A senior cat should empty its bowels no less than once a day. Any less than this regularity suggests that your elderly cat is constipated.
Keep your cat regular with an age-specific diet and exercise. Provide stool softeners or mild laxatives to relieve constipation. You can encourage cats to eliminate manually. Rubbing a damp washcloth on a cat’s anus mimics the sensation of a mother cat licking a kitten.
You can usually treat feline constipation at home, but do not allow the problem to last longer than 24 hours. With dietary and lifestyle changes, your older cat will go to the toilet regularly.
How to Tell if a Senior Cat Is Constipated
A cat should empty its bowels daily. If your older cat goes 24 hours with eliminating, it is likely to be constipated. Signs of a constipated cat include:
- Not visiting the litter box
- Swollen, distended abdomen
- Straining and crying while defecating
- Hunched posture and reluctant movement
- Releasing small, hard feces
- Blood or mucus in the feces
- Vomiting after eating
- Loss of appetite and weight loss
Before seeking a medical solution, ensure that your cat is actually unable to defecate. It may be able to do so, but is unwilling.
It may have developed a fear of its litter box. This could mean that it chooses to eliminate elsewhere or holds in its waste.
Holding onto waste can be dangerous for cats. Eliminating outside is also not ideal. Cats feel vulnerable while they use the toilet. They enjoy privacy and security when eliminating.
Cat waste also has a distinct scent to other animals. A cat eliminating outside may attract stray of feral felines to your property.
Why Won’t My Cat Use Its Litter Box?
A cat can develop a fear of its litter box that is medical or psychological in nature. The most common reasons include:
- It hurts to defecate
- The litter box has not been cleaned
- The litter within has changed scent or texture
- There is too much litter in the box
- The litter box is in a noisy area
- The litter box has moved
- The cat has outgrown the litter box
- Another cat uses the litter box
Cats are fussy about their litter box. It must meet the following criteria:
- Cleaned no less than once a day
- Located in a quiet area, away from noise or footfall
- Unique to the cat. Multiple cats require multiple litter boxes
- No more than two inches of familiar litter, ideally unscented
- Large enough to fit into comfortably
If you are confident that your litter box is not the problem, the issue is medical. Your cat may have a urinary tract infection.
UTIs make elimination painful. Your cat may think it’s the litter tray that’s hurting it and avoid it. She will hold in its waste and become constipated.
As the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery explains, cat UTIs frequently reoccur. Antibiotics will only provide temporary relief.
A cat without a UTI may still avoid its litter box due to discomfort. Constipation is painful, as the stool is so hard. Older cats also often struggle to access their litter box due to stiff back legs.
Why is Constipation More Common in Older Cats?
A senior cat faces a greater risk of constipation due to reduced mobility:
- More prone to arthritis
- Exercise less often, leading to obesity
- Weaker immunity and more prone to intestinal problems
If your cat cannot make it into the litter box, it will hold onto its feces for longer. This leads to harder waste and constipation in senior cats.
Ensure that your feline is happy and able to use the litter box. Change its diet and exercise regime to induce regular elimination. If your cat struggles to use its litter box, change it. Your cat may need a tray with lower sides.
You must manage an older cat’s diet carefully. Elderly cats struggle to digest traditional cat food. Any reputable pet store will have a range of foods that are scientifically engineered for senior pets.
What Causes Constipation in Elderly Cats?
Constipation has a number of causes that vary in severity. The most common explanations include:
- Obstruction to the colon (often caused by ingestion of hairballs)
- Inability to digest food
- Excessive protein in the diet
- Insufficient exercise
- Side effects of medication or anesthesia
- Stress and trauma
You must identify the reason. If your cat is dehydrated, for example, she may have kidney disease. One in three geriatric cats (aged 10+) experience some degree of renal failure.
According to the Journal of Small Animal Practice, kidney problems are also often linked to hyperthyroidism. This is another medical concern that leads to feline constipation.
Injury and trauma can also result in constipation in cats. Older cats have brittle skeletons. A fractured pelvis is a common injury. As Vet Compendium explains, a fractured pelvis leads to a narrowed colon. This makes defecation difficult, or even impossible in some cases.
Does My Constipated Senior Cat Need a Vet?
Encourage your cat to eliminate through gradual dietary and lifestyle changes. If this does not work, then you should seek veterinary help.
As per the BMJ, your cat may have megacolon. Megacolon is the dilation or restricted movement of the digestive tract.
Keep a diary of your cat’s behavior and any toilet habits. This will aid a professional in making an accurate medical diagnosis.
How to Get an Older Cat to Poop
There are five primary methods to relieve a senior cat’s constipation:
1/ Regular Exercise
Exercise is key to keeping a cat regular. Older cats can become increasingly lethargic and lazy, which can lead to constipation. No movement means that the cat’s digestive tract is also not getting a workout.
