My cat has sad poops. Vet?
July 22, 2021 9:27 AM   Subscribe

My cat started having dry, hard, pellet-y poops a little over a week ago. I've been trying various things including more/better water dishes, more brushing to ward off hairballs, and wet food with extra water. She is still pooping at least every other day and is still getting zoomies/jumping/eating/snuggling/etc. a normal amount. How do I know when it's time to see a vet?

Herself is about 12 years old, is generally a good water-drinker and is urinating a normal amount. Still using the litterbox for all excretions, no blood/mucus in stool, haven't noticed excessive straining to defecate. She refused the petrolatum hairball remedy I got at the grocery store - there are probably better options out there? She usually eats kibble and hasn't had digestive issues before. She has been shedding a lot, but that seems to be leveling off now the weather isn't as hot. She has also coughed up a few hairballs at ~weekly intervals lately, which she hasn't done before.

She last saw the vet and had a teeth cleaning including bloodwork this Spring, and all was well then. The vet is currently booked out to the second week of August, and I'm unsure if I should just book an appointment for then or try to get in sooner.
posted by momus_window to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I can't say what could be causing this, but our cat developed similar symptoms at about age 10 to the point where we had a very expensive emergency vet visit for a sad, sad cat. They didn't find a cause. We changed her food to about half wet/half dry (she loves her fancy, pricey kibble). Per the internet (and confirmed with the vet) you can give cats a small amount of miralax/PEG in wet food, which is what we do.

To keep your cat comfortable until you get to the vet, you could probably give 1/8 to 1/4 tsp of PEG in any wet food that your cat will finish. We started with 1/8 and moved to 1/4 because if the air is dry or it's very hot she still gets constipated on 1/4.

If it's hot where you are or she's in air conditioning constantly, that could be enough for an older cat to start having mild digestive issues.

According to our vet, there are cats out there getting, like, 1 tsp of PEG per day with no ill effects. I looked up some papers and treatment recommendations and it seems like this is true.
posted by Frowner at 9:41 AM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Our Henry gets 1/4 - 1/2 tsp of PEG each day. Henry is not a fan of wet food, so I sprinkle it on his kibble, toss it a bit to distribute it, and he eats it with no issues. If your cat likes her kibble, this may be worth a try.

It is worth a visit to the vet since her habits have changed, but I think a watchful eye and some PEG will hold you until the vet can see her.
posted by XtineHutch at 9:58 AM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Canned pure pumpkin (not the pumpkin pie stuff) is another way to help things move along. Maybe 1tsp 2x/day to start, mixed in with her food. You can work up to a tablespoon or a little more. My cats have not had any issues with it and things appear to be a little smoother (though I bet the Miralax would do even better).
posted by Anonymous at 10:07 AM on July 22, 2021

My mom's elderly cats moved with her to Arizona this year from the midwest. The blast furnace climate combined with dryness from the desert and air conditioning and general old cat issues basically led to a similar problem, to the point of constipation for one. Vet appointments in Arizona are VERY hard to schedule, are taking weeks or months to get, and can last hours and hours even at the emergency vet. My mom also no longer drives and I'm out of state, so we were worried about emergencies.

What we did was this: I bought her one of those very cute flower fountains, to encourage kitties to drink more water. For the constipated cat, we added a small amount of olive oil to her food until things.... began to move. Now, both cats are on wet food only, and they get a smidge of olive oil as well as a smidge of canned pumpkin or dried pumpkin or powdered and unflavored fiber supplement. So far, both kitties are cooperating.

To have on hand, in case this happens again, my mother (who is a nurse) also bought pre-filled children's laxative suppository syringes to have on hand, in case it becomes a problem again and she can't get to the vet quickly. It hasn't been deployed yet, and I'm not sure how that would go...but it's nice to have, in case.
posted by answergrape at 10:09 AM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Generally speaking, if the question is "should I go to the doctor/ER?" or "should i take my pet to the vet?" the answer is Yes.
posted by Billiken at 10:38 AM on July 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'd make the vet appointment - you can always cancel it if things improve, and there might be cancellations and they can get you in sooner.
posted by mogget at 10:45 AM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: answergrape - human enemas and laxatives (besides PEG and docusate) can be dangerous for cats, check about your mom's emergency supply if you haven't. Hopefully she'll never need it, cat enemas sound awful.

Thanks, all! The advice I can find online has been super-vague about when cat constipation becomes an urgent problem, it sounds like we're not there yet. I'll figure out where to put a cat fountain, dose her with PEG, and bring it up with the vet.
posted by momus_window at 11:08 AM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

"Urgent" for us was obvious discomfort and reluctance to jump, vomiting and straining when trying to use the litterbox plus dragging herself on the floor after straining. If she is using the litterbox successfully without pain and is jumping around as usual, it seems reasonable to try a little PEG and schedule a vet visit.
posted by Frowner at 11:17 AM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Momus_window: we ordered what the vet recommended on the phone, to have on hand. Luckily, it hasn't come to using it. Maybe a call to the vet is a good place to start, to see if they need to be seen, or if you can noodle around with options and get some improvement.

For us, over a few days, mom slowly incorporated the olive oil and added fiber into the diet, and converted them to wet food. Both kitties progressed to having lovely poo and they didn't need to go to the emergency vet, which is very stressful for elderly kitties and anyone who has to take them there. :)
posted by answergrape at 11:18 AM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

If you want to level up from olive oil, salmon oil comes in pump bottles (see the image of the back of that one, it has pump-calibrated dosing suggestions) and can help with enticement.

