If you want to help a constipated cat, there are a couple of safe home remedies, but please consult your vet first before trying them.

We all relate to how uncomfortable constipation can be, so it's not hard to imagine what your kitty feels if he's having the same issue. Also like humans, cat constipation might be an occasional annoyance for your feline friend, but it could also be an indication of a greater health problem.

So don't break out the butter, olive oil, or any other crowdsourced cat constipation remedies just yet. Tarina L. Anthony, DVM, is a longtime practitioner of feline-exclusive medicine, and owner and medical director of Aurora Cat Hospital and Hotel in Aurora, Colo. She explains why your poor kitty might have a problem, what to look for, and how to provide the best relief.

maine coon cat looking at his litter box; cat constipation
Credit: ablokhin / Getty

What Causes Constipation in Cats?

Although veterinarians don't always know what causes constipation, Anthony says professionals see it more frequently in cats with particular conditions, such as:

"Kidney disease often results in body water loss and overall dehydration, which can manifest as constipation," Anthony says. "Intestinal disease can alter motility, slowing the passage of digested contents and resulting in a drier stool."

Your kitty might also have some physical discomfort that prevents him from positioning properly in the litter box, so he might avoid going altogether. Anthony says senior cats with arthritis often have this problem, because squatting is too challenging for their joints. Additionally, cats might have impacted anal glands. "If these scent glands become distended, they can cause a mechanical blockage to the exit of stool as well as discomfort when defecating," Anthony says.

Signs Your Cat Is Constipated

Cats are often quite private about taking care of business (and we have an 'outta sight, outta mind' approach to the whole affair ourselves!) But in order to spot cat constipation signs, you have to familiarize yourself with his poo.

"There is a misconception that if a cat is constipated, the stool inside is a larger diameter than a normal stool. While this can be the case, sometimes stool from constipated cats is very small," Anthony says. "This is because a small, hard stool is difficult for the colon to move outward. The longer stool sits in the colon, the more water is pulled out." This creates an uncomfortable cycle: the colon removes water (that's its job), the poo gets harder and drier, and kitty can't pass it.

Litter doesn't stick to dry poo, so that's one sign. Another is that it's often very dark brown, but diet might alter color. Here's a twist: Anthony says some pitiful kitties strain so hard that they push liquid feces around the harder stools and appear to have diarrhea.

If your cat seems sluggish or meows in discomfort when you pick him up or try to pet him, it's time to spy on his bathroom habits (his pride will recover eventually!) Anthony says you might notice: 

  • Strain while he uses the litter box.
  • He's not passing a good amount of stool (which is usually at least a few inches).
  • Defecation outside the box.
  • He vomits after trying to go.

Any of these symptoms are reasons to visit your veterinarian right away. 

Anthony adds that some pet parents bring in their cats because they're straining to urinate but who are actually constipated. Based on your poo inspection, if you suspect constipation but see a few drops of urine, Anthony says this is often a secondary result to the cat using all of his abdominal muscles to push and the bladder being relatively empty, but a vet will make sure.

Best Way to Help a Constipated Cat Poop Again

Take him to your vet. There! Easy! The Cornell Feline Health Center indicates a vet will evaluate your cat's hydration levels, assess overall health, and eliminate other possible clinical causes.

Another reason why a professional exam is the best remedy for cat constipation is if the condition is more serious, the vet team takes immediate action. "Constipated cats may need an enema at the vet clinic to help them defecate. This is a liquid that softens and lubricates the passage of feces," Anthony says. "Some cats can get so 'blocked up' that they are unable to move the stool. This is called obstipation and requires fecal extraction by a doctor under sedation/anesthesia."

And no, you shouldn't have to palpate a cat for constipation relief. Leave anal gland care to the professionals. (Whew!)

There are home remedies for cat constipation that you'll probably find online, and your vet will likely recommend the safest and most effective options. "Often, adding fiber such as pumpkin or psyllium and/or stool softeners (polyethylene glycol 3350) can help, as will increasing dietary moisture with canned food or low-sodium broths," Anthony says. "No changes should be made prior to visiting a veterinarian, however, as dietary recommendations should be made with the whole cat in mind."

Long-term constipation can often be avoided with a high-fiber diet, so ask your vet for help to create a more balanced and, uh, passable menu.