For many cats, constipation is a common problem. It is typically due to retained faeces in the colon creating a blockage that makes it difficult for cats to defecate. Symptoms include less frequent bowel movements and firm, dry stool. Cats suffering with constipation may also appear lethargic and be reluctant to eat. In most cases, constipation in cats is easily treated with medication. In more severe cases, chronic constipation may lead to megacolon where the colon becomes enlarged and can no longer contract, and more advanced treatment is required.
For mild cases of constipation, many veterinarians prescribe laxatives for cats. Laxatives help move food through the cat's digestive tract to encourage bowel movements. There are several types of laxatives that your veterinarian may prescribe, including cisapride, nizatidine, ranitidine and lactulose. In some cases, he may recommend an over the counter laxative used by humans as well. Laxatives are administered orally, and some are safe for long term use if necessary.
Stool Softeners and Lubricants
Cats suffering from constipation may also be treated with a stool softener, which loosens the stool and encourages bowel movements. Lactulose acts as both a laxative and stool softener, so it is often prescribed by veterinarians. Docusate sodium may also be effective in softening stool in cats. In addition, lubricants may be administered to a cat to improve bowel movements. Petroleum jelly is available over the counter at chemists and may be given orally. Cisparide is no longer available for humans because of dangerous side effects, but is still used to treat cats. In combination with stool softeners, it can be an effective treatment for constipation.
If your cat has a chronic constipation problem, your veterinarian may recommend making changes to its diet. Adding fibre is unusually the first step. Many commercial cat food companies have formulas with added fibre. If your cat will not eat this type of food, you can add wheat bran, psyllium or pumpkin to its meals. Cats with constipation should also consume more water. Since many cats prefer drinking running water over still water in bowl, consider purchasing a pet fountain that will provide running water all day.
Some cats suffering from constipation may require intravenous (IV) fluid therapy in a veterinarian's office to rehydrate or prevent dehydration. Cat owners may also administer subcutaneous fluids at home under the direction of a veterinarian. This may be done on a daily or weekly basis depending on the cat's needs.
In some severe cases, an enema may be necessary to remove retained fecal material. Cat owners should not attempt this at home, and instead bring the cat to the vet for treatment. In addition, manual extraction of retained faeces may be necessary while the cat is under general anaesthesia. Several attempts may be necessary to remove all retained material, and fluids must be administered to ensure that the cat does not become dehydrated.
For cats with severe, chronic constipation or symptoms of megacolon, surgery, known as a colectomy, may be required to remove the colon. During the procedure, the small intestine is connected to the rectum. Most cats see positive results with the surgery, though some may suffer from chronic diarrhoea for weeks to months after the procedure.