Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
Can I give a cat a suppository?
Siouxsie: Danielle, the general answer to this question is no. But instead of just saying no, we want to explain why.
Thomas: Unless your veterinarian prescribes a medicine specifically for your cat, you should not give it to him. Many medications designed for people can actually be harmful, if not fatal, to cats.
Dahlia: Also, these medicines (including over-the-counter medicines like suppositories) are dosed for people. And people are a lot bigger than cats!
Siouxsie: Not to mention the fact that sticking something as big as a human-sized suppository into your cat’s butt will probably result in great injury to you, if not to your cat as well.
Thomas: If your cat is constipated — and we presume that may be why you’re thinking of giving your cat a suppository — there are other ways to treat it. Not to mention the fact that if your cat is constipated, you should call your vet and ask what you should do about it before you even think of administering home care.
Dahlia: Let’s start out by explaining how the feline digestive system works. The digestive process begins in the mouth, where chewing causes saliva to mix with the food. Enzymes in the saliva begin breaking down the food so the body can absorb nutrition.
Siouxsie: Then, in the stomach, strong acids continue the breakdown process, releasing more proteins and other materials.
Thomas: After the food has been digested in the stomach for a set period of time, the semi-liquid material is moved into the small intestine, where it mixes with bile (produced by the liver and stored by the gall bladder, then released into the intestine as needed) to help break down and digest fats.
Dahlia: The food contents move through the long and convoluted small intestine, where the lining of the intestine absorbs the nutrients in the food. This can take several hours.
Siouxsie: Then, the liquid contents move into the colon. In the colon, water is absorbed from this liquid mixture and the contents become increasingly solid. Bacteria in the intestine aid in this digestive process.
Thomas: And finally, the solidified contents, stored in the rectum, are excreted through the anus as feces. If the digested food material sits too long in the colon and too much water is absorbed, this can result in constipation. Alternately, if the colon is irritated by worms or allergies, or the bacterial balance in the intestine is thrown off by antibiotics or other things, the fecal matter can be excreted before it’s fully solidified; we know this as diarrhea.
Dahlia: Cats become constipated for a number of reasons. The most common of these is hairballs. We cats tend to swallow a lot of fur when we groom ourselves. We can’t help it, because we wash with our tongues, and the small barbs that allow us to comb our fur so neatly trap dead fur and we can’t spit it out. Therefore, we end up swallowing it.
Siouxsie: This generally isn’t a problem for us as long as our diets are high enough in fiber to help the hairballs move through our intestines. Most of the time, we end up vomiting hairballs before they get into our intestines anyway.
Thomas: Another reason cats become constipated, even without hairballs as a factor, is lack of adequate dietary fiber. If your kitty eats only canned food and doesn’t get a lot of exercise, his digestion may slow down, and then as the water is absorbed from the digested contents, the stool hardens in the colon and becomes difficult to expel.
Dahlia: Some cats suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, which can cause constipation or constipation alternating with diarrhea.
Siouxsie: And sometimes, cats that get constipated for a long time can have so much stool packed into their colon that it needs to be surgically removed. After an episode like this, the colon can become permanently weakened and then you need to watch your cat’s fiber intake very carefully to prevent other episodes of major constipation.
Thomas: Danielle, you should talk to your vet about your cat’s constipation. It could be a simple issue like a hairball, which can be treated with a petroleum jelly-based laxative to help the hairball slide through the intestine. These kitty laxatives are sold at pet stores and have a flavor attractive to cats, so it’s easy to give it to them.
Dahlia: But you shouldn’t give these laxatives too often because petroleum jelly can rob vitamins away from the food the cat eats.
Siouxsie: Another way to help your cat stay regular is to increase his fiber intake. You can feed him solid kibble. Or if he’ll only eat canned food, add some wheat germ or oat bran to the canned food. Mix it in well so he won’t be able to eat around it. You can also plant some cat grass; we kitties like to munch on grass when we need extra fiber.
Thomas: Daily exercise will also help your kitty stay regular. If you get in the habit of playing with your cat every day, not only will you increase your bond and have lots of fun, but your kitty will get fit and strong. Strong muscles and the impact of exercise help move food through the intestines.
Dahlia: We hope we’ve been able to enlighten you about some ways you can help a constipated kitty, Danielle. And please, don’t forget to call your vet and ask him or her what to do about it.