As veterinarians, we are more commonly presented with cute, little kittens afflicted by diarrhea, but 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 obstipation (a more severe constipation) are not usually as obvious, but these can be equally problematic for kittens. There does not seem to be any feline breed predilection for constipation.
Kitten Constipation Can Be Difficult To Notice
It can be challenging to determine when a kitten is constipated, because kittens vary in how often they go to the bathroom. Most young cats defecate once a day, but some — depending on individual differences as well as diet and exercise — may poop more or less often. Ideally, most kittens should go once per day. The color of the stool may vary with the diet, but the consistency should be firm but soft.
So monitoring your kitten’s bathroom activities, though perhaps the least enjoyable part of caring for your cat, is important.c It allows you to know that she is using the cat litter box regularly. Constipation or obstipation can lead to serious problems, such as illness due to absorbing toxins from the colon, and even rectal prolapse if the kitten is straining with too much force to pass stool.
Signs Of Constipation In Kittens
The signs of kitten 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, her abdomen may become distended and appear bloated. The kitten may seem to be uncomfortable and restless. When the kitten attempts to defecate, the stools may appear harder and perhaps drier than usual. If the kitten strains to defecate, there may appear to be increased mucus and perhaps blood streaks on the feces. If this constipation progresses, the young cat may vomit and become weak.
Causes Of Kitten Constipation
In kittens constipation can have many causes. Below are some of the most common.
1. To stimulate kittens less than 2 weeks of age to urinate and especially to defecate, the mother cat uses her tongue to gently clean the ano-genital region. Without the proper stimulation, very young kittens are often affected by constipation. Luckily after a few weeks of age, kittens are able to properly urinate and defecate without this stimulation.
2. As kittens transition from nursing to eating kitten food, they may become dehydrated or not have enough fiber in their diet. This, too, may contribute to constipation.
3. As the young cats further develop, lack of exercise and gaining too much weight may contribute to obstipation. So regular exercise and proper diet are important factors in avoiding constipation.
4. Many kittens like chewing on anything and everything. Hairballs and materials from cat toys and other items can all contribute to constipation and may even progress to a blockage. So monitor your kitten’s behavior closely to make sure she does not ingest foreign substances.
5. Several medical conditions, including parasites, can play a role in a kitten becoming constipated.
Preventing Kitten Constipation
One of the key factors in avoiding constipation is to maintain proper hydration of your young kitten. Make sure that fresh, clean and, often preferably, cool water is always available. At my practice, we have found that a cat water fountain is excellent for this. The water is moving, which is often more stimulating and prompts the cat to drink. Also, because of the movement, filters can be used to keep the water clean and cool.
Home Remedies For Kitten Constipation
If you believe that your kitten may be constipated, then I recommend contacting your veterinarian. If after consulting your veterinarian it is determined that your kitten is stable, there might be some home remedies to try.
Hydrate Your Kitten: This is a must. Your kitten must be drinking water. If she’s not, your veterinarian must be notified immediately. Do not force your kitten to swallow water using a syringe or squirt bottle.
Add Fiber: Along with good hydration, adding some source of fiber to the diet should help keep the kitten on a regular schedule. Canned, unsweetened pumpkin puree, psyllium husks and bran are excellent natural sources of fiber that can be added to the diet. The pumpkin puree is sweet and often well received by the kitten. To further help the constipated kitten, add water as well as the bran or psyllium to the puree. Consult your veterinarian about the amounts to use.
Get Your Kitten Moving: Exercise and movement help stimulate the intestinal tract to keep cat food moving through. It is great fun to play with your kitten, and play is also very important for intestinal tract health. So play more — especially games involving a lot of running — to maintain your kitten’s cardiovascular as well as intestinal health.
Continue Observing: If you believe that the observed signs of constipation have not improved for two to three days after your initial conversation with your veterinarian, then it is definitely time to contact him or her again and have your kitten examined.
Veterinary Diagnosis And Treatment Of Kitten Constipation
When veterinarians evaluate young cats, we look at everything. When we are evaluating for constipation we often focus on the abdomen and, via palpation and auscultation (listening to internal body sounds), 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 a 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 lessen constipation. You never want to administer mineral oil straight to any animal, because it can be very easily inhaled/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 at the clinic. In very extreme cases when the fecal material is blocking the kitten from defecating, we have had to sedate the kitten to gently remove the hard feces from the rectum. This is a more invasive procedure, but if the blockage is successfully cleared and measures instituted to prevent a reoccurrence, then hopefully no further problems occur.
Although kitten diarrhea may be more obvious, kitten constipation can also be very significant, so monitor your kitten’s bathroom habits as a part of ensuring her overall health.
Featured Image: lafar/iStock/Thinkstock
By: Dr. Byron de la Navarre