An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hard Poop

Dear Greyce, Remember me? I was the subject of your blog entry, Guess Why I Won't Use the Box? (3/14/10). I'm happy to say that my problem is solved. HOWEVER I have another one: I'm having a difficult time passing my stools which are so hard that I have to strain and that makes me pee a little. I've been checked by my vet (blood panel, too) and have been given a clean bill of health. Herself bought Laxatone but that seems to only work on fur balls and I don't have problems with those. I'd appreciate any suggestions you could give so that I can fianlly poop like I used to. Yours, Max

Dear Max, Hard poop is no fun at all. And as someone whose stools used to be less that purrfect, I understand what you are going through. While I'm not in the habit of dispensing cat care (as opposed to behavioural) advice, I will make an exception because this is a matter can be closely related to failure to use the litter box.
I assume that since you have had a vet checkup, you discussed this problem with your vet. (By the way, the blood panel may have been useful for other things but I doubt it would be useful when dealing with constipation.) I assume that your vet has ruled out the possibility of colon and/or digestion problems. Purrhaps he or she recommended Laxatone? You imply that you didn't used to have a problem. Is there anything that could have contributed to the current situation, such as a change in diet or exercise? You can see that I'm making a lot of assumptions but I know you want some suggestions. Just keep in mind that I'm not a veterinarian.

Let me cut to the chase.

Hard stools can be due to a number of  factors that I am aware of: 1) lack of fibre and/or 2) lack of sufficient water, 3) problems with your lower intestinal tract (colon); 4) problems with digestion of food. The first two are things I can make suggestions on but the last two are veterinary matters.

But before I give you the suggestions, I will outline the principles of use:

i) If in doubt, consult your veterinarian first before trying a suggestion. In fact, letting your vet know that you are trying these also tells him or her that you view your problem as serious. I don't know your medical history, Max, and while I am rather purrfect I am not a vet; so you may very will wish to have your vet review all of the suggestions in advance just to make sure they are okay for you. (You should be able to print this off and ask the vet to review it and call Herself - rather than inconveniencing your napping schedule with another trip to the vet for you.)

ii) Start with the flax stool softener first.

ii) If that doesn't do the trick, then I'd either replace it with one of the fibre recommendations OR add one of the fibre recommendations. If you don't like one of the fibre recommendations, try the other - SEPARATELY- that is, don't do the pumpkin and the psyllium together. It's one or the other. Either one can be done with the stool softener.

iii) Try one suggestion and start slowly so you give your system a chance to get used to it. Monitor your poop over the course of a week to see if there is any improvement. If not, then up the dose (where given) or move on to another suggestion. Again start slow and monitor.

iv) If when trying something, you get the trots, then either the dose is too high (reduce it significantly and see what happens) or it is not for you.

iii) All suggestions on increasing water intake are fair game, separately or in combination.

Here are my suggestions.

A. Softening your stool with flax water.
B. Adding fibre to your diet.
C. Increasing water intake.

A. Stool Softener

Here a recipe for flax water because my own vet recommended it as a stool softener. It has worked for some cats and not for others. For me it was a good first start but then I needed some additional help (more fibre as well).

Here is the recipe.

- 1 tablespoon flax seeds (whole seeds NOT ground) available from many grocery stores usually in the cereal section or from health food stores
- 1 litre of water

Method: Combine in a pot and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, put it on a slow boil or simmer - uncovered -  for 30 minutes. Cool. Strain (to get those seeds out). I have Herself put it into ice cube trays and freeze. She melts down a cube every night for use the next day. I usually use one or two tablespoons on a daily basis, so you might start with one tablespoon and then increase it every week by another teaspoon until you reach two tablespoons.

This makes a rather gelatinous, tasteless liquid which slides down the colon, soothing any inflamation and softening the stools. It is easier to accept when mixed into wet food. If not, try it as a gravy over kibble.

B. Two Ways to Add Fibre to Your Diet
Don't forget. Try one or the other. If one doesn't work, try the other BUT DO NOT combine both together!

Try ground psyllium - available in pouches at the health food store (or sometimes in health or natural food sections of grocery stores). It is tasteless and works in wet food. Start with 1/8 teaspoon mixed well into your daily serving of wet food and - this is important - add a lot of water until the food is the consistency of pudding. Psyllium draws water to it, so you add the water to keep the food hydrated. In the same way, it draws water to your stool and thus softens it.

If this works for you, then 4 days later go to 1/4 tsp. and if that is okay, then a week later go to 1/2 tsp daily. You could probably go up to about 3/4 or 1 tsp. daily BUT don't try to increase past this amount. The point is to use a daily dose that helps you to produce softer, short cigar-shaped stools instead of those hard things. If by 3/4 of a tsp. psyllium isn't working for you, then stop it altogether and consider something else. Remembers to increase the added water to your wet food accordingly as you increase the dosage.

Pumpkin (1/2 tsp per day). This comes in cans at your grocery store. Just make sure you DO NOT buy pumpkin pie filling with has spices and other things in it. You want pumpkin and nothing but pumpkin. My colleague, Social, adores pumpkin. He will have it au naturelle as an appetizer by itself or mixed into his wet food.

Of course, a can of pumpkin is a lot bigger than 1/2 tsp. To keep it useable, I suggest spooning it into ice cube trays and freezing it. That way, a small portion can be taken out at any time, thawed and stored in the fridge for use.

DON'T USE BOTH PUMPKIN AND PSYLLIUM TOGETHER- It's one or the other! Too much of a good thing will backfire!

