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Kitten constipation: Vet's guide to symptoms and treatment

Kitten constipation: symptoms and how to help a constipated kitten
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Kittens don’t always have the most regular litter box habits, which can make it difficult to determine whether or not you are dealing with kitten constipation. Not every kitten that goes a day or two without defecating is constipated, and some constipated kittens may continue to have small bowel movements. 

Therefore, it’s important to look at your cat’s overall condition if you suspect you have a constipated kitten on your hands. If you have any questions or concerns, seek the assistance of your veterinarian.  

Symptoms of kitten constipation

It’s not uncommon for young kittens to have slightly irregular bowel habits. You may not find feces in your kitten’s litter box every single day, and this doesn’t always mean that there is a problem. However, it’s important to be able to recognize constipation when it does occur, so you can address the problem before it becomes too serious.  

In addition a lack of feces, other signs of constipation in kittens may include:  

  •  Lethargy 
  •  Decreased appetite 
  •  Vomiting 
  •  Straining to defecate 
  •  Vocalizing in the litter box 
  •  Accidents outside the litter box  

If you are bottle-feeding a very young kitten, you will need to stimulate your kitten to defecate. Kittens under one month old are stimulated when their mother licks the area around their anus, and you can create a similar effect by stimulating your kitten with a moist, warm washcloth. You should stimulate your kitten before every feeding, and they should produce a small amount of stool. If your kitten has gone several feedings without defecating, this suggests possible constipation.

Finally, some constipated kittens can still produce small amounts of feces. Small amounts of liquid feces may be able to pass around a large ball of dried feces that is trapped within the colon. If your kitten seems to be having trouble defecating, even if they are still passing small amounts of stool, they could potentially be constipated.

A grey kitten peaking from under a blanket, looking sad and ill

(Image credit: Getty)

Causes of kitten constipation 

Dehydration is a common cause of constipation in kittens. Without adequate water intake, kittens can become dehydrated. In an effort to remain hydrated, they will reabsorb large amounts of water from their stool. Dry stool cannot be moved through the intestinal tract as effectively, leading to constipation. 

An improper diet can also be associated with constipation, if the diet leads to stool that is difficult to transport through the intestines. Heavy intestinal parasite infections can block the movement of feces through the intestines, as can foreign body obstructions (a toy or string lodged in the intestines). 

Less commonly, birth defects can make it difficult or impossible for a kitten to defecate, leading to constipation. In atresia ani, for example, kittens are born without an anus and therefore they are unable to defecate. 

Treating kitten constipation at home

If your kitten is defecating less often than usual, but otherwise acting normal (eating, playing, and active), you can attempt basic home care. 

First, ensure that your kitten is receiving plenty of water. If your kitten eats dry food, feed a canned diet or add water to your kitten’s food. In many cases, boosting your kitten’s fluid intake is all that’s needed to alleviate mild constipation. Read about the wet cat food and the best kitten food for more dietary information. 

Avoid giving your young feline milk, because this can actually trigger diarrhea in kittens; then you will have an entirely different problem to deal with!

Unless your cat is under a month old, you should not need to stimulate your cat to defecate. However, a gentle belly rub or vigorous play session can sometimes help trigger a bowel movement. 

how to help a kitten with constipation

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When to see a veterinarian 

If your kitten is lethargic, reluctant to eat, or vomiting, you need to see a veterinarian. Constipation is often associated with dehydration; left untreated, this can be very serious for your kitten. Additionally, untreated constipation can permanently stretch your kitten’s colon, making your cat more prone to future bouts of constipation. 

Your veterinarian will begin by performing a thorough physical exam, taking special care to palpate your kitten’s abdomen and feel for signs of feces accumulation. A fecal parasite examination may be performed to look for intestinal worms, and abdominal radiographs (x-rays) may be taken to assess the amount of feces present in your kitten’s colon. Your veterinarian may also recommend bloodwork or other tests, especially if your kitten appears seriously ill. 

What do vets give cats for constipation? 

Many cases of constipation are caused by dehydration. If your veterinarian feels that dehydration is causing your kitten’s constipation, they may administer intravenous (IV) or subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids to rehydrate your kitten. Fluid therapy alone may be adequate to help your kitten’s bowel movements return to normal.

Your veterinarian may also prescribe a laxative for your kitten. These medications are designed to help feces move through the digestive tract and be eliminated. In more severe cases, an enema may also be recommended, which may be performed under sedation or anesthesia. 

vet examining kitten

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Preventing constipation in kittens 

Preventing constipation in kittens is largely focused on ensuring that you are feeding an appropriate diet and providing adequate amounts of water. If your kitten has had episodes of constipation in the past, feeding a high-moisture canned diet may prevent future problems. You can also add a small amount of water to your kitten’s food, in order to increase the moisture content of the diet. 

Your veterinarian may also recommend a high-fiber diet, to increase the bulk of your kitten’s feces. In some cases, small amounts of canned pumpkin or other high-fiber additives may be recommended.

Conclusion 

While you may be able to treat a mildly constipated kitten with home care, severe cases require veterinary attention. Ensure that your kitten is receiving adequate water; if necessary, you can feed a canned diet with water added. If your kitten does not respond to a diet change or shows other signs of illness, contact your veterinarian. 

Catherine Barnette DVM

Dr. Barnette is a graduate of the University of Florida, where she received both her B.S. in Zoology and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). She has 15 years of clinical experience as a small animal veterinarian, treating dogs, cats, and occasional exotic patients. She now works as a freelance veterinary writer, creating educational content for veterinarians, veterinary team members, and dedicated pet owners. Dr. Barnette lives in southwest Florida with her husband and daughter (plus two cats, a dog, and a rescued dove!) and enjoys kayaking, biking, and hiking. Learn more about Dr. Barnette at www.linkedin.com/in/catherinebarnette.