A dog looking through a window at a cat on the other side and the cat not caring

Constipation in dogs and cats

Dogs and cats normally pass faeces several times a day. If your dog or cat is constipated, then the frequency with which they pass faeces will decrease or stop altogether. Constipation has many causes and, particularly in older pets, is something to monitor carefully. If your dog or cat has been constipated for two days or more, it’s time to seek advice.

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Clinical signs of constipation

  • Infrequent or lack of stools
  • Unproductive straining or posturing to pass stools
  • Quiet, loss of appetite and lethargy
  • Passing small, dry and possibly hard stools
  • Blood on the stool
  • Swelling around the anus
  • Tense abdomen
  • Inappetent or off food

Causes of constipation

Just like humans, there are many reasons that pets can become constipated. Some of the most common are: dehydration, not drinking enough water, an inappropriate diet, excessive fibre in the diet, a lack of fibre in the diet, a lack of exercise or a sedentary lifestyle, not having sufficient time on a walk to toilet, trauma, an intestinal obstruction, intestinal disease, neurological disease, musculoskeletal disease or diseases affecting other body systems, adverse weather, or pain associated with posturing, for example, arthritis of the hind limbs, or with passing faeces, for example, anal gland impactions. In addition, cats can become constipated due to a hernia, hair ingestion, litter tray avoidance (when the litter needs to be changed), or a tumour. Dietary indiscretion can also cause constipation, including eating bones, stones, pieces of carpet and the other myriad objects that dogs sometimes eat. Male dogs can develop an enlarged prostate which can cause an obstruction, and certain medications can also slow down gut transit time and cause constipation.

How can you help your cat or dog?

  • Spot the problem early: monitor the frequency and consistency of your pet’s stools. This may be more difficult in outdoor cats, so providing an indoor litter tray may help
  • Ensure your dog has regular exercise: this will help the muscles of the intestine and rectum to work properly
  • Feed a complete dog food: this will meet all of your dog’s nutritional requirements
  • Low residue diets: these diets reduce faecal bulk in the colon
  • Increase dietary fibre: add bran, methylcellulose or psyllium to your pet’s diet
  • Laxatives: your vet may prescribe laxatives for your pet, which are typically administered with food

Treatment of constipation

If your dog or cat has constipation, then an examination by your vet will help to identify the possible causes and provide the correct treatment. Blood tests and a urinalysis will be done to identify any underlying diseases. Your pet will be checked for signs of arthritis. Xrays, an ultrasound scan or a colonoscopy may be performed to identify more specific causes and the extent of a blockage. Intravenous fluid therapy is often given if your dog or cat is dehydrated. Pain relief will also be given.

Veterinary intervention may be necessary to clear the constipation. The faeces may need to be removed manually. Sometimes an enema is administered to soften the stools before removal, which may require a general anaesthetic. If the constipation has been caused by a prescription medication, then your vet will also be able to advise whether to discontinue or change the treatment. There are unusual cases where surgical intervention is required. For example, if a foreign body becomes lodged in the intestines. In chronic or recurring cases, for example megacolon, a damaged part of the bowel may need to be surgically removed, known as a partial colectomy. Your vet will be able to provide further information on a case by case basis.

When to see your vet

  • If your dog or cat has been constipated for more than 48 hours
  • If your pet often strains to pass stools that are hard and dry
  • Diarrhoea, which can quickly lead to dehydration. Read more about diarrhoea in our article

Still worried?

Book a video appointment to have a chat with one of our vets.

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