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Tales from the Pet Clinic

with Ann Hohenhaus, DVM, DACVIM

This blog has been retired. We appreciate all of the insights that Dr. Hohenhaus shared with our readers.


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Friday, January 11, 2013

Constipation in Cats

By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM

Topaz The Cat

Topaz’s family called me from his Christmas vacation in Florida.  They were concerned because they found this older gentleman of a cat straining in his litter box, but not producing any stool.  Since I was here at The Animal Medical Center and he was 1,000 miles away, I suggested a safe treatment of canned pumpkin mixed into his food until he returned home and could come visit me a couple of days later.

Complicated constipation

I was anxious to see Topaz when he returned because cats with constipation can be difficult to manage, and there is often an underlying problem causing constipation. I thought the problem might be as simple as dehydration from traveling and being in a strange environment.  But Topaz’s family said he was drinking water, in fact, drinking a lot of water.

Too much water

Excessive water consumption in a patient gives some very specific clues to the underlying problem, which may include kidney problems or diabetes.

I checked Topaz’s urine, but it did not contain sugar like a typical diabetic patient.  The urine sample was submitted to the laboratory and they reported white blood cells were present, suggesting an infection.  Based on this finding, I asked the laboratory to test the urine for the presence of bacteria.

A blockage?

Sometimes constipation is not a medical problem but due to an intestinal blockage.   A fractured pelvis, tumors of the colon, or pelvis impinging on the pelvic canal can all prevent normal fecal passage.  This possibility forced me to perform a rectal examination, much to Topaz’s chagrin.  He was happy since it was normal and because I promised not to do that to him again.

Blood tests tell the story

In addition to testing the urine, I also submitted blood to the laboratory.  Routine blood tests screen for a wide variety of common conditions such as anemia, infection, liver problems and kidney disease.

Topaz’s tests showed a mild anemia and elevations in tests indicating a kidney problem.  Kidney disease is common in older cats and often leads to dehydration and constipation.  Because of the white blood cells in his urine, I was suspicious that the cause of Topaz’s kidney problem was an infection.


Topaz got an injection of a long-acting antibiotic, and since his family is experienced with sick cats, they already know how to give fluids under the skin to keep him hydrated and help flush any infection out of his kidneys.

After a few days of home health care, Topaz has fully recovered.

Topaz’s story demonstrates how early intervention can help achieve a positive outcome for your pet and highlights some important reasons to take your cat (or dog) to the veterinarian, including:

  • Increased water consumption
  • Increased urination
  • Constipation
Photo: Dr. Philip Fox

Posted by: Ann Hohenhaus, DVM at 6:00 am

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