Help! My Cat Is Constipated

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ Emergency Care

How To Treat Constipation In Cats

  1. Beware: more than 50% of male cats who are thought to be constipated actually have a medical emergency.
  2. Straining to poo in a male cat may actually be straining to pee.
  3. Constipation is rarer than urinary obstruction. If a cat is truly constipated, it is usually secondary to another problem.

Now dive deeper.

Lucky myth number 13 is a life threatening emergency all cat owners should be prepared for. This week Dante was treated in our hospital. This is his story.

Dante is a middle-aged male cat who has always been healthy. Three days ago, his owner noticed he was quieter than usual and not eating. He spent the day outside, and when seen later was collapsed and panting. She was sufficiently concerned to visit the emergency centre instead of waiting until the next morning to see us.

Once he was assessed by the vet on duty, it was clear that his bladder was abnormally large, hard and painful. Blood was taken showing dangerous elevations in potassium, urea and creatinine, which are wastes normally excreted by the kidneys. A urinary obstruction was diagnosed and he was immediately admitted to begin the treatment.

Dante was anaesthetised, an intravenous drip placed, and a urinary catheter was passed into his urethra. Straight away, a white solid material was flushed from the tip of his penis. Then, as the catheter was passed, a further obstruction was encountered, which was able to be flushed back into the bladder using saline.

Once the catheter reached the bladder, his bladder was decompressed, and his kidneys could begin to reduce the levels of waste in the bloodstream. His catheter was left in overnight and he steadily improved.

In the morning, he was transferred to us for ongoing care. His vital signs were normal so it was decided to remove the catheter. The focus now shifted to prevention of recurrence. Treatment was successful and when we were happy that he was able to pass urine without help he was sent home. He is not out of danger yet but every day makes it less likely he will obstruct again.

So what happened here? Male cats have a very narrow outlet from the bladder (the urethra) so if any solids form in the urine they are at high risk of obstruction. The solid material can be crystals from minerals in the urine (pictured), or mucus and clots from cystitis (inflammation). In Dante’s case, because he urinates outside we could not see the telltale repeated unproductive straining that is frequently mistaken for constipation.

When obstruction occurs, wastes start building up quickly. The most dangerous of these is potassium. High blood potassium interferes with the function of the heart, and so many obstructed cats will die of cardiac arres within 24 hours. We can only imagine the excruciating pain they experience.

The main message about prevention is that urethral blockage is clearly related to their food. It happens far less often on premium diets. Dante is a good example. He was fed Hills or Royal Canin until recently, but the owner had started using a well-known supermarket brand. The label of the cheaper food even claims it prevents urinary problems (you may at this point remember the blog Myth 7: If it is sold for pets it must be safe ).

When these cats strain to urinate, it looks like they are constipated. Sometimes they are just hunched and quiet, but the important thing is they are clearly not right. Dante’s owners did what we always say- trust your instincts.

Dante will now live his life on a prescription diet designed to reduce the risk of urethral obstruction. In fact, he’s already hoeing into it in his enthusiastic way. With good owners and a good attitude, things look good for him.

Read other first aid tips at Pet First Aid.

By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet has has a problem, please seek veterinary attention.
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