C. Increasing Water Intake: The Importance of Wet Food

I hope you eat at least some of your meals in the form of wet food. This can make a BIG difference.

If you already eat wet food, then adding pumpkin or psyllium should be relatively easy. To enhance the effect, add more water to your wet food to make it the consistency of pudding. That's the easiest way to keep you hydrated.

If you are not a wet food cat, ask Herself to try you on some. No, at this point she shouldn't replace your entire food stock, but rather add some wet food to your diet. The key is to choose a decent food in a smooth form (no chunks or flakes please); we want smooth texture so the pumpkin or psyllium mixes well into it.

Start with a level teaspoon at breakfast only (when you are most likely to be hungry) - without any fibre/flax additive(s). Once you accept said teaspoon for several days, work up slowly to one tablespoon. And then s-l-o-w-l-y increase it to a full serving. If you are introduced too quickly, you are likely to reject it out of paw.

Once you are past the 1 tbsp - note tbsp not tsp - mark you can add flax water. And after that, if you need to, add psyllium one you at are the 2 to 3 tbsp in a serving mark. With pumpkin, IF you are just being introduced to wet food AND don't like pumpkin by itself, I'd wait until you were at the 3 tbsp mark (again tbsp not tsp) and then start adding 1/4 tsp of pumpkin, slowly working up to a full tsp as you slowly increase the amount of wet food in a serving.

Alternatively if you are a dry food man only AND you absolutely refuse wet food, you might accept wet food if is it mixed with a large portion of water to form a gravy. Have your slave pour the gravy over a small serving of kibble, perhaps topped with a few treats to entice you further. If you free feed on dry kibble, then I suggest she leave only a tablespoon of it out at night. That way you will be hungry in the morning and thus more likely to accept your kibble and gravy or your wet food breakfast.

Max I cannot emphasize the importance of wet food enough. I do hope you already eat it. If not, I recommend you give it a try - slowly. Introduced too quickly and you will likely reject it. If you already have a hankering for fish, or chicken, or beef, this should give your purrson some idea of which flavour to pick.

A Word About Water

Since we are able to concentrate our urine in desert conditions, many of us don't drink enough water. But enough with the Lawrence of Arabia schitk, something has to change. Depending on what your current situation is, consider any or all of the following:

- A new, fresh bowl of water everyday - filtered if you live in a funny-tasting water district. Glass or stainless bowl or squat drinking glass - nothing plastic. This vessel should be cleaned in hot water only so you don't have to drink soap residue.

- Adding an ice cube or two to keep your water cool.

- Having at least one water bowl in a location other than where you eat.

- Having several watering areas in your home.

- Resorting to the toilet bowl (kept bowl-cleaner-free) if need be. Yes I know may humans balk at this idea but . . .

- Requesting a cat water fountain. My cousins Lucy and Emma adore theirs which is shaped like a ball with water streaming down the sides. My colleague, Blessing, prefurrs the conventional cat fountain. Both are usually available at pet supply stores. The constant flow keeps the water fresh. Just make sure Herself doesn't put your food right beside the fountain. Most humans don't realize that we usually prefurr to drink and eat in two separate place.

Now if these fail to do the trick, you need to return to the vet. But BEFORE you go, instruct Herself to do three things:

1) Make a written list of exactly what you eat and in what form you take it (wet food, dry food, treats, human nibbles, prescription - the whole ball of mice). I'd also suggest a list of water intake but that usually doesn't work because humans aren't good at measuring our consumption of this.

2) Make a list of all the remedies (including Laxatone) that you have tried including doses, how long you tried it and what, if anything, resulted.

3) Collect some of the most recent stool you have produced and put it in a small plastic bag. When it hits the stainless steel examining table in your vet's office with a loud thunk, he or she will realize that you have a very real problem.

Your vet should be impressed with your command over your human to have produced such information. At this point, your vet will have to figure out the source of your problem. Depending on what it is, you could be given something like probiotics or purrhaps a prescription like Lactulose (a prescription stool softener available in liquid form that tastes vile and may make your mouth foam unless you get the orange flavour - according to some colleagues). All of this is a veterinary matter and requires veterinary consultation.
If your vet does not take your problem seriously or cannot figure out what to do, hop off the examining table and direct Herself to take you for a second opinion - purrhaps at a practice that specializes in felines because constipation is a rather common problem in cats and such a purrson may have more experience in dealing with it.

My Purrsonal Routine

And just to share what I do:

I get a bit of flax water poured with every wet meal - usually several tsp. servings per day - on demand. Routine: I hop on to my feeding station. The slave produces a new china plate, removes food from fridge, adds a tsp of food to plate, pours flax water poured over and mixes it in with fork as I supervise. Then I dine.

I use 1/2 tsp psyllium for every small can of wet food - those tiny cans that are supposedly one serving (I eat about a can a day plus dry kibble). It is mixed into a glass dish to which water is added to make is like soft pudding. It is kept tightly covered in the fridge.

I drink from several sources: a stainless pot by the bath tub; sometimes sneak a cool one from the toilet (so Herself NEVER cleans the bowl with anything other than mouthwash - really - and makes sure to flush it several times when she does; and we don't have any toilet ducks or things either (yes I know all about the problems with hygiene but I am adamant on the use of this device from time to time); and a cement dish in the garden - my very favourite source.

My slaves monitor my stools when they clean my litter box (daily). Any sign of trouble (round rather than cigar shape, etc.) and they add more water and/or flax water to my food or give me 10 Hairball Treats (which I love). That seems to do the trick.
Here's hoping I've smoothed your way to painless pooping, Greyce