7 Cat Laxatives To Relieve Cat Constipation (and How to Choose the Right One)

By: Katie KoschalkUpdated:

cat stepping out of litter box
Lightspruch/iStock/Getty Images Plus

7 Cat Laxatives To Relieve Cat Constipation (and How to Choose the Right One)

Normally, a cat’s digestive system purrs right along, smoothly and without a hitch. But sometimes things can get a bit clogged, leading to constipation.

So, how do you get things moving again? A common approach is the use of cat laxatives, which help stimulate a bowel movement.

There are seven commonly used cat laxatives, but choosing the right one—with the guidance of your veterinarian—depends on a variety of factors, including the cause of constipation; your cat’s overall health and age; and any underlying medical conditions they have.

We spoke to vet experts to get the inside scoop on constipation and cat laxatives, including how they can help your furry pal and how to choose the right one.

What Is Cat Constipation?

Cat constipation is a common health issue where a cat experiences difficulty passing feces or poops less frequently than normal, says Dr. Winnie Ybarra, DVM, DACVIM, a veterinary internist at San Francisco Animal Medical Center in San Francisco.

Cats typically poop once per day, although some poop twice daily. Pooping less than this could be a sign of constipation.

According to Dr. Nicole Savageau, VMD, a veterinarian with The Vets in Austin, Texas, common causes of constipation in cats include:

More serious causes can include pelvic injuries; a blockage due to a foreign body; kidney disease; megacolon (a condition where the colon becomes enlarged); neurological issues; and some types of cancer. In some cases, no underlying cause of constipation can be determined.

Symptoms of Cat Constipation

Unlike humans, cats can’t verbally communicate their discomfort, so it’s important for cat parents to be observant of their feline’s behavior and bodily functions. Recognizing the symptoms of constipation in cats is crucial for timely and effective treatment.

Below, Dr. Ybarra shares some common symptoms of constipation to watch for.

  • Infrequent or no bowel movements
  • Hard, round, dry feces (as opposed to well-formed, slightly soft feces)
  • Straining in the litter box; spending a long time in the litter box; or avoiding the litter box altogether
  • Displaying signs of pain or discomfort (like crying out) while trying to defecate
  • Bloody or mucus-covered stools
  • Blood or mucus around the rectum
  • Lethargy or reduced activity
  • Poor appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal bloating

How to Help a Constipated Cat: Cat Laxatives

When your cat is suffering from constipation, there are several steps you can take to help alleviate their discomfort and address the underlying issue. We’ll touch on the full gamut shortly, but first, let’s zero in on laxatives.

Cat laxatives are substances designed to help cats with constipation by facilitating bowel movements. They work in various ways, such as stimulating intestinal muscles or drawing water into the colon.

4 Types of Cat Laxatives

The choice of laxative depends on the severity of the constipation and the cat’s overall health. There are four main types of laxatives:

  1. Lubricant laxatives: Coats the stool and intestines in a lubricating film, easing the passage of feces.
  2. Osmotic laxatives: Draws water into the colon from surrounding tissues. This increased water content helps soften the stool and increases its volume, which, in turn, stimulates bowel movements.
  3. Stimulant laxatives: Triggers the intestines to contract and push out the stool.
  4. Bulk-forming laxatives: Provides fiber, which increases the bulk of the stool. This can stimulate a cat’s bowels.

7 Common Cat Laxatives

According to Dr. Ybarra and Dr. Savageau, common cat laxatives include:

  • Cat Lax (lubricant)
  • Mineral oil (lubricant)
  • Polyethylene glycol 3350, aka Miralax (osmotic)
  • Lactulose (osmotic)
  • Cisapride (stimulant)
  • Metoclopramide (stimulant)
  • Psyllium husk, aka Metamucil (bulk-forming)

While not technically a laxative, canned, unsweetened pumpkin can also sometimes help relieve constipation. Pumpkins have a high water and fiber content, and can hydrate the intestines and their contents. A couple of pet parent pumpkin favorites are Weruva Pureed Pumpkin and Nummy Tum-Tum Pumpkin. Note that these pumpkin foods should not replace your cat’s regular food but rather act as a supplement to relieve occasional constipation.

Weruva Pumpkin Patch Up! Dog & Cat Pouches, case of 12
$12.99
Cat Lax Cat Supplement
$9.99

Which Cat Laxative Should You Use?

The right laxative for your cat depends on a variety of factors, including the cause of constipation; your cat’s overall health and age; and any underlying medical conditions, says Dr. Ybarra.

It’s crucial to only give your cat a laxative based on a veterinarian’s recommendation and with their guidance. This not only ensures the treatment’s efficacy but also your feline friend’s safety and well-being. The improper or unsupervised use of laxatives can lead to complications such as dehydration, electrolyte imbalances or worsened constipation.

In addition to selecting a suitable laxative, your vet may also discuss other aspects of care that can help manage or prevent constipation.

Cat Laxative vs. Stool Softener

When addressing constipation in cats, it’s important to understand the difference between a cat laxative and a stool softener for cats, as they serve different purposes in managing the condition.

Cat Laxatives

Laxatives are generally used when there’s a need to actively induce a bowel movement.

