Specializing in small animal veterinary medicine since 1991.
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What is megacolon?
The gastrointestinal tract terminates in a tubular organ called the colon. The colon serves as a site for absorption of water and storage of fecal material. It is continuous with the rectum. The walls of the colon contain musclesthat are stimulated to contract by nerves from the spinal cord. When the coloncontracts, fecal material is pushed out of the body.If the nerves to the colon do not function normally, the muscles of the colonic wall willnot contract properly. If this happens, the muscles stretch and the colon enlarges indiameter. In addition, the fecal material is not moved out of the body and severeconstipation may result (obstipation). This massive enlargement of the colon and theresulting constipation is called megacolon. The colon may have a diameter 3-4 timesthat of a normal cat.
How does it occur?
An injury to the spinal cord can cause megacolon. Also, mechanical obstruction causedby tumor, foreign bodies, hairballs, and strictures can lead to megacolon. However, inmost cases, we cannot determine the reason that the nerves to the colon stop functioning. This disease generally occurs in middle-aged to older cats, but has also been seen in cats as young as 3-4 years old.How is it treated?Usually, a medical approach is tried first, with surgery reserved for unresponsive or advanced cases. A medical approach involves the use of laxatives, stool softeners, colon wall stimulants, and high fiber diets. These do not correