'Sirus' the Siamese - From Constipation to Colectomy
'Sirus' is an eldery Siamese who has always had problems with his 'back end'. He started having difficulties moving his bowels from about 8 years old, and treatment progressed from 'petroleum laxatives' (basically multi-flavoured Vaseline, such as Catlax) through to high fibre diets and colonic stimulants.
Eventually, even these were inadequate in promoting regular evacuations and poor old Sirus started having enemas, and then flushing of his colon under general anaesthetics. These procedures kept him happy between times, but finally his colon wall gave in totally and Sirus became obstipated - that is, blocked with faecal material in a colon dilated so far that the masses were too large to pass through the pelvis.
Surgery was the final option and, aged 14 years, Sirus underwent the major procedure of subtotal colonectomy (at the Sydney University Veterinary Teaching Hospital). In this procedure, his entire colon (or large intestine) was removed, and the end of his small intestine was attached to the remaining piece of rectum. He was in hospital for five days, had his stitches out in ten days, and has never looked back (literally, as unfortunately he became blind around the same time, yet even this did not slow him down!).
Constipation is a relatively common problem for cats, and varies along a continuum from occasionally dry faeces (often due to hairballs), through to the obstipation that needs surgical correction.
Cats have relatively short intestines because their specialised carniverous diet is easily digested, and their natural food - a mouse - is 80% water, so there is not much residual after a 'wild' meal. Studies are proceeding to try to find out what goes wrong to create the problem of becoming 'bunged up', but at this point the answers are incomplete.
Drugs have been developed that make the colon work as hard as possible for as long as possible, but after about 18 months on these drugs (along with the fibrous diet and laxatives to help keep the faeces soft so they can be passed easily), surgery becomes the only option.
After the surgery, most cats have a fairly liquid output for a couple of months, then they usually settle into a reasonably normal stool consistency. Some cats may even become constipated again, which indicates that the pathological process is continuing, as there is no original colon left, so the small intestinal tissue that replaced it must have changed under whatever influences started the problem.
It is a fascinating area of research, and one hopes that in the not too distant future, there will be more assistance for these cats, as a lifetime of chronic constipation is not very comfortable.
Sirus has turned up again, 18 months after his surgery, doing well at the 'back end', but his kidneys are now in decline. However, his quality of life is good, as long as he has lots of water to drink and the days are not too hot. He also continues to commute to the coast on the weekends with his owner. 'A life lived in the lap of luxury' - would a cat have it any other way?!
About the Author
Dr. Kim Kendall BVSc MACVSc (Cat Medicine and Animal Behaviour) is one of Australia’s and the worlds best known Cat Vets.
Since 1994 her dedicated cat-only veterinary, boarding and grooming centre, The Chatswood Cat Palace has been based on Sydney’s North Shore.
Kim loves cats, and wants the best for them, using science to back up intuition and passion for feline health. She is also a pioneering expert in the field of Feline Friendly Care at home and at the vet clinic and has written extensively on the subject. Read more
By Dr Kim Kendall - Last updated