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Kitty Constipation – A Holistic Vet’s Secrets to Prevention and Treatment
A surprising number of cats suffer from constipation (abnormal accumulation of feces and difficulty defecating), and similar but more serious conditions such as constipation (complete blockage of the colon by feces) and megacolon (problems caused by damaged nerves and muscles in the colon causing the inability to defecate). Constipation is uncomfortable, even painful. Constipated cats may defecate outside the litterbox (or try to), because they associate pain or discomfort with the box. Other symptoms of constipation include irritability, abdominal pain, lethargy, and loss of appetite or loss of appetite.
The colon, the last part of the intestine, is a large muscular structure that ends in the rectum. It consists mostly of intestinal bacteria that live in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These bacteria complete the process of protein digestion. Byproducts of this process include short-chain fatty acids that nourish the cells lining the colon. Some of these lining cells absorb water, while others secrete mucus to lubricate the stool and keep it moving along.
Most cats defecate once a day. A constipated cat may only have a bowel movement every 2 to 4 days, or even less often. Usually stools are hard and dry, because their long stay in the colon allows most of their water content to be absorbed. However, sometimes a constipated cat can have diarrhea, because liquid stool is the only thing that can get around the stuck mass of stool.
Causes of pooping problems include neurologic problems, pelvic injuries, obstructions (hair, bone, etc.) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). A dirty litter box can cause cats to avoid the box and become constipated by holding the stool too long. Hooded litterboxes are a particular problem because they retain odors, potentially making the box environment extremely unpleasant for the cat.
In 15+ years of experience as a feline veterinarian, I’ve only known 2 cats with dry food constipation problems. It is logical, therefore, to think that diet plays an important role in the development of the problem. Some cats need more fiber than is found in very low fiber diets such as many canned, raw and homemade diets. You can always add a pinch of fiber (ground flaxseed and ground chia seed, aka salba, are reasonably tasty and work very well. ).
In fact, the initial treatment for constipation is usually a change in diet. Historically, these cats have typically been kept on high-fiber dry foods. Fiber modulates bowel motility. Depending on the type of fiber and the circumstances, fiber can speed up or slow down digestion. So it is used for both constipation and diarrhea. Light, senior, and hairball foods all contain increased fiber, and there are also many medical high-fiber diets.
Dietary changes usually help, at least initially. However, eventually these foods seem to lose their effectiveness over time. Additional fiber, such as canned pumpkin, can be added. Again, sometimes this produces a temporary improvement. Yet many of these cats continue to have problems.
Because fiber encourages water absorption and increases the amount of stool produced (because it is indigestible), many experts have swung the other way and are recommending “low-residue” diets to reduce stool volume. “Low-residue” means that the food is highly digestible and produces minimal waste. Cats digest protein and fat well, but there is controversy about carbohydrates; It is clear that many cats are carb-intolerant. According to this theory, the best food would be high in fat, high in protein, and low in fiber, as well as high in moisture. One would think that such food would also be low in fiber, but this is not necessarily true. Eukanuba Low Residue Dry Food contains 4% fiber, which is quite high. Most canned foods fit this description, as do most homemade ones. However, Eukanuba Low Residue manages to contain large amounts of carbohydrates even in its canned food. Label reading is an important skill to develop.
Fluid balance is important in constipated children. Most veterinarians will give constipated cats subcutaneous (or even intravenous) fluids to increase their hydration.
Treatment for constipation depends on the severity of the problem. For mild cases, occasional enemas may be all they need. For severe obstructions, the cat must be anesthetized for manual evacuation of feces (a procedure that my preferred technique graphically but accurately refers to as “dig out”).
Once a cat has been “cleaned up” by any means, it is wise to take steps to prevent the problem from recurring. Many options are available; An individual cat may only need one of these, while others may need several or all of them.
- Canned or homemade food. High-moisture diets keep cats hydrated, and these diets are more digestible—and produce far less waste—than dry food. Because canned and homemade diets are very low in fiber, adding small amounts of rice bran or powdered psyllium (available in bulk at most health food stores) is helpful.
- Panic’s window. Many cats will drink much more water than they would from a bowl. There are many types of pets, from “cascades” to “waterfalls” models that could be from Rome! They are easily available online. Be sure to keep the fountain clean so your cat keeps drinking.
- Lactulose. It is a sugar syrup that holds water in the stool and keeps the stool soft; So this cat is easy to pass. Cats generally do not like the taste. Fortunately, lactulose now comes in a mild-tasting powder (Crystalose) that can be dispensed by a compounding pharmacy, or added to canned foods.
- Other stool softeners, such as DSS (docusate sodium). Your veterinarian can prescribe these.
- Petroleum jelly. The primary ingredient in most over-the-counter hairball treatments (Laxtone, Cat-A-Lux, Petromalt), petroleum jelly can be given orally to cats. Many cats tolerate it, many cats love it, and some even enjoy it. The Vaseline brand is, according to my cat, the tastiest; But other cats prefer one of the flavored hairball types. Give 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon per day. It can also be mixed with canned food in small quantities. However, it can interfere with nutrient absorption so it is best to give it on an empty stomach.
- Cisapride (Propulsid). The drug was withdrawn from the market for humans due to dangerous side effects, but it is considered safe for cats. Your veterinarian can order it from a compounding pharmacy. It seems to work best in combination with a stool softener.
- Pediatric glycerin suppositories. Although they may not appreciate having a suppository shoved up their anus, many cats tolerate it. Your veterinarian can advise you on technique and frequency.
- Enema. Many cat parents have found it best to give enemas at home. Mineral oil, KY jelly, soapy water, and plain warm water are all fine; You may have to experiment to see what works best for your particular cat.
- Slippery elm bark or marshmallow. These herbs can be added to canned food (add extra cold water) or made into syrup. Their mild taste is well tolerated by most cats. They make mucilage, a slippery substance that helps the contents of the intestines move along. There are many herbal formulas available for humans, but many herbs, e.g Cascara sagradaToo harsh for cats.
- Exercise. Being active helps stimulate the bowels and keep things moving. If your constipated cat is also a couch potato, try play therapy for cats.
- Stress management. Any chronic illness always has an energetic or emotional component, and stress plays an important role in many gastrointestinal conditions. The flower essence helps to change the energetic bases of constipation and other GI ailments.
- Fluid therapy. Some cats do very well with occasional (daily to weekly) subcutaneous fluid infusions. Your vet or veterinarian can show you how to do this at home. Give fluids when you notice your cat’s behavior indicates impending constipation.
- Surgery. If there is damage to the nerves and muscles of the colon, a “sub-total colectomy” is a last resort. This surgery removes the colon, and attaches the small intestine to the rectum. Unless and until the small intestine develops a more colon-like function, the result is chronic diarrhea. However, the cat will be very comfortable.
If your cat is chronically constipated, the most important thing for you to do is to be observant. Look for early signs of constipation; Stress, stomach discomfort, low appetite, etc. Be aware of how often the cat is defecating. If he doesn’t produce enough stool for more than 2-3 days, call your vet, or start home remedies if you’ve established this routine. Kitty constipation is much easier to treat when it’s caught early. If you wait, treatment will be more expensive, and there is a greater chance of irreversible colon damage.
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