Colon disease a threat to cats
Feline megacolon is a disease that causes the colon or large intestine to enlarge to astronomic proportions. Cats who suffer from it undergo a lot of pain and discomfort trying to defecate, and many are euthanized because the disease is difficult to treat.The most common form of megacolon in cats is the idiopathic form. As a doctor I love that word – it means we don’t know what causes it. Cats can be affected at any age and males appear more likely to suffer the disease. What we also know is that it is a disease of the smooth muscles of the colon.Other forms of megacolon are called congenital or acquired. Congenital megacolon is caused by a birth defect – Manx cats are suspected of having this form. It is similar to Hirschsprung’s disease in humans in which the nerves to the rectum don’t form properly.Acquired megacolon has many causes, the most common one being behavioral. Some cats, like some people on vacation, have psychological problems defecating. A new type of cat litter may be the cause or it could be competition with another cat or the cat may just be a very nervous type. Feces becomes retained, the colon stretches, and, just like a pair of panty hose, the colon loses its elasticity. Another cause of megacolon is trauma to the pelvic region. Fractures, tumors, prior surgeries with excess scar tissue, and rectal strictures are all examples. There are also some metabolic conditions reported to cause megacolon: high blood calcium, low blood potassium and low thyroid hormone levels have all been implicated.So how do you know if your cat has megacolon? Well, first off they will be spending a lot of time in the litter box trying to defecate. Most of these cats are very constipated and some may even be obstructed. Believe it or not some may have diarrhea, as liquid portions of stool may be the only things that can escape around the blockage. Some owners may notice unusually hard stools or notice that their cats have not had a bowel movement in a few days; some cats, like some people, do not defecate daily. My theory is if they could learn to read the sports page they would defecate more regularly. Other common signs are crying when defecating, weight loss, anorexia, and depression.Treatment is tedious and can be difficult. First the patient must be rehydrated using intravenous fluids. Then they are anesthetized and the feces must be manually extracted from the colon via the rectum. This is painful and traumatic for the cats and it can be difficult for the doctors. Often we can only get a portion of the feces out in one session and may need to repeat it daily for a few days to get the colon cleaned out. If we are successful we place the patients on a high fiber diet and medications such as lactulose to soften the stools and propulsid to help the muscles of the colon contract more forcefully. Pumpkin pie filler is also a good way to add bulk and fiber to the diet. Many of these cats will suffer relapses even with appropriate diet and medications. If we cannot remove the obstruction or if we just get too many relapses we can correct the problem surgically. The procedure is called a subtotal colectomy and about 90 percent of the colon is removed. It has a high rate of success once we get by the immediate post-op complications. Unfortunately, cats with a subtotal colectomy also occasionally suffer relapses of constipation even though they don’t have a colon. As I mentioned earlier, many cats with this condition are euthanized out of frustration.If this disease is detected in its earlier states it is much easier to manage than if it is allowed to progress. This isn’t always easy to do, as there are no tests that will show us at-risk cats. If your cat is having difficulty defecating go to your veterinarian sooner than later; the more the colon stretches out the harder it will be to treat. Stephen Sheldon, DVM can be reached at 970-748-3062 and welcomes questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.