissue salt also has an excellent reputation for effectively treating dry and scaly as well as itching and weeping skin conditions, including skin allergies.")  Mix half the powdered contents of the capsule with food each day.

Pet Essences' "Digestion/Assimilation Flower Essences", a homeopathically prepared tincture for digestion, assimilation, constipation, picky eating.  Note:  The liquid "can be rubbed on the skin, lips, ears, or paws, put directly in the mouth, added to drinking water, put in food, put in bath water, or put into a mister bottle or treatment bottle.  Pet Essences can be used directly from the bottle or diluted.  If you choose to dilute them with water, you will dilute the brandy but not the remedy flower essences.  This way your pet will not taste or ingest unnecessary brandy."  (I wasn't aware of the many possibilities for "administration"!)

King Bio's "Constipation Relief" homeopathic formula, which contains:  Alumina, Bellis Perennis, Causticum, Collinsonia Canadensis, Hydrastis Canadensis, Lac Defloratum, Natrum Muriaticum, Nux Vomica, Plumbum Metallicum, Sepia (in 10x, 30x, and 100x potencies).  This formula is widely available and is water-based:
(You will probably also find homeopathic combination formulas for constipation at any store that carries one or more lines; and there are others available online, including pet formulations for digestive problems in general, such as HomeoPet's "Digestive Upsets", listed as being for "vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, loss of appetite, food regurgitation, bad breath, and repeated gas":  
However, I do want to remind you that all of these combination remedies contain different constellations of single remedies, among which is the right one for your pet [or perhaps the right ones, in sequence]...  So that it would be good to be able to muscle test on the best combination to choose from the options you have.) 

Only Natural Pet "Laxa-Herb" tincture - 7 herbs, glycerin-based, to stimulate and soothe the bowel...  Perhaps not the easiest type to get a cat to take - but if yours isn't finicky, and you know that it isn't obstructed, this, once gotten down, should get things moving quickly: