worried about our cat...
June 23, 2012 11:59 AM   Subscribe

cat health woes: constipation & vomiting. please help.

i should first mention that 6-8 weeks ago, our 10-year-old male cat suddenly stopped eating for a couple of days which is highly uncharacteristic for him. i took him to the veterinarian at the SPCA who found nothing wrong with him at all and requested some basic bloodwork to see if anything was off and she was very pleased with the results, saying they looked great for his age. then, a few weeks later (around two weeks ago), he suddenly began vomiting a lot and we observed soon after that he was clearly having trouble with bowel movements. over the next couple of days, we noted that he was moving very stiffly and would always hold his tail downward which is also unusual. he was clearly very uncomfortable so i took him to a different veterinarian. this vet confirmed that he had a fecal impaction and kept him for a few hours to give him some fluids and an enema. while this did the trick, she was unsure of what caused the episode to begin with and suspected that perhaps it was a thyroid problem. we did another bloodtest to specifically check his thyroid levels and they came back okay (his white blood cell count was slightly elevated if i recall correctly, but she said that may well have simply been the stress). the vet released him and told us to bring him back if it happened again. the last two weeks passed without issue and the cat has been his normal self.

then, after eating normally this morning, he threw up quite a bit and next few hours i again observed that he is moving awkwardly/stiffly and holding his tail downward. he mostly seems okay, but he has moments where he clearly seems to be uncomfortable. i did note that he had at least one bowel movement earlier this morning, but just a short while ago i caught him standing in our hallway with his back arched as if he was trying to poop and he was meowing and just seemed weird/uncomfortable. i took him to his litter box but he didn't do anything.

it's still early and we're hoping this will pass while we keep a close eye on him, but how should we proceed if it does become clear that he is constipated again? money is tight so we are really worried about the possibility of repeated veterinary visits or extensive tests but of course we are also very worried about him. does anyone have any idea what could be the problem or if there are any questions we should ask in the event of another visit to the veterinarian? he has been eating the same type of food for a few years now so there is no sudden change in his diet or anything like that.

thank you very much for any advice or insight.
posted by austere to Pets & Animals (10 answers total)
take him back to the vet. sorry, be needs another enema.

talk to the vet about what to do next. options are stool softeners, different food (wet foot only is good for cats for many reasons, one being they don't drink enough water) food additives, laxatives...there are many kitties who have this problem, and the longer you let him be constipated, the more likely he will (or already has) develop megacolon, where the colon is stretched out and can't regain its former shape or ability to void stools normally.

there are things you can do, but you need to do them starting now.
posted by virginia_clemm at 12:22 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's very similar to the symptoms my friend's cat (who I look after frequently, including tonight) had for a long time. They'd over time limited her to one brand of cat food since it seemed to cause her to throw up less often, but she got back to a point where she just couldn't keep anything down.
After a week or so of going back to some fish for her, which she could stomach, they decided to start roasting a chicken every week and giving her a mix of skin, cartilage and meat for her meals, and has since put on a fair bit of weight and seemed to be OK on the vomiting front as well. The vets were adamant that she was going to have to have steroid injections but they had made her even more unwell, and this seems to be working (a good 6-9 months in now).

I suspect from how she feels to hold that she is still prone to constipation (at the worst of her sickness she wouldn't seem to go for days) but as I say, the vomiting hasn't been an issue and she seems happy enough.

Anyway, I'm not a vet and wouldn't be at all comfortable encouraging you to not look further into him having actual health problems, but I'm not convinced cat food is all that great for them and this little one has looked so much better since switching. Possibly worth mentioning as well, there was a while when with this one it looked like it might be connected to the infection she'd picked up from the rescue kennel which didn't shift for a long time, but the sickness seemed to go on well beyond her seeming otherwise healthy...
posted by opsin at 12:23 PM on June 23, 2012

but how should we proceed if it does become clear that he is constipated again?

Head back to the vet when you see straining and discomfort. So, now.

Did the vet take x-rays before adminstering the enema?
posted by OsoMeaty at 12:35 PM on June 23, 2012

the vet didn't take x-rays as she initially felt an impaction by feeling his stomach before confirming with her finger that it was feces. his food is solid but as i said he hasn't seemed to have any problems with it previously. i think we are going to get him to the vet for another exam & ostensibly an enema, then switch him immediately to wet food and see how it goes.
posted by austere at 12:50 PM on June 23, 2012

The vet I work for always takes abdominal radiographs before adminstering an enema to an impacted cat. Rads can give you a lot more information about what's going on inside. Did your vet send you home with lactulose or cisapride? Did your vet talk about to you about switching to an easily digestable diet? Has your cat been sneaking strange snacks at all? Like hair, dirt, or gravel?
posted by OsoMeaty at 1:16 PM on June 23, 2012

If your cat winds up needing chronic laxatives like ours (along with cisapride), we found that Miralax and generic equivalents were well tolerated, mixed in wet food. Some others, not so much. Feel free to contact me for details, and good luck.
posted by exogenous at 1:51 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Back to the vet. Wet food for sure. There is a product called Kristalose which is great for this problem, chronic constipation is sadly very common in cats. The sooner you address it when you can see he's getting constipated, by getting him to the vet for an enema and subcutaneous fluids, the less likely he is to get "obstipated", which often requires sedation and manual disimpaction.
posted by biscotti at 3:27 PM on June 23, 2012

One more thing you might ask your vet about, especially if budget is an issue: canned pumpkin.

Our cat went through a similar situation to yours - constipation, impaction, enema, new diet regime. In addition to wet cat food, our vet also advised approx. 1T canned pumpkin a day, just added in with the wet food. She had us keep providing the dry food as a protein source. The cat likes the pumpkin fine, and has had no problems since the diet change.

Obviously you should follow the recommendations of whatever vet you see and trust - but I'd ask them about pumpkin. It makes a lot of sense: pumpkin is a bulking agent, the cost is negligible, and at least for our kitty, it seems to work.
posted by marlys at 9:28 PM on June 23, 2012

I'm hoping you've had kitty checked out again and have an all clear. I hope that the exam included an x-ray.

If not, I'd like to encourage you to consider it, as I learned the hardest way possible that blood draw and manual exam are not enough to diagnose certain causes for those symptoms.

A similar set of symptoms had me take my beloved kitty to the emergency vet one night. The diagnosis was random tummy upset and they gave him a prescription. They said he would be fine, that they'd found nothing else. A few months later, there was a dramatic reappearance of the symptoms, only more serious. And it turned out that he actually had bowel cancer, something that was only found because the vet I took him to did an x-ray. I had to let him go that day.

I tell you this because many vets will consider an x-ray to be a last ditch thing, and it's easy to get talked out of the extra expense. But if other things aren't working, you might strongly consider asking for it, just in case.

I hope your kitty is just fine and that a few bowel-easing meds and moister food will be all what he needs!
posted by batmonkey at 9:44 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You say you have been feeding him the same cat food for some time - but has the cat food changed? I think the dry cat food formulas have been drastically changing - probably due to price of ingredients. So you may not have been giving the cat the same food all this time. They may have added an ingredient (or contaminant!) that is bothering the cat.

My cat was throwing up on dry cat food (that he has eaten for 7 years). So I changed him to canned cat food and he stopped throwing up.

Even better would be chicken and pumpkin as mentioned above.
posted by cda at 5:54 AM on June 24, 2012

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