Understanding constipation in dogs & cats

Understanding constipation in dogs & cats
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Image credit: Image from PublicDomainPictures.net.

Constipation is the infrequent or difficult passage of faeces. There can be various causes for constipation. Dietary, behavioural, environmental and medically related causes may result in your pet becoming constipated. At Vet Hospital Port Shepstone, the most frequent case for dog constipation is dietary related.

Below are some of the more common causes of constipation:

Behavioural or environmental causes of constipation

  • Cats may become constipated if they refuse to use the litter tray due to it being soiled.
  • Animals that are well house trained and are locked up all day, may become constipated as they will refuse to defaecate inside the house.
  • Inactivity will often result in constipation; older animals that tend to sleep most of the day may be inclined to suffer from constipation.

Medical causes

  • Pain in the rectal area may prevent your pet from defaecating.
  • Inability to assume the position to defaecate as seen in dogs and cats that have orthopedic problems e.g. spinal problems and fractures, as well as in animals that have neurological problems.
  • Colonic obstructions that may be caused by tumours, granulomas, abscesses or enlarged prostate glands.
  • A weakness of the colon.
  • Megacolon is the enlargement of the colon. The colon becomes dilated and flaccid and is no longer able to contract properly, often leading to chronic constipation. These animals require constant veterinary care.
  • Obesity

Dietary causes

  • Abnormal diet, which includes too little fibre in your pet’s diet or not drinking enough water.
  • Feeding bones to your pet may cause an obstruction or severe constipation. The old favourite Sunday evening or Monday morning after feeding the leftover spare rib bones from Spur.
  • Cats may ingest a considerable amount of fur while grooming, resulting in hairballs which could cause your cat to become constipated. In this case, over-grooming should also be investigated for the primary diagnoses.
  • Some animals are inclined to swallow foreign objects such as toys and plastic bags. This may cause an obstruction in your pet’s bowel, resulting in either constipation or vomiting. This is very often a medical emergency.

How will I know if my pet is constipated?

  • Intermittent straining with no production of faeces. Cats may be seen scratching around in their litter trays with intermitted straining; this sign should be distinguished from urinary tract infections which your family veterinarian will be able to determine on examination and further tests.
  • Your pet may pass small amounts of hard, dry faecal matter or mucus after repeated attempts to defaecate.
  • Defaecation may be painful and there may be redness and swelling around the anal area.
  • Should the straining be severe enough, it may result in a prolapse of the rectum, which is a medical emergency.
  • Anal scooting, which may also be a sign of blocked anal glands or worm infestation.
  • Animals who are constipated will often show no interest in food and may even have intermittent vomiting.
  • Weight loss (especially in animals that suffer with chronic constipation).
  • Lethargy

How is constipation treated?

Mild constipation can be treated with laxatives available from veterinary practices or vet shops. It is, however, advisable to take your dog or cat to your family veterinarian for a thorough examination to ensure there are no other underlying conditions causing constipation. Some diseases may be easily confused with constipation and will require a veterinary examination to rule these out. Sometimes the cause is less obvious where additional testing is necessary.

Older cats are also prone to constipation. Image from pixabay.com.

Severe cases of constipation will require that your pet be hospitalised, placed on a drip and once fully rehydrated, enemas may need to be administered under sedation or anaesthesia. In extreme cases, bones need to be surgically removed under full anaesthesia.

Depending on the severity of constipation, the attending veterinarian may send your dog or cat home with laxatives, antibiotics, pain killers and a special diet for a few days.

Nelson RW, Couto CG. Small animal internal medicine. 4th ed. St. Louis (MO): Mosby Elsevier; 2009. P. 366-7.
About the author
About the author
Renier is a qualified, experienced companion animal veterinarian whose main interests are animal health and strengthening pet-owner relationships.
View all posts by Dr Renier Delport (BVSc.)

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