Constipation is a result of an abnormal accumulation of feces in the colon causing difficult and irregular bowel movements. In this, cats may experience abdominal pain due to straining, reduced frequency or absence of defecation. The colon stores feces and absorbs water content which creates very hard dry stool. Upon straining, blood or fecal liquid may pass through which may be confused as diarrhea.
This condition is quite common in middle-aged and older cats, however, may occur at any age. Causes may include hairballs, ingestion of foreign bodies, pelvic injuries, hind end muscle wasting, obesity, and idiopathic megacolon.
Megacolon is when the colon becomes dilated, distended and muscles are weakened. The colon loses its ability to contract efficiently leading to an accumulation of fecal material. Megacolon can be due to neurological impairment or a problem with the muscle lining the colon, or both. It can also be seen as a secondary condition following long-term constipation.
Diagnosis is generally made according to clinical signs and medical history. Generally, affected cats strain unsuccessfully to defecate and may vocalize in pain, feces passed are hard, dry and small. They may be lethargic, anorexia, and experience abdominal pain/distention, and vomiting. Often the veterinarian can palpate accumulated fecal material in the colon, to further diagnose radiographs would be needed to assess pelvic injuries, colonic strictures, or tumours.
Enemas followed by manual extraction of feces by a veterinarian is usually the initial treatment. Removal of feces often requires general anesthesia or sedation. If a tumour is present or megacolon is evident, surgery may be needed to remove the affected part of the colon which has a great prognosis. Intravenous fluids are usually required to correct fluid imbalances and dehydration that worsens constipation, and if recurrent, dietary management or medications may be indicated. In general, cats should defecate at least once every other day.
Written by: Briarwood Animal Hospital