Cats experience constipation just as humans do. Common causes of constipation in cats include chronic illness (such as feline diabetes or renal failure), stress, dehydration, and change in diet or eating routine. Cat owners whose pets are first showing signs of constipation often find that small doses of petroleum jelly help their cats become more "regular."
What is Constipation?
There are three kinds of kitty constipation. One occurs when your cat has a bowel movement it can't pass. The second occurs when the digestive system is blocked by something else (such as a hairball). And the third occurs when the colon walls are unable to push the feces through the digestive tract.
Symptoms of Feline Constipation
Signs that your cat might be constipated include frequent trips to the litter box without producing any feces, bloody diarrhea, lethargy, vomiting and pooping outside the litter box.
Please note that newborn kittens cannot begin a bowel movement on their own. Their mothers lick the kitten's nether regions to stimulate defecation (that is love). If you have adopted an abandoned kitten who is not defecating, it's probably not constipated, it just doesn't know what to do. Try gently rubbing its anus with a warm, damp cloth and then immediately placing it in the litter box.
What is Petroleum Jelly?
Petroleum jelly, also called petrolatum, is available in many generic forms in pharmacies and supermarkets. It is derived from petroleum and is often used medicinally to lubricate and protect skin surfaces in humans and animals.
Using Petroleum Jelly to Treat Feline Constipation
The molecules in petroleum jelly are too large to be absorbed into a cat's bloodstream, so they pass through the cat's digestive system. On its way, the petroleum jelly coats whatever stool is in your cat's system. This coating of petroleum jelly prevents the stool from drying up and becoming harder to pass. It also makes the stool more slippery, allowing it to pass through the digestive system more easily. Giving your cat a teaspoon of petroleum jelly every few hours might do the trick. If your cat resists, try putting the jelly on his paws so he will lick it off.
Warnings and Alternatives
Petroleum jelly is not a good long-term treatment for constipation. It does not treat all forms of constipation, nor address any underlying health problems.
If your cat is constipated for more than a day, call your veterinarian to evaluate the severity of the condition and the possibility that the constipation is a symptom of an illness. Your veterinarian might recommend a pet enema or switching to canned (moist) food to hydrate your cat. Severe cases might require surgery. You can prevent a recurrence of constipation by providing your cat with plenty of water, canned food, and fiber-rich food.
Mineral oil works the same way as petroleum jelly on constipation. Most feline "hairball remedies" are made of mineral oil, and they come in flavors that might be more tempting to your cat than petroleum jelly.
Although it is safe for cats to ingest petroleum jelly, humans are different and we do not advocate trying to treat human constipation this way.
unhappy cat image by John Sfondilias from Fotolia.com
Sarah Bronson received her Master of Arts in journalism from New York University in 2002. Since then her clients have included "The New York Times," "Glamour," "Executive Travel," "Fodor's," "The Jerusalem Report," "ESPN—The Magazine," the "Washington Times" and "Figure" magazine. Her areas of expertise include biotechnology, health, education, travel, Judaism and fashion.