Constipation in Cats
Constipation is a relatively common problem
in older and overweight cats. The predisposition
to a nerve-muscle breakdown in obese and
geriatric cats that leads to a slowing or retention
of fecal matter in the colon is the most popular
theory for the mechanical cause of constipation. This can be a life-threatening problem at any age but especially in the older cat.
As the transit time of fecal matter decreases due to the inadequate strength of muscular contractions more and more water is absorbed from the colon resulting in dehydration of the stool. This loss of lubrication in turn makes it more difficult for the cat to evacuate the fecal material. In addition, as the stool collects the size of the colon increases and stretches the muscles causing fatigue. All of the toxic waste products that are normally eliminated on a regular basis begin building up in the bloodstream.
If this process happens slowly or intermittently you may not notice anything wrong with your cat until the process has advanced to a serious degree. In most cases the cat will initially strain to defecate in the litter box and later go off its feed, become depressed and even vomit as the condition progresses with time. A chronic and /or recurrent condition will result in weight loss. Clinically, the diagnosis of constipation is made by palpating the abdomen and discovering an enlarged colon.
The goal of treatment is to remove the obstruction without releasing an "avalanche" of toxic products to the rest of the body. Often the cat must be anesthetized so that the stool can be re-hydrated by a warm water enema in order to remove the fecal balls. Supportive care such as lactated Ringers solution, steroids, antibiotics and a heating blanket are often necessary as well.
Prevention focuses on trying to discover an underlying cause. Changing to a high fiber diet that will retain water in the colon for a longer period of time is a common approach to managing this problem. In some cases changing to a diet with a higher digestibility and thus lower the volume of stool may be more effective. Supplementing with oral medication such as Lactulose to help lubricate the colon and slow the absorption of toxic waste is often given. Nerve-muscle stimulants such as Propulcid are needed in the more severe cases. As a last resort some cats will only respond to surgery rather than to manipulating the diet and dispensing medication.
In most cases the problem gets worse with time and the constipation episodes become more frequent. Constant vigilance is needed in these cases along with consistent use of medication and strict adherence to the prescribed diet.
Constipation in Dogs
There are a lot of potential reasons why your
dog might be constipated, ranging from non-serious
to possibly life threatening. Constipation can be
the result of some sort of blockage inside the
colon, an obstruction outside of the colon, or a
disease or injury to a nerve.
Fecal matter normally moves smoothly through dog’s system into the colon, where electrolytes and water are taken out to be used elsewhere in the body. A process known as peristalsis moves feces through the colon and through the anus. However, if something either slows or impairs this process, the fecal matter will stay in the colon. It will continue to dry and harden until it becomes impossible for the dog to defecate.
Diet is usually the main culprit behind canine constipation. Dogs are much the same as humans in that if they don’t get enough fiber they can sometimes have difficulty defecating. And, of course, dogs will eat just about anything they can get to, whether that’s your Sunday dinner or a toy. Many of them, for whatever reason, also like to get into a cat’s litter box and eat whatever they can find. Calcium in the diet, such as bone meal, dog bones and other sources, can also make it difficult for a dog to “go.”
Older dogs are often at a higher risk for becoming constipated, as can dogs who don’t get out and exercise as much as they need.