As Veterinarians, we are more commonly presented with the cutest little kittens afflicted by diarrhea, though constipation can also be a significant problem. Most cat owners are more aware of when their young cat is having bouts of diarrhea because of the mess and smell. Constipation and severe constipation (obstipation) is not usually as obvious, but can be equally as problematic for kittens.
Because cats vary in when they go to the bathroom, determining if a cat is actually constipated can be challenging. Ideally most cats should go once per day, and though the color may vary with the diet, the consistency should be firm but soft.
Monitoring your kitten's bathroom activities, though perhaps the least enjoyable part of caring for your cat, is important to ensure that they are using the litter box regularly. Obstipation/constipation can lead to serious problems such as illness due to absorbing toxins from the colon, and even rectal prolapse.
What are the Causes?
Constipation may have many causes. As kittens transition from nursing to eating kitten food, they may become dehydrated or not have enough fiber in the diet. As young cats further develop, lack of exercise and gaining too much weight may be a contributing factor. Young cats also like chewing on everything and anything, which can contribute to constipation and may even progress to a blockage. So monitoring your kitten's behavior closely to make sure that he or she does not ingest foreign substances is also very important. There are several medical conditions including parasites that can play a role in the kitten becoming constipated.
What are the Signs?
The signs of constipation can be varied. A decrease in a kitten's appetite or complete refusal to eat may be observed. If the kitten is still eating, its abdomen may become distended and appear bloated and the kitten may seem to be uncomfortable and restless. If attempting to defecate – the stools may appear harder and perhaps dryer than usual and if straining to defecate there may appear increased mucus and perhaps blood streaks on the feces. If this constipation progresses the young cat may vomit and become weak.
One of the key factors in avoiding constipation is to maintain proper hydration of your young kittens. Making sure that fresh, clean, and often preferably cool water is always available is important. We have found that the water fountains are excellent in that the water is moving and so often is more stimulating for the cat and that there are also filters that can be used to keep the water clean and cool.
What Should Pet Owners Do?
If you believe that your kitten may be constipated, then I would recommend you call us at (773) 878-8002 to discuss the matter.
If it is determined that the kitten is stable there may be a few things you can try at home. Along with good hydration, adding some source of fiber to the diet should help keep the kitten on a regular schedule. Canned pumpkin puree along with psyllium husks and bran are excellent natural sources of fiber that can be added to the diet. The pumpkin puree is sweet and so often well-received by kittens. To further help a constipated kitten you can add water as well as the bran or psyllium to the puree.
Exercise and movement also helps stimulate the intestinal tract to keep food moving through. So as much as it is great fun to play with your kitten – it is also very important for the intestinal tract health. Play more! Especially games involving a lot of running to maintain your kitten's cardiovascular as well as intestinal health.
If you feel that the observed signs of constipation have not improved for 2-3 days after your initial conversation with us, then it is time to contact us again and have your kitten examined.
When we evaluate young cats, we look at everything. When we are evaluating for constipation we often focus on the abdomen and via palpation and auscultation can hopefully determine how significantly your kitten is affected. At times we do have to rely on other diagnostic tests including radiographs/x-rays, especially if we are concerned about the ingestion of foreign material or blockage.
If the kitten is indeed constipated, but not blocked, we can prescribe a mixture of mineral oil and lactulose. Lactulose is a synthetic sugar that helps lubricate and lesson constipation. You never want to administer mineral oil straight to any animal as it can be very easily inhaled or aspirated and may result in potentially significant respiratory problems. If it is determined that the kitten is too significantly constipated for home care alone, then suppositories and enemas can be given here at Animal House of Chicago.
In very extreme cases when a kitten cannot relieve him or herself, we may have to sedate the young cat to gently remove the blockage from the rectum. Though this is a more invasive procedure, if the blockage is successfully cleared and measures are instituted to prevent a reoccurrence, hopefully there will be no further problems down the line.
Although kitten diarrhea may be more obvious, kitten constipation can also be very significant. So it is very important to monitor your kitten's bathroom habits as a part of ensuring their overall health.
Dr. Byron de la Navarre is Chief of Staff, having opened Animal House of Chicago in January 2003. He has served as the President of the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) as well as the Association of Reptilian & Amphibian Veterinarians (ARAV).