Obstipation: Chronic Constipation In Dogs And Cats

Obstipation, or chronic constipation in pets, is a condition mostly affecting cats, that causes stool to stay in the colon for an excessively long time, resulting in removal of too much moisture from the stool and a hard cake that will not pass.

Obese cats, such as Bitsy, are predisposed to obstipation
Obese cats, such as Bitsy, are predisposed to obstipation

Several predisposing factors may be in play for patients to suffer from this condition including:

  • age
  • obesity
  • inactivity
  • disease processes causing muscle weakness
  • low fluid intake
  • foods too high or low in fiber

Treatment for obstipation usually starts with heavy sedation or general anesthesia, followed by enemas and manual extraction of the hardened stool.

Prevention is far better than treatment, and must be tailored to each individual patient. Generally we feed diets that are low in residue, such as Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d or m/d.  Lubricants commonly used for hairball treatment are often prescribed; name brands include Laxotone and CatLax. Agents to pull fluid into the colon can be especially effective because they actually change the character of the stool, softening it and allowing it to pass in a mushy state. Dosage can be adjusted daily according to a cat’s needs based on the consistency of each bowel movement.

For those patients with poor colon motility, or the inability to force out even normal stool, medications can be specially compounded to improve colon strength.

As a last resort some cats need surgery to shorten the colon. Doing so allows the stool less time in the large intestine, which results in less moisture being removed from the stool. The result is a moister stool which is easier to pass. The “trick” in this surgery is removing enough colon, but not removing too much. If the surgeon is too conservative the first time he may have to reoperate. If he is too aggressive there are no “do-overs,” the patient simply has a too-loose stool for a lifetime.

Obstipation can be controlled conservatively with medication and diet for the vast majority of patients. Surgery is an option your pet’s doctor can use for those patients in which conservative therapy fails.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.


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  1. Hi, My 8 yo male dachshund has just been diagnosed with the beginnings of a megacolon. He was run over about 6 years ago, and suffered significant damage (broken ribs, pelvis, leg, detached diaphragm). He has not even attempted to use the bathroom since I picked him up from the vet on Friday (it is now Monday night). He was given lactulose and Reglan, I also give him a stool softener and pumpkin every day and Miralax twice a week. I can’t keep spending money at the vet on this issue! What type of enema do I need to use and what else can I do to help him use the bathroom?


    • Elvis, I’m sorry, but online instructions for a patient’s enemas go WAY beyond the purview of what is either possible or legal. The potential for harm is very great. There is always the possibility that your local veterinarian would instruct you on performing this procedure, but it certainly isn’t something anyone could do in an email. We wish you the best.

  2. Hi Dr. Randolph,
    Thank you to you and Mrs. Randolph for the prayers — you guys totally “get it”. God bless you for everything you do to help all God’s creatures:) Kitty has a followup appointment on Tuesday. I appreciate you making us informed pet parents. Having the right questions to ask makes all the difference. She still is not having bowel movements, but she’s not eating much either. Although I don’t normally give her people food, my husband opened up a can of sardines which she smelled from another room. She raced into the kitchen demanding a taste! Also, despite having allergies, my sweetheart has been unbelievably supportive to both myself and Kitty. Not only is he an American hero, he is my personal one as well.
    Warm Regards, Mindy and Bob

  3. Hi Dr. Randolph, I’m extremely conflicted. My 14 year old cat lost weight drastically when I had to leave town to help my newlywed husband recuperate from wounds (which he acquired while serving in Afghanistan.)Kitty’s down to 5 lbs. My father cared for her, but she wasn’t eating much. My husband is doing great — my cat not so much: vomiting bile, hardly eating anything, urine “accidents”, seems constipated, as well.She keeps going to her box, and strains to make a b.m. — but nothing. My new husband — who is highly allergic to cats — has planned his convalescence leave here with me in my condo. The plan was to take my cat to my father’s house while my husband is here. I feel so terrible having to cart her over there in the state that she’s in. My husband says I can “drop in” and check on her, but honestly I feel horribly guilty. I know a change in atmosphere can stress a cat out so much — and she’s already so sick. (Of course, I took her to the veterinarian. He did blood work and is concerned about her liver, kidney and possibly thyroid. She has a little blood in her urine, she’s on Clavamox and Perscription Diet Catfood I/D Hepatic health, which she won’t eat. She will eat a tiny bit of Fancy Feast and I picked up Nourishcat, which she does drink a little.) My question to you: is it that bad to move a cat when she’s in such a state? Sadly, I think I already know the answer. Such bad timing. Both my husband and I are big fans of your newsletter! Best Regards, Mindy P.S. Our plan was to eventually make her a barnyard cat — she’s a prolific sock hunter.

    • Some thoughts: 1, Please thank your husband for serving his country, our country. 2, Thank YOU for caring for him. Perhaps too few Americans understand the sacrifice that is made by the entire family when a service member leaves home to serve in either combat or non-combat theatres. 3, Please know that every time my wife and I pray together we pray for our military members everywhere in the world. 4, You indicate that Kitty is constipated. Has this been addressed? In my experience this is an uncommon problem in cats this size, but, if she is, indeed, obstructed by dry stool, hair or a mass, that has to be addressed. NO patient is going to eat when stool is backed up in the colon! Most cats this size (5#) can have their colons palpated. If Kitty’s can’t be, she needs to have an X-ray to determine whether the colon is empty or full. 5, Of course, if Kitty isn’t eating enough to make a significant amount of stool, she will pass very little stool. However, cats with no stool in their colons usually don’t strain. Straining can indicate an inflamed colon or a full colon. The difference needs to be determined. If the colon is inflamed the rest of the intestinal tract may be, too, indicated possible inflammatory bowel disease. 6, Cats who don’t eat, or eat too little, often develop liver disease, and it can be fatal. Feeding needs to be supplemented and the liver abnormalities need to be addressed. 7, Whatever the kidney issues are the patient may need supplemental fluid intake via IV or subcutaneous fluids. Dehydration and uremia are definitely detractors for appetite. 8, Thyrotoxicosis is a condition associated with high production of thyroid hormone that causes liver damage. Lowering thyroid levels helps but the liver changes still need to be addressed directly. 9, Moving her to a “”foreign” location may very well increase her stress. If she’s up for a bath, that can significantly reduce dander, which is the most common source of allergic responses in people. Washing your hands and your husband’s hands after handling Kitty can dramatically reduce reactions by removing allergens rather than self-introducing them to the face, a common cause of reactions. 10, Consider a referral to an internal medicine specialist. He/she can determine Kitty’s needs quickly and quickly initiate proper therapy before she gets even worse. While specialists’ treatment can be expensive, it can also be life-saving. Please let us know how Kitty progresses.

  4. For some days my four Siamese cats have suffered from constipation. In particular, my 8 year-old chocolate-point castrated male cat is affected. His stools were irregular and hard. I previously fed the cats, once, with cooked cowmeat and suppose this may have resulted in blockage of their digestive system. Since three days, I treated all of the cats with veterinarian Laxatract, a stool softener. This has helped somewhat but after three days of treatment I am not fully satisfied. Could you please comment ? Thank you!

    • Above, we have mentioned dietary changes and additional medications your veterinarian can use to manage obsti[pation. Have you tried those? If so, which ones and what was the outcome of those efforts? Write us again and we will help you in every way we can, Dr. Randolph.

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