Constipation isn't uncommon. For pets, all kinds of things can throw off their cycle, from stress to new food to a short-term medication. Most of the time, constipation clears up on its own...but what about when it doesn't? For male cats, there can be a dangerous difference between "being a little backed up" and "actively struggling to poop." Here's what straining to have a bowel movement can mean for a male cat, and what you should do if you see it happening.
0-30 Minutes In: Observe Your Cat Closely
This is an emergency scenario that's less about panicking and rushing the cat to the ER and more about determining whether anything's amiss in the first place. What you're looking for isn't just normal constipation. If your cat's bathroom habits are out of whack it's important to look for symptoms of a serious urinary tract infection or, worse, a urethral obstruction. There's often a lot of confusion during the early stages of these scenarios about whether a cat is trying to urinate or defecate. What you'll likely notice first is that your cat is spending a lot more time than usual in his litter box, particularly if nothing's "coming out." You may also notice your cat using (or trying to use) the bathroom outside of his litter box, especially if he's not prone to doing so. Obvious signs something's seriously wrong include grunts or meows, blood in stool or urine, or painful straining on the part of your cat. A urethral obstruction can affect your cat's ability to both urinate and defecate normally.
30 Minutes – 1 Hour In: Feel Your Cat's Belly
If you notice any of the signs above, it's important to go ahead and have your cat examined by a veterinarian. Call your vet and get the earliest appointment available; most of the time urinary issues can wait a day or so, but if your cat is in a lot of obvious pain you might consider heading to the closest emergency vet's office. After you make an appointment with your vet, feel your cat's belly carefully with your hand. A cat with a complete urethral obstruction will have a swollen, painful bladder that you can easily feel through his skin. Feline urethral obstructions are like kidney stones in people, although they're not always made of the same crystalline material. Some obstructions clear on their own after a few days, but if an obstruction is complete, it can actually cost your cat his life. A thorough examination by a veterinarian is the only way to know for sure.
1 -2 Hours In: Learn About Treatment
If you've made it to the vet by now, she'll talk to you about your options for treatment according to the severity of your cat's condition. Treatment for urinary obstruction vary depending on the exact situation - some obstructions can be flushed out while some have to be removed surgically. There's a good chance your vet will need to perform x-rays in order to assess your cat's condition. Long-term, there are some things you can do to to reduce your cat's risk of urethral issues. Cats who eat dry food tend to be most at-risk. Winter weather also increases the number of obstructions vets see. If obstructions are becoming a recurring issue for your cat, your vet may even want to talk to you about surgically widening his urethra to help foreign bodies pass more easily.
As with most serious feline conditions, urethral obstructions are usually first noticed at home. You're the best gauge of your cat's behavior. When he's "off," you know it. Don't hesitate to reach out to your vet if you suspect your cat is having trouble urinating or defecating, or is in any pain.