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Is My Cat Being Constipated an Emergency? (Vet Answer)

Written by: Dr. Maria Zayas, DVM (Veterinarian)

Last Updated on February 6, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

scottish fold kitten in the litter box

Is My Cat Being Constipated an Emergency? (Vet Answer)


Dr. Maria Zayas Photo


Dr. Maria Zayas

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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No one likes to be constipated, especially not our feline friends who make a comfortable career in whichever way they choose. Unlike a dog that may poop unseen in a yard, we usually know if a cat stops pooping (if they’re indoors using a litter box at least), so if you do notice your cat has stopped pooping, what do you need to do?

Luckily, usually, this isn’t an emergency, though they do need to be seen by a vet. How big a deal this is depends on the cause, how long it’s been happening, and if they’re showing only signs of constipation or anything else. Here’s what you need to know about constipated cats.

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Signs of Constipation in Cats

The old feeling is just as true for cats as it is for us. Everyone poops. When a cat stops pooping, things start to build up inside pretty quickly. Early signs will usually be just a drop in appetite and maybe trips to the litter box, but poop doesn’t come out.

As it progresses, a cat may go off food entirely and even start vomiting. You may notice them straining to poop in the litterbox, even crying out, while getting nothing or barely anything out. Hiding, gagging, becoming aggressive, and having a tense, painful belly are all signs that can develop as constipation persists.

cat outside the litter box
Image Credit: Jennifer McCallum, Shutterstock

Causes of Constipation in Cats

The intestines are constantly in motion, squeezing and releasing to slowly move things down the pipe. This is called peristalsis. A cat that is constipated may do so because the poop doesn’t want to move or because this movement in the intestines has stalled.

In most cases, a constipated cat will have hard, over-dry stool that is hard to pass. When they do get any out, it is rock hard and smaller than usual. Dehydration is a classic cause of this. This can be brought on by age, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, or some other things.

For cats failing to move stool because the intestines can’t keep up, toxins, diet changes, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and megacolon are common culprits. This tends to be the more dangerous form of constipation though you likely can’t tell which you’re dealing with from home.

What to Do If Your Cat Is Constipated

Constipated cats need water, all the water they can get. The better hydrated they are, the better they can move things along. Feeding wet food is a great place to start at home. There is also an over-the-counter hydration supplement, Purina Pro Plan Hydra Care, which is scrumptious gravy-like packets that significantly help hydrate a kitty in need.

Some cats may need stool softeners. While Miralax is an over-the-counter option, this needs to be carefully dosed by a veterinarian. There are also more effective prescription alternatives that may be a better choice.

In some cases, direct hydration via fluids given underneath the skin regularly may be the best route. A veterinarian can help with this.

Lastly, in almost all cases, constipation is caused by something. Once you notice your cat is constipated, even if it’s going to be treated at home, you need to reach out to a veterinarian for an appointment so they can figure out why it’s happening. If it takes too long to intervene, your cat may need an enema to clear out the blocked-up stool, which is no fun for everyone involved.

cat drinking water from fountain
Image Credit: Daria Kulkova, Shutterstock

Why a Constipated Cat Might Be an Emergency

Constipation caught early with little to no signs of illness isn’t an emergency. Cats that are constipated enough that they’ve gone off food, though, need to be seen by a vet soon for care. Cats are special from other animals in many ways, but their ability to get a condition called hepatic lipidosis is one of their less awesome quirks. If a cat doesn’t eat for a day, they will start to develop liver damage from how they mobilize the fats in their body for energy. When this keeps happening, it becomes an emergency.

If you think you’re catching a constipated cat late into the process that is hiding, eating very little, seems painful, or is vomiting, they need to see a vet within a day.

If your cat appears to have yellow skin or gums, usually best seen inside their ear pinnas (the ear flaps), conjunctiva, or gums, then it’s an emergency. That cat must see a veterinarian immediately as the condition can be fatal.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How often should a cat poop?

A cat should be pooping at least once daily. If they go two to three days without pooping or passing very little stool, that means they’re constipated.

cat using litter box
Image Credit: jamesjoong, Shutterstock

Can you massage a cat to help them poop?

While this may sound soothing, a constipated cat belly is usually uncomfortable, and it isn’t recommended to press around in there. Instead, getting them up to play and move around for exercise promotes intestinal motility (getting things moving) and will help them to poop if they’re able.

Can I perform an enema at home for a constipated cat?

This is very much not recommended. Most enema kits at the store are not sized appropriately for cats, even some infant variations, and the enema solution is often toxic to cats. Cats also need to be sedated for enemas for everyone’s safety in most cases, so always bring them into a vet clinic if you think they may need an enema.

Will olive oil help my cat poop?

Large doses of fats, such as when giving oils, can cause tummy problems for cats. While this can sometimes work in a pinch, it may also make them sicker, so it’s best to skip this and give a real laxative instead, as recommended by a vet.

How can I prevent constipation in my cat?

Treating the underlying cause of constipation is important. Beyond that, high-fiber diets can help to keep them regular, as can adding fiber to their normal diet with things like pumpkin puree. Probiotics are also often helpful.

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Constipated cats are usually uncomfortable and in need of help, but luckily this is rarely an emergency, especially if caught early. As soon as you realize your cat has gone an extra day without pooping, it is best to reach out to your vet to check in about what’s going on. They may run some blood, urine, and or fecal tests, take X-rays, and start treatment. Some cats need treatment for a short period, and others have chronic conditions that will need lifelong treatment.

If a cat is going into a litter box and straining, always be sure to confirm if it’s poop or pee, they’re failing to pass, as unlike constipation, a cat that can’t pee is always an emergency.

Featured Image Credit: Uryupina Nadezhda, Shutterstock

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