Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Constipation in a cat should never be ignored. Most cases of constipation are mild and last only a day or two. But cats with long-term or repeated bouts of constipation are at risk for more serious medical problems.
Constipation is the infrequent or difficult passing of feces. Because the colon removes water from intestinal contents, feces that stays in the colon becomes hard and dry. In time, as more feces accumulates in the colon, the mass of hard feces gets too large to pass through the pelvic opening. This more severe form of constipation, when feces can’t pass at all, is called obstipation. A cat with obstipation has to be treated in the hospital to get the impacted feces out of the colon.
Some cats with chronic (long-term) constipation and obstipation develop megacolon, a distended colon that no longer works properly. The colon wall becomes stretched and limp, so it can’t push feces toward the anus. Treatments that help relieve constipation don’t work as well for megacolon, so cats with megacolon might need surgery.
Some of the many causes of constipation are medical disorders, medication side effects, obstruction of the colon (for example, by tumors or pelvic fractures), and ingested foreign material. Dehydration makes constipation worse. Cats that avoid the litter box because of orthopedic pain or stress—conflict with another cat, change of routine, illness, and so forth—can develop constipation. Megacolon can be caused by abnormal nerve control of the colon muscles (something the cat is born with).
A cat that is squatting and straining in the litter box might or might not be constipated. Male cats with urinary blockage, which is a medical emergency, also squat and strain. Animals with diarrhea have an increased urge to defecate but might pass only a little bit of liquid stool. Urinary blockage, diarrhea, and constipation can all result in a cat squatting in the litter box, looking uncomfortable, and not producing much of anything.
The symptoms of constipation depend on the duration and cause and whether it has progressed to obstipation and megacolon:
A large amount of feces in the colon can be found with physical examination or radiographs (x-ray images). Other diagnostic tests are used to find the cause of constipation and assess the overall health of the patient. Megacolon is diagnosed with radiographs.
Chronic constipation tends to become less responsive to treatment over time. The type of treatment depends on the cause and severity of constipation. Treatments for constipation include increased hydration, laxatives, medications to increase intestinal movement, enemas, and a modified diet (which could be a high-fiber diet or a low-residue diet depending on the individual case). Never give a cat a laxative or enema unless your veterinarian has specifically recommended it; some human products aren’t safe for cats.
For cats with obstipation, the impacted feces must be removed in the hospital. One method is to remove the feces manually while the cat is under anesthesia. A newer method involves placing a tube through the nose into the stomach (cats tolerate this surprisingly well) and infusing a solution over several hours to break down the mass of feces so it can pass.
Megacolon is managed at first with the same treatments used for constipation. If those treatments no longer work, megacolon can be treated by surgical removal of the colon. Most cats do well after this surgery.
Photo by Zoë Gayah Jonker on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Reptiles and amphibians can carry germs that infect humans and other animals. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that spread from animals to humans. Most of the zoonotic diseases of reptiles and amphibians are caused by bacteria.
Reptiles and amphibians that carry harmful bacteria often have no symptoms and seem completely normal. If you have a reptile or amphibian pet, assume that it is harboring bacteria and use safe handling practices to keep everyone healthy.
Stress, poor nutrition, and an unclean environment increase the chance of a bacterial infection in a reptile or amphibian. Learn all you can about your pet’s husbandry and be sure you’re providing everything it needs: the right food, temperature, humidity, water quality, type and timing of lights, sanitation, and opportunities to engage in normal activities for its species (like climbing, burrowing, or hiding).
Salmonella infection is the most common disease that reptiles and amphibians spread to humans. People most often contract salmonellosis from contaminated food but can also be infected through the many animal species that carry Salmonella. With reptiles and amphibians, sources of infection are the animal itself, the animal’s food (including frozen or live rodents), water, habitat (terrarium or tank), and items inside the habitat.
Any reptile or amphibian can carry Salmonella. Outbreaks in humans in the last decade have been linked to turtles, bearded dragons, and crested geckos. The risk is especially high with very small turtles, which is why it’s illegal in the United States to sell turtles with shells less than 4 inches long.
Humans are infected by getting the bacteria in their mouths, so good hygiene—such as washing hands and keeping habitats clean—helps prevent infection. Symptoms of infection in people include diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, and fever. The risk of severe illness is highest for young children, elderly people, and people with impaired immune systems.
Animals that carry Salmonella are often not sick, so they have no symptoms. Reptiles and amphibians that are sick with salmonellosis might have decreased appetite, decreased energy, and diarrhea.
Mycobacterium bacteria are transmitted through contact with an infected animal or contaminated water. In people, infection causes skin sores and can spread throughout the body, especially in those with weakened immune systems. Reptiles and amphibians carrying Mycobacterium can have no symptoms at all or symptoms related to whichever part of the body the bacteria have infected: skin, lungs, joints, etc.
Aeromonas bacteria live in water and spread through skin wounds or ingestion of contaminated water or other material. Fish, amphibians, and reptiles in aquatic environments can be infected. Symptoms of infection in people include wound infections, vomiting, and diarrhea. As with other types of infection, people with lowered immunity have the highest risk of severe disease. Infected animals can develop discolored limbs, bleeding disorders, and blood infections.
Other Bacteria and Parasites
Like all animals, reptiles and amphibians harbor a huge variety of bacteria, some of which could potentially infect humans. Reptiles and amphibians can also be infected with parasites like Giardia and Cryptosporidium that might pose a risk to people.
Safe Handling Practices
For More Information
See the Reptiles and Amphibians section of the CDC website: https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/pets/reptiles.html
Photo by Vitya Lapatey on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.