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While vomiting and diarrhea are usually easy to spot in our dogs and cats, constipation can easily go unnoticed. Also, unlike vomiting and diarrhoea, constipation may not seem like something we need to worry too much about. However, it can be a sign of other issues, can make your cat or dog uncomfortable and even depressed so it does need to be addressed. In this article we’ll be looking at what causes constipation in dogs and cats, how you can tell if your pet is constipated and what is the best way to relieve constipation or colitis in dogs and cats.
What causes constipation in dogs and cats?
Constipation is when you get a buildup of faeces in the colon and it is reluctant to come out! There could be a number of causes depending on the animal. Sometimes your dog or cat might have been given or stolen/caught some food that has caused the stools to be much more solid than normal. This could be things like carcasses, bones, antler horns or foreign objects like socks which have managed to go through the guts but then got stuck.
Other times it may be that for some reason their gut movement has slowed down. This means that the stools spend more time in the gut and have more water taken out by the intestines. The stools become very dry and hard and can be difficult to shift. If not addressed this can become what is called obstipation. This is where an animal can’t pass stools and the intestines never empty and it can become a real emergency. A classic example of this is called megacolon in cats. Certain cats like the Siamese are prone to this and it can be a big issue.
Constipation and obstipation can also be because something else in the abdomen is pressing on the bowel and physically stopping the faeces coming out. For example, an enlarged prostate gland or a tumour. So how do you know if our dog or cat is constipated?
Signs of constipation in dogs and cats.
Most obviously constipation shows itself as a dog or cat trying to have a poo but nothing happening. They tend to strain and keep getting into the position to pass faeces but can’t manage. Sometimes they’ll pass a little nugget or you may see mucus if the dog or cat has colitis. If your cat goes outside to go to the toilet it can be very difficult to tell if they are constipated until they start to feel really bloated and miserable.
Most of us will have been constipated at some point and we can empathise with that bloated feeling as everything starts to back up. Constipation for more than a few days can actually make us, and our cats and dogs feel quite uncomfortable and ill.
What to give a dog or cat that is constipated.
As I said, constipation is often not a serious issue and may resolve on its own after a day or two. You can try to help by increasing the water in your pet’s diet to start with by soaking kibble or adding extra water to their wet food. Giving a higher fibre food can sometimes help too but always talk to your vet before switching foods as in some cases like advanced megacolon or a bony impaction fibre could make it worse. There are also some over-the-counter pet laxatives that could help. The main thing is not to let it go on too long because if there is an underlying cause the longer it’s left the more damage might be done. Particularly if your cat or dog seems in pain, depressed or confused or you see blood then you should get to the vet as soon as possible. Also if the constipation is recurrent.
Some owners worry about wasting the vet’s time but as I always say to my clients we would much rather see an animal for no reason than possibly miss something and find that it’s too late. We are there for your peace of mind as much as for your animal’s health and wellbeing so don’t be afraid to ask.
Dr Emma Milne qualified as a vet in 1996. She worked in small animal practice for 12 years and as a clinical nutrition advisor for seven years. She is well known for her animal welfare work and has written ten books on pet animals.