If your cat still enjoys playtime, encourage it to get moving. Use toys that will spark your cat’s hunting instincts. Laser pointers, clockwork mice, and feathers on a string can all get a cat moving.
Your older cat may have lost interest in play. If this is the case, it still needs to exercise. Provide physical stimulation throughout the house. This could take the form of cat trees or treasure hunts. If your cat is food-focused, make it work harder to be rewarded with a treat.
A constipated cat that suddenly becomes active may experience an unexpected bowel movement. Never punish the cat for this as it will make it afraid to defecate again in the future.
2/ Manual Relief
Mother cats lick the anus of their young to stimulate elimination. Obviously, a senior cat will no longer have this option. You can replicate the experience by doing the following:
- Run a soft towel or washcloth under warm water until it’s damp
- Place your cat in its litter box and rub the towel on its anus
- Complete a steady, circular motion for up to one minute
You will know if this is working, as the cat will start to spasm. It means the cat’s colon is stimulated. Before long, your cat will start to poop.
3/ Dietary Changes
Older cats, in particular, need a specialist diet. Ensure your cat’s diet balances protein with fiber. Older cats need to maintain their previous protein intake. In some cases, they may need to increase it. Do not sacrifice fiber for protein. Fiber is what keeps a senior cat’s bowels moving.
Older cats will typically find wet food easier to digest than kibble. If your cat sustains itself purely on kibble, consider introducing wet food to its diet. A little kibble is fine. This will harden its stool just enough to pass. The waste will not be rock-solid, though.
Even if a cat is constipated, change its food gradually. An immediate switch can lead to a stomach upset. While diarrhea will encourage elimination, it can leave a cat dehydrated. This will make it constipated again.
Encourage your cat to drink more water if it is eliminating irregularly. Cats often fail to drink enough liquids. Often, this is because cats are fussy. Too much or too little water in a bowl will discourage drinking. In addition, many cats are distrustful of static water.
Consider getting your feline a water fountain. Cats enjoy lapping from a constant, fresh water supply. Alternatively, regularly refill your cat’s bowl. Do not leave your cat’s water too close to food, either. The smell of food contaminates water from a cat’s perspective.
4/ Softening a Cat’s Stool Naturally
Constipation is often caused by a cat’s stool hardening within the body. This makes it hard for the cat to eliminate. It will be painful, and waste will be released in small quantities. There are a number of natural remedies:
- Olive oil
- Cow’s milk
- Tinned pumpkin
- Leafy greens
Try olive oil first. This will usually aid constipation. Two teaspoons mixed into your cat’s food will act as a mild laxative.
Tinned pumpkin is also a natural laxative. If your cat enjoys the taste, feed it straight from the tin. Just ensure the pumpkin is pure and not spiced.
Leafy greens are high in fiber and will bring your cat’s digestion to life. Mix these with your cat’s food. Cut them small, or your pet may pick them out. Do not heat the vegetables up. This will kill the nutrients found within.
Milk is a last resort. This is because most cats are lactose intolerant. This could work to your favor, though. The cat’s body will reject the milk and eject it as waste. This could lead to diarrhea, though.
If these methods are unsuccessful, consider a store-bought supplement. Stool-softening supplements may be safer for senior cats with existing health concerns. They are harsher on a cat’s body than a laxative.
5/ Medical Intervention
Sometimes, no home remedy will help your senior cat to poop. This may be the case if your pet has been constipated for 48 hours or longer. You’ll need the help of a vet. This will lead to one of three solutions:
- Medically prescribed laxatives
- An enema
Vets will have access to medical-grade laxatives. These will be supplied on a prescription basis. You will be given strict instructions surrounding the dosage. Do not exceed this limit as it will be harmful to your cat.
A vet may conduct an enema to avoid surgery. This will clear the cat’s digestive tract. Enemas must never be performed at home.
Surgery is a last resort. Most vets will be reluctant to operate on a senior cat due to the risks involved. In addition, constipation is a common side effect of anesthetics, so it’s a double-edged sword. Surgery will only be considered if your cat has a foreign objecting blocking its colon.
A vet will first attempt to remove a blockage through the throat or anus. If this is not possible, the cat will undergo abdominal surgery. The object will be removed, and the cat stitched up.
How to Keep a Senior Cat Regular
To make sure a senior cat stays regular, take the following steps:
- Keep your cat active
- Avoid stress triggers for your cat
- Provide an appropriate diet, including plenty of water
- Monitor any injuries
- Manage your cat’s weight and mobility issues
- You should groom your cat to minimize hairballs
- Take your cat for regular health check-ups
You must help your cat avoid stress. If a cat is anxious, it will affect its bathroom schedule.
Monitor your cat’s grooming habits and fur. If a cat loses its fur in clumps, it will ingest sizable hairballs. These can cause blockages. By grooming your cat, you will remove excess hair with a comb.