A tip on pumpkin: open the can and spoon it out into baggies, whatever size is convenient for freezer storage for you, and smoosh it around so the bag is as flat as possible, and then "score" the pulp with a finger or some tool that won't tear the baggie to make breakable lines in it. Then you can just get out a piece of frozen pulp at a time to keep in the fridge and the rest won't go bad. It takes a while to get through a 15oz can of pumpkin one teaspoon at a time. You can instead buy frozen butternut squash chunks and just microwave and mash a few at a time for a fridge-able amount.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:12 PM on July 22, 2021 [7 favorites]

My mom swears that giving the cats butter helps (licked off a finger). I'm not sure myself, but I dont think it can hurt, and is inline with the olive oil recommendations above. For my floofs, canned pumpkin has worked quite well if you can convince them to eat it. The vet told me told next steps were an enema, and i think I managed to scare the cat into eating the pumpkin :)
posted by cgg at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2021

My cat, who has mild kidney failure, is on 1/8th tsp Miralax (powdered laxative) to help her body maintain a more normal stool situation. She had hard, dry poops and the Miralax fixed her right up.

Definitely the vet though because something else could be going on (like kidneys) and it's better to know.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:34 PM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

One of my cats I suspect has megacolon, and is chronically constipated. The vet has given us a prescription for lactulose for him, which does a very good job of getting things moving when he's backed up. It works by just being very good at pulling water into the colon as it passes through, helping to soften things up. I don't think you've got any cause to worry about an emergency vet visit right now, but it's a good idea to go ahead and schedule a visit to have them take a look at your cat just to be sure, and they may prescribe you a mild laxative like that.
posted by biogeo at 12:41 PM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Currently monitoring my own constipated cat, and agree with those who say this probably isn't an emergency situation. If your cat doesn't like the taste of pumpkin, you can mix Metamucil powder (or generic psyllium) into her food in the meantime for extra fiber.
posted by missrachael at 1:06 PM on July 22, 2021

We put about a half teaspoon of pumpkin and an eighth teaspoon of psyllium powder in each of our cat's dishes at every meal. We also add lots of water. This all seems to work pretty well.

Oh, and I give a small amount of lactulose directly to one of the cats, once a day.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 2:30 PM on July 22, 2021

She usually eats kibble

Kibble has no water in it. I think I heard their wild ancestors got much of their water from their prey. And that kibble-only cats don't always drink enough water to compensate. With negative consequences.

Try 50/50 wet food/kibble, along with other fixes and whatever the vet says?
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:40 PM on July 22, 2021

Your results may vary. It seems that for some cats, high fiber is great. For others, not so much.

My cat had a round of issues in 2016/2017, (a loop of enemas/xray/deobstipations/mri/enulose/cisapride) and going to the vet every 6-20 days. He is worth every penny I spent. but boy, did I spend a lot.

Mine finally settled down with
-- ~1/4 tsp of mirulax tossed over 25-30grams of dry kibble with 8-10 grams of hairball control greenies mixed in (yeah, I've become THAT person)
I refill dry food as he empties it - somedays he eats only 30 gr. sometimes 50 or 60. He is not terribly consistent. I've also been able to work at home since 2016, so, I can see when to refill it. (this started when I had to give him enulose every 4-6 hours - my boss was very receptive)
-- He also gets at least one round of ~3oz can of wet food or tuna mashed with a can of water (he likes broth - not the meaty shreds).
+water fountain and daily brushing as he eats

He poops every 2-3 days, but sometimes extends to 5 and has been stable at this rate for a few years. On Day 3 & 4, he gets a double batch of the hairball control greenies. On the evening of day 4 & 5, I start giving him cisapride and watch. Usually, the greenies work on their own.

He is now 17+ and I have noticed a drastically decreased appetite. Due to this, not eating enough for sufficient force of volume :) .... about 2 weeks ago, I had to take him back for another xray & deobstipation as the cisipride trick had not worked (6 days) -- after this procedure - and a few days with enulose & cisapride again, he currently seems to be back to 'normal'.

In 2016, my vet advised pumpkin/high fiber. This did not work for him (he refused to even go near his dish when pumpkin or metamucil were added). I was later advised to try a 'super' low fiber dry kibble (<5gr fiber) and he has been on this for the past few years.
He is a 15-17 pound maine-coonish cat and had already been eating hairball control/ long-hair specific food when his problems began.
posted by gardenkatz at 2:49 PM on July 22, 2021 [2 favorites]

Cisapride. if you need to go this route. Ask for pills. When I used the liquid, my cat frothed at the mouth, spit up all over the place and began hiding/scratching/biting. He did not have this reaction to enulose - just cisapride.
posted by gardenkatz at 2:53 PM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I think this is "see a vet, soon, but not urgently" territory. A few years ago, we had two sibling cats age 10 develop similar symptoms, and for both it was intestinal lymphoma. One had the bad kind and died quickly and the other one is still with us.

That being said, "She refused the petrolatum hairball remedy" has an easy solution, which is to simply rub the amount onto the cheeks and gums. The sticky gooey texture will induce your cat to lick it off.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 4:37 PM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

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