Constipation in Kittens: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

kitten constipation
@axel.blueckert / Twenty20

If your kitten is litter trained, you may not even notice that it's constipated until you realize you haven't seen any feces for a few days. Kittens who cannot defecate are not only uncomfortable, but are also at risk for serious problems if left untreated.

Kitten Constipation Symptoms

Kittens may not defecate every day, so the lack of feces in the litter box one day may not raise any red flags. But if your kitten has not produced any stool in a few days, you should start monitoring it for constipation, which is difficulty defecating, or obstipation, which is the lack of any feces being produced.

Aside from the lack of stool in the litter box, a constipated kitten may show the following signs:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy

They may also be in the litter box straining and even crying to pass stool, or small and very hard pieces of feces may be produced. Pay attention to what you see in the litter box each day so you'll be able to tell when it doesn't look normal.

Reasons Why a Kitten Gets Constipated

  • Dehydration can be one cause of constipation. This usually happens if a kitten does not have access to a water bowl and it only eats dry food, or during the weaning process when it's transitioning off of its mother's milk. The stools that it passes–if any are produced at all–will be small and very hard.
  • Kittens that eat something that causes an obstruction in their stomachs or intestines will be unable to defecate. This is common with curious kittens that eat things like ribbons, floss, hair ties, and other household items that are small enough to fit in their mouths. The item prevents food from passing or binds up the intestines so that normal peristalsis is unable to move things through the kitten's body. Hairballs can also cause a kitten to be unable to defecate.
  • Very young kittens that are not yet weaned need to be stimulated to defecate. Mother cats usually do this by licking the rectum of their kittens. If a mother cat does not do this, a kitten is likely to get constipated unless a human is regularly wiping the kitten's rectum to stimulate it to pass stool.
  • Heavy intestinal parasite burdens can cause a kitten to become constipated. The worms can become so numerous in the intestines and cause a blockage prohibiting stool to pass.
  • While more common in older cats, neurological, nerve, and other types of diseases can cause a kitten to be constipated or obstipated.

Preventing Kitten Constipation

  • The best thing you can do to help prevent your kitten from getting constipated is to make sure it stays hydrated. Full bowls of fresh water, cat water fountains, canned food, and water added to dry cat kibble can all help your kitten stay hydrated. 
  • If you have a very young kitten that is not yet weaned, make sure the mother cat is regularly stimulating it to defecate and cleaning the kitten's rectum. You can assist the mother cat in this activity or do it for her if you have an orphaned kitten by wiping the rear end of the kitten with a wet wash cloth after feeding it.
  • Get your kitten dewormed regularly to kill any intestinal parasites that may cause an intestinal blockage and constipation.
  • Don't let your kitten play with any items that it could potentially eat in order to prevent an obstruction.
  • Brush your kitten regularly to remove any loose fur. This will help decrease the likelihood of your kitten developing a hairball that can cause constipation issues.

    Treating Kitten Constipation

    If your kitten's constipation just began and it is still eating, playing, and acting normal, you can try a few things before seeking veterinary assistance. First, increase the amount of fluids your kitten is taking in each day by adding water to its food. Next, massage its belly and encourage it to play or run around to stimulate normal intestinal peristalsis. Finally, add in a teaspoon of canned pumpkin to increase the amount of fiber in its diet. If after a couple of days you still aren't seeing stool in the litter box, or sooner if your kitten isn't active and eating, take it in to the vet for assistance.

    If your kitten needs veterinary attention, it will probably receive an injection of fluids under the skin to help hydrate it. It may also receive an enema that is safe for a kitten or x-rays may be done if your vet is concerned about a blockage.