Q: My cat has a chronic problem with constipation. In the past, she became constipated when we switched her food, changed her brand of litter or hosted houseguests. Laxatives, fluids and fiber resolved the problem. This time the veterinarian is saying she’s permanently constipated and needs surgery. How can that be?
A: Constipation is a common problem in pets — especially middle-age to geriatric cats. In medical terms, it’s defined as the difficult evacuation of feces from the colon, an issue most pet owners will have some experience with.
When the constipation recurs frequently and severely, the disease process is referred to as obstipation. That’s the permanent loss of normal function of the large intestine and typically culminates in a process we refer to as megacolon — the end result of extreme dilatation of the colon.
Most cats that get this disease are thought to have an abnormality of the smooth muscle of the colon. Some, however, can acquire it as a result of nerve damage or a bowel obstruction (after trauma or ingestion of a foreign body, for example).
It’s often not possible to manage obstipation and megacolon via laxatives, fluids and enemas, and surgery is considered. The procedure is called a subtotal colectomy, and is not without its risks and permanent side effects (chronic diarrhea is typical).
If your cat suffers constipation only after environmental stresses and continues to respond to conventional medical treatment, surgery is not indicated. I strongly recommend you see a board certified internal medicine specialist for a second opinion.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to khulyp@bellsouth.