Is Your Cat Constipated? 6 Most Common Causes and Solutions
Written by: Sarah Griffiths, DCH
Is your cat chronically constipated?
We get asked about this problem frequently so here’s our best advice for helping your kitty poop every day!
Constipation is Common
There are a lot of constipated cats out there! We hear from cat parents frequently about irregularity in the litter box. There are a lot of reasons why your kitty might be having trouble. The best place to start is by looking at their diet and lifestyle to help solve the problem.
Signs of Constipation
- Straining or crying in the litter box
- Small, hard poops
- Crumbly poops
- "Inappropriate” pooping
- Irregular bowel movements (going less frequently than every 24 hours)
- Decreased appetite
- Decreased water intake
If you see any of these signs, it’s important to take your cat for a veterinary exam to determine the exact cause of the problem. It’s also important to make a plan for preventing constipation in the future.
Causes of Constipation
Dehydration is the number one reason for constipation in cats because hydration correlates to a many other functions in the body. Cats can become dehydrated easily—more so than other animals—because they have a low thirst drive. This means that cats don’t get thirsty until they are extremely dehydrated. If your cat isn’t getting enough water into their body—particularly in their food—they are at high risk for constipation. Contributing factors include a dry food diet and a sedentary lifestyle (see below for more details on this).
Diet plays an integral role in stool formation since poop is basically the product of any food eaten. If your cat is having issues with irregularity, it’s time to do a detailed overhaul of their diet. What you feed your cat is extremely important. First, if you’re feeding dry food, we recommend that you get rid of it. Full stop! Dry food actually causes extreme dehydration in cats and will sabotage any goal of having your cat pooping easily and regularly. If a cat is dehydrated, all the water passing through the GI tract is absorbed back into the cells in an attempt to rebalance the fluids in the body. This leaves little water left in the bowel contents to aid in digestion—which is often the cause of constipation. When poop is dry, the cat often has difficulty excreting it.
We cannot overemphasize the importance of ensuring that your cat is getting lots of water IN their food (70-80%). Drinking water from a dish does not replace moisture content in their food. Switching your cat to a balanced raw food diet is optimal. The next best choice would be home-cooked or canned food. This simple solution can fix constipation issues in most healthy cats.
If your cat is already eating raw food and is constipated, we recommend that you have a good look at how much bone they are consuming—this is the most common reason for constipation in raw-fed cats. You need to balance the bone content so the cat is no longer getting hard, dry poops. If you’re seeing hard, crumbly, light-colored stools, you’re feeding too much bone. We recommend a 1:1 calcium to phosphorus ration for the average cat.
3. Sedentary Lifestyle
Just sitting or lying around for most of the day severely decreases blood flow throughout the body. Among other things, this affects ‘bowel motility’—your cat’s ability to poop. Too much sitting or lying around can be a major problem for cats. Cats do tend to sleep for many hours of the day so it’s important that when they are awake they aren’t just sitting or lying around. If they can’t get access to the outdoors, it is really important to create some fun indoor activities for them and get them playing. Even a simple string is enough to engage them most of the time. You can build tasteful shelves and walkways for your cat to make life more interesting or purchase a multi-level cat tree that ‘invites’ them to play on it and jump up and down. If you can teach your cat to walk in a harness (and we know this can be challenging!), making outings in natural settings is also a great option. Movement of any kind usually makes a really big difference to solve constipation in healthy cats.
4. Not Enough Omega 3 Fatty Acids
If your pet is eating processed grain- or legume-based foods, the likelihood that they are getting enough Omega 3 fats is low. Omega 3 fats are short chain fatty acids that help reduce inflammation in almost every tissue in the body, including gut lining, joints and ligaments, kidneys, urinary tract, brain, nerves, reproductive organs, and eyes. Omega 6s promote inflammation. While pets do need some Omega 6s, they need more Omega 3s. The recommended ratio is at least 3:1 Omega 3s to Omega 6s. In actuality, most pets eating processed foods are getting the reverse ratio.
The brain relies heavily on quality dietary Omega 3 fatty acids to develop and maintain its daily functions so it’s important to monitor this closely as you plan your pet’s diet. To learn more about how to choose Omega 3 supplements check out this article.
5. Medical Issue
A number of medical issues can cause constipation so it’s always important to rule these out with a medical practitioner. Structural abnormalities of the bowel may be an issue (e.g. megacolon) and nerve damage can also cause issues with bowel movements. It’s particularly important to address these possibilities if constipation is chronic.
6. Microbiome Imbalance
If you’re really stumped about why your cat is so constipated and you’ve tried all the above suggestions, you might consider testing the cat’s microbiome. This might be especially worth considering for cats that have had many rounds of antibiotic treatments in the past, even if it seemed like it was awhile ago. There is now testing available for this through www.animabiome.com. The results of this testing can help you determine which foods and probiotics might be useful to restore your cat’s microbiome to a healthy state.
What You Can Do To Alleviate Your Cat’s Constipation
- Take Your Pet for a Check Up with an Integrative Vet– Ensure that your pet isn’t suffering from an underlying health problem.
- Eliminate Processed Foods– Ensure your pet is getting the nutrients he or she needs for healthy brain function.
- Hire a Nutritionist– If you’re not sure how to feed a balanced fresh food diet, we are here to help!
- Test Your Cat’s Microbiome– When you’re really stumped and you’ve tried everything else, this can shed light on issues and offer solutions.
Diet is a foundational start to finding out what’s wrong so if your cat is having issues with constipation, consider eliminating processed foods and choosing fresh food instead.
If the constipation issue still persists, it might be time to hire a professional to help! Contact us for diet and lifestyle planning with our animal nutrition specialist here.
Let’s get your kitty pooping every day!