What Your Cat’s Tummy Trouble Could Indicate

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This is a sponsored post by veterinarian Elizabeth Arguelles, owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. She writes weekly on Reston Now.

Most cats typically have one healthy bowel movement a day, so if your cat suddenly stops going “number two” for a couple of days, that may be an indication that he or she is constipated.

Constipation is a condition in which a cat’s bowels become blocked, making its movements less frequent and more difficult. It is one of the most common health problems that can affect a cat’s digestive system. This is especially true for middle-aged and older felines.

Though constipation can often be relieved by simply loosening the dry, hardened stool that is blocking your cat’s colon, the condition can also indicate a more serious underlying health problem. For this reason, you should talk your vet if you notice any signs that your cat is constipated.

Even when the cause is relatively benign, there is a danger that the colon will become packed with large amounts of stool if left untreated. This can result in the swelling of your cat’s colon and lead to the loss of the colon’s motility. And the bottom line is that whatever the cause, constipation is painful to your cat and needs to be addressed quickly.

What are the signs that your cat is suffering from constipation?

  • Small, dry, hard stools that may be spotted with in mucous or blood
  •  Straining or wincing in pain when trying to use the litter box
  • Frequent and frantic trips to the bathroom that still do not result in a bowel movement
  • Loss of appetite
  • Signs of abdominal discomfort
  • Lack of grooming
  •  Vomiting
  •  Lethargy

What causes constipation?

The potential causes of the condition are pretty varied but generally gastrointestinal in nature. They may include:

  • Hairballs (especially in longhaired cats)
  • A low-fiber diet
  • The ingestion of foreign bodies such as string, cloth, bones, stones, etc.
  • A pelvic injury that results in a narrowing in the pelvic canal
  • Obesity
  • The side effects of medication
  • A neurological disorder
  • A tumor or other intestinal obstruction

In some cases, no obvious cause can be identified. For example, constipation is a condition often associated with idiopathic megacolon, referring to a dilated and weak colon.

As you can see from the list above, the causes of constipation range from the entirely benign to the potentially fatal. It is therefore very important to bring your cat to the vet if you suspect that he or she is constipated. Additionally, it’s especially important to determine in male cats if it’s constipation or a urinary blockage. If you have a male cat that is making frequent trips to the litter box, contact your vet immediately — don’t wait! Urinary blockages can be life threatening if left untreated.

How is constipation treated?

Your vet will first determine the cause of the constipation. Since frequently there is a lot of accumulated stool in the colon your vet will be able to feel the material upon palpation. Depending on your cat’s medical history, further tests may be required to diagnose the exact cause. These exams may include abdominal and pelvic x-rays to determine if there are injuries to the pelvis, colonic strictures or tumors. X-rays are also the main way to diagnose megacolon.

Depending on the cause, obviously, your vet may recommend one or several of the following treatments:

  • Stool softeners or laxatives
  • An enema in the veterinary clinic
  • Medication to increase the contractile strength of the large intestine
  • Manual removal of the stool
  • Surgical removal of a bowel obstruction
  • An increase in water consumption
  • An increase in exercise
  • Prescription of a higher-fiber diet
  • Adding natural fiber to the cat’s diet in the form of canned pumpkin or products such as Metamucil (unflavored powder)

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