One day, my children may look back on these blogs and wonder exactly how many of the topics were inspired by them. Without further ado, I present today’s blog topic: constipation.
Generally, we see constipation most commonly in cats, but I have occasionally seen it in dogs, too. Constipation, as you probably know, refers to bowel movements that are hard to pass. You may notice your pet straining to defecate and passing hard, small stools. Sometimes, the signs of constipation may be confused with the signs for straining to urinate. Urinary obstruction is a life-threatening veterinary emergency, so if there’s any reason to believe that your cat or dog is straining to produce urine, call your veterinarian immediately.
Reasons for constipation
Constipation can occur in our pets for any number of reasons:
- Grooming habits: our pets groom themselves (sometimes overly so) and ingest hair. This can clog up the works from time to time.
- Pica: the ingestion of pebbles, gravel, dirt, and other small non-food items can lead to constipation.
- Some medications cause constipation.
- Electrolyte imbalances.
- Dehydration. Often, chronic constipation is the first outward sign of kidney disease in older cats.
- Obstructions. A fractured pelvis that healed wrong may prevent stool from passing normally, as can an enlarged prostate or a mass in the colon.
If your pet is constipated, resist the temptation to buy an over-the-counter enema at the drug store. Some of the enemas that are meant for use in humans are toxic to our pets. Instead, head to your veterinarian so that they can handle the dirty work. If the constipation is mild, an enema will be given (which might require sedation) and you may be sent home with stool softeners, or you may not be.
Chronic constipation requires a different solution. That’s because chronic constipation can lead to obstipation, or the complete inability to pass stool. In cases of obstipation, patients have distended colons packed full with large volumes of rock hard feces. This condition is not very common in dogs, but does occur in cats more frequently. These cats are very uncomfortable, as you can imagine, and it takes quite a bit of work to lessen their load.
Cats with obstipation will need general anesthesia as the veterinarian works to manually rid them of their impacted feces. Generally, some blood work will be performed to check the kidney function, and fluids will be given to ensure adequate hydration is maintained through the procedure. Dehydration will only make obstipation worse. Long-term management may include the use of medications to encourage softer stools as well as diet changes.
If chronic obstipation occurs, medical management may not be sufficient. If the affected patient is unable to defecate normally, surgical correction may need to be pursued. A subtotal colectomy will remove the dilated colon and allow for a more normal life devoid of enemas and anesthetic episodes for fecal impactions. Following surgery, loose stool should be expected, though over time the consistency of the stool may normalize. Many owners will choose this side effect over the medical management of obstipation.
A one-off occurrence of constipation is nothing to worry about, but if your pet is having trouble defecating with increasing frequency, it’s time to look into an underlying cause.
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