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