Constipation is a common issue for cats that can cause significant discomfort. This in-depth guide covers the causes, symptoms, treatments, and preventative care you need to know about feline constipation. You can ensure your cat’s health and well-being by identifying the causes and taking steps to treat and prevent constipation.

Understanding Constipation in Cats

Mild constipation may cause a cat to strain or spend prolonged time in the litter box. More severe cases can result in a complete inability to defecate.

Constipation usually develops gradually over several days or weeks. Warning signs include:

  • Infrequent bowel movements
  • Difficulty or straining when trying to defecate
  • Small, hard, dry feces
  • Bloated or distended abdomen
  • Signs of discomfort like vocalizing or licking the anal area
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy

Contact your veterinarian If cat shows these symptoms. Severe constipation can become dangerous if left untreated.

Cat straining to defecate in litter box due to constipation

Common Causes of Constipation in Cats

There are several causes of constipation in cats:


Dehydration is the most common cause of Constipation. It thickens the stool and makes it difficult to pass. Older cats are especially prone to dehydration as kidney disease and diabetes result in increased urine production. Providing ample fresh water is key.


Low-fiber diets or sudden diet changes can trigger constipation. Insufficient exercise can also contribute.

Intestinal Blockages

Foreign objects like hairballs or small toys can obstruct the colon. Hardened stool itself can also block the rectum.

Injuries and Growths

Anal gland impactions, tumors, past fractures, and arthritis can all narrow the colon or anus. This compression makes defecation difficult.


Megacolon occurs when the colon loses muscle tone and can’t push stool through the large intestine. It causes chronic constipation.


Some drugs like antihistamines, diuretics, and opiates have constipation as a side effect.

Stress and Anxiety

Stressful events like moving homes, adding pets, or schedule changes can delay bowel movements if a cat feels uncomfortable using the litter box.


An underactive thyroid gland decreases gut motility, potentially leading to constipation.

Neurological Conditions

Nerve damage and spinal injuries may disrupt normal elimination signals. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

Diagnosing the Cause of Constipation

Veterinarians use several methods to diagnose the underlying reason for a cat’s constipation:

  • Medical history – Previous conditions, medications, diet changes, and stressors.
  • Physical exam – Palpating the abdomen, taking temperature, assessing hydration.
  • Blood and urine tests – Check organ function and look for issues like diabetes.
  • Fecal exam – Identify parasites that may be a factor.
  • Abdominal x-rays or ultrasound – Evaluate stool buildup and look for blockages.
  • Colonoscopy – Directly visualize the colon’s interior for obstructions.
  • Biopsy – Take colon tissue samples to test for disease.
  • Neurological assessment – Check spinal and pelvic nerve function.

Diagnostic tests help find any underlying disease contributing to the problem. Treatments can then be tailored to your cat’s specific needs.

Treating Feline Constipation

Several remedies can provide home treatment for mild constipation. Consult your veterinarian before giving your cat any medication or supplements.

Increase Hydration

Giving your cat more water is key. Try wet food, broths, tuna juice, or plain water. Fountains encourage drinking. Avoid stock cubes with added sodium.

Add Fiber

Fiber bulks up stool, stimulates gut motility, and eases passage. Mix canned pumpkin, wheat bran, or psyllium husk into your cat’s meals.

Use Laxatives

Lactulose pulls water into the colon to soften stool. It requires a prescription and dosage monitoring by your vet.

Ensure Adequate Exercise

Playing with string toys or lasers gets your cat moving and helps stimulate bowel movements.

Use Laxative Supplements

Hairball remedies containing petroleum or mineral oil can lubricate the colon. Ask your vet before use.

Relieve Discomfort

A warm compress on the abdomen can relax muscles. Massaging the area may also help ease stool passage.

Switch Litters

Experiment with different unscented clumping or sandy litter types

Add Moisture to Food

Warm water or low-sodium broth makes dry kibble easier to digest.

If home treatments don’t resolve constipation after a few days, veterinary intervention is required. Your vet has additional options for relieving obstipation.


Phosphate enemas moisten the colon and stimulate defecation. These must be professionally administered.

Manual Evacuation

The vet may gently palpate the cat’s abdomen or directly remove feces from the rectum if severely impacted.

IV Fluids

Cats with dehydration may need subcutaneous or intravenous fluids to rehydrate the colon.

Medication Adjustments

Switching drugs or changing dosages if a medication is causing constipation as a side effect.


For obstructions, strictures, or megacolon, surgery may be performed to remove blockages or widen the colon.

Preventing Constipation Recurrence

Once constipation has resolved, there are several ways to help prevent recurrence:

Encourage Drinking

Providing abundant fresh water prevents dehydration. Consider purchasing pet water fountains.

Feed High-Fiber Food

Choose cat food with listed whole grains like brown rice and added fiber content.

Incorporate Wet Food

The moisture in canned food or raw diets helps hydrate your cat.

Add Water to Dry Food

Splash hot water over kibble to soften it and create a broth.

Maintain an Exercise Routine

Interactive play helps mobilize your cat’s bowels. Try fishing pole toys and laser pointers.

Keep a Consistent Feeding Schedule

Feeding at the same times trains the colon to move stool at predictable intervals.

Add Probiotic Supplements

Probiotics support healthy gut flora and keep the GI tract functioning properly.

Use Gentle Laxatives Periodically

Consult your veterinarian about occasional lactulose use

Ensure Proper Litter Box Setup

Cats may hold stool if boxes are dirty, difficult to access, or intimidating.

Manage Stress

Limit major changes to your cat’s routine and environment when possible. Use calming aids like Feliway if needed.

Monitor Underlying Conditions

Keep chronic illnesses like kidney disease, arthritis and hypothyroidism well-controlled. With proactive care, hydration and a healthy diet and lifestyle, feline constipation can often be avoided.

Cat drinking fresh water from a pet fountain to prevent dehydration and constipation

When to See the Veterinarian

Despite preventative steps, constipation may still occur. Seek veterinary help right away if your cat shows these signs:

  • No bowel movement in over 3 days
  • Repeated straining or crying in litter box
  • Loss of appetite for 24+ hours
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy, depression, or hiding
  • Distended abdomen, bloating
  • Blood in stool

Severe constipation can become a life-threatening emergency. Cats can experience ruptures, megacolon, and even enter septic shock from toxins released by trapped stool.

Don’t delay. If your cat is showing concerning symptoms or not improving with home treatments, urgent veterinary care is needed. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can get your kitty’s bowels moving comfortably again.

If your newborn kitten is having trouble pooping, it could be a sign of constipation. Learn more about the causes and treatments for constipation in kittens in my article “Why My Kitten is Not Pooping