Help, My Cat's Not Pooping!

Cats are well-known to have occasional digestive problems. It's our opinion that most of these issues stem from incomplete nutrition. Even the best raw food diets can be incomplete because they offer neither the variety nor the diversity of foods that a cat would consume when hunting prey in the wild. The pet food industry has made matters even worse by using substandard ingredients and presenting cat caregivers with misleading marketing claims. What we really need is better science regarding the needs of cats. Until that time, we have to do what we can to help them get past their digestive problems. Nancy S. writes:

I noticed there has not been any poop in Precious’ litter box. Then the other day her backside and tail were covered in poop. I took her to the vet and they did blood work and gave her de-worming medicine. She is now eating her wet food, but not drinking her water. Her blood work was all good but she is still not pooping. Is there anything I can give her to help her to poop? My kitty is almost 8 years old and this has never happened before.

Nancy, constipation is a symptom of something else that's going on inside Precious. It's too bad she can't just tell us, but we can do better than guessing. We can follow the clues she shows us and the ones the veterinarian's tools can reveal.  If she's had a change in diet recently, she may just be having a change in her bowel habits.  Many cats change their litter box habits when switched to a raw diet, for example, and poop less than they did on conventional commercial diets.  If she's straining to defecate but can't produce results, you know for sure that she's constipated.

It's important to first rule out intestinal blockage. All cats ingest some hair when grooming. Many cats will also ingest rubber bands, hair ties, strings, etc. and these can get stuck in their intestines, requiring surgery for removal. The only way to rule out blockage of this sort is to X-ray the abdomen. See this post on why you shouldn't use strings as cat toys.

Other causes of constipation are irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, kidney disease, pancreatis and other diseases that result in dehydration. To check if Precious is dehydrated, grasp the skin at the scruff of her neck and pull it upward without lifting her. If the skin springs back into place quickly, she's probably well hydrated. If it stays pinched and doesn't return to position quickly, she could be becoming dehydrated.

A couple of notes on water consumption are in order. A healthy cat will only drink water a couple of times a week. If they drink more than that, they're showing you that they're dehydrated. Domestic cats are descended from desert-dwellers and have very low thirst drives. That's one of the reasons why dry foods are so bad for them. They get most of their moisture from the foods they eat. Adding a little water to already wet food can be the most effective way to get more water into their diets. A wet-food-only diet is a MUST. 

Treatment must eventually address the cause of the constipation, not just the symptom.  You can only arrive at a conclusion with the help of an attentive veterinarian. If you feel that your current veterinarian isn't digging into this matter to your satisfaction, there's nothing wrong with getting a second opinion.

 
 

Symptom treatment can vary considerably with the cause, but commercial cat laxatives are never recommended. We've had the most luck adding a level teaspoon of canned pumpkin (100% pumpkin only) to wet food along with a couple of teaspoons of additional water. This treatment should be continued for at least a week. It's important to stop adding pumpkin soon after positive results are observed since too much fiber has been shown to increase hair balls in many cats. 

Nancy, you'll also need to try not to express your stress when observing Precious' litter box visits.  Precious will pick up on your stress and it could have a negative impact on her improvement.  We've even seen cases where a fretting human caused their cat friend to stop using the litter box entirely. Observe her casually and do your best not to let on to her that you're worried about her poops.

One last thing to consider are changes to Precious' litter, litter box, or household in general. Any big change can cause large amounts of stress in an indoor cat. Look at her world from her point of view and see if you can identify any new causes of stress in her life.

We feel certain that, along with a helpful vet, you can solve Precious' problem. We wish you both all the best!