They produce bowel movements in one of three ways:

  1. Stimulating the muscles of the intestines
  2. Drawing water into the bowel from surrounding tissues
  3. Increasing the weight or “bulk” of the stool

Stool Softeners

Stool softeners, on the other hand, work by increasing the amount of water absorbed by the stool in the intestines, Dr. Savageau says. This process results in softer stool, which is easier for the cat to pass.

Stool softeners are particularly beneficial for cats who need to avoid straining during defecation, such as those with certain medical conditions or post-surgical cases.

In some cases, both laxatives and stool softeners are used.

When to Go to the Vet

If not properly treated, constipation in cats can lead to several health risks, some of which can be life-threatening, such as:

  • Megacolon: A condition where the colon becomes abnormally enlarged and loses its ability to function properly. This can be caused by the colon being consistently stretched more than it should be, such as when a cat has chronic constipation.
  • Obstipation: A severe form of constipation where a cat cannot pass any stool or gas, usually due to fecal matter becoming dry and hard in the intestines.
  • Toxemia: A condition that can occur when prolonged constipation leads to the accumulation and stagnation of feces in the colon. This stagnation can result in the absorption of toxins into the bloodstream.

Due to these risks, it’s essential to treat constipation promptly. If constipation persists for more than 24–48 hours, bring your cat to a veterinarian. The doctor can assess your cat’s health; work to determine the underlying cause; and provide a treatment plan.

Cat Constipation Treatment

Dr. Savageau shares some common cat constipation remedies, including:

  • Increase water intake: Dehydration is a common cause of constipation. Ensure your cat has access to fresh, clean water at all times. Consider using a cat water fountain, such as the Drinkwell Pet Fountain or Catit Flower Fountain, as cats often prefer running water. Learn more tips to get your kitty to drink more water.
  • Dietary changes: Your vet might recommend incorporating more fiber and water into your cat’s diet through wet food, specially formulated cat food or nutritional supplements, such as psyllium husk or canned pumpkin. A higher fiber diet should be introduced gradually to avoid upsetting your cat’s stomach.
  • Laxatives or stool softeners: Your vet might give your cat specific laxatives or stool softeners to get things moving or soften the stool.
  • Exercise: Encourage your cat to engage in regular physical activity. Play sessions can help stimulate digestion and bowel movements.
  • Reducing stress: In some cases, stress and anxiety can cause constipation. Stress can be caused by big things like adding a new pet to the house, or smaller things like construction noise outside. Soothing your cat, and reducing or removing environmental stress, if possible, could help ease constipation. Explore popular cat calming aids.

Ultimately, the treatment for constipation depends on its severity, adds Dr. Ybarra. “If the constipation is mild, adding water, canned food or fiber to the diet can help,” she says. If it’s more severe, enemas (performed by a vet) and medication might be needed. “Very severe cases require manual deobstipation under anesthesia,” she says.

FAQs About Cat Constipation

Still have questions about cat constipation and cat laxatives? Our vet experts answer additional common questions below.

Q:

Is cat constipation an emergency?

A:While not every case of cat constipation is an emergency, it can become one if the symptoms are severe or persist. If your cat hasn’t had a bowel movement in 24–48 hours or if they’re showing signs of distress, pain or other serious symptoms like vomiting, consult a veterinarian immediately, says Dr. Savageau.

Q:

What is the fastest way to relieve cat constipation?

A:The quickest relief is often obtained with a combination of dietary changes (like increasing wet food or fiber); hydration; and possibly the use of vet-prescribed laxatives or stool softeners. However, the fastest and safest method can vary depending on the cat’s condition, so a vet’s recommendation is crucial.

Q:

Can you manually help a cat poop?

A:Manually helping a cat defecate should only be done by a veterinarian. Improper techniques can cause injury or worsen the problem. In severe cases, a vet may need to perform manual extraction of the stool under sedation or anesthesia.

Q:

What causes a cat to be constipated?

A:Several factors can lead to cat constipation; including dehydration; lack of exercise; hairballs; and certain medical conditions like kidney disease or obesity. Age can also be a factor, as older cats are more prone to constipation.

Q:

What is the best cat laxative?

A:The best cat laxative depends on the individual cat’s needs and the underlying cause of constipation. Common options include fiber supplements; osmotic laxatives like Miralax or lactulose; and lubricant laxatives like Cat Lax. Always consult with a veterinarian to determine the safest and most effective option for your cat.

Q:

Can probiotics help with cat constipation?

A:Yes, probiotics may help with cat constipation. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that aid in maintaining a healthy balance in the digestive system. They can help regulate bowel movements and improve gut health, which may alleviate mild cases of constipation in cats.

Q:

How can you soften cat stool?

A:Softening your cat's stool can be achieved through various methods, some of which include increasing water intake; incorporating wet food into their diet; encouraging regular exercise; and giving them an osmotic laxative or stool softener (only with the approval and guidance of your veterinarian).

By recognizing the symptoms of constipation, knowing when to seek veterinary assistance and understanding the treatment options available, you can ensure your cat remains comfortable and healthy.

Looking for more information surrounding kitty bathroom conundrums? Find out how to handle kitten constipation and why your cat might have stopped using their litter box.

Expert input provided by Dr. Winnie Ybarra, DVM, DACVIM, a veterinary internist at San Francisco Animal Medical Center in San Francisco; and Dr. Nicole Savageau, VMD, a veterinarian with The Vets in Austin, Texas.

Share:

By: Katie KoschalkUpdated:

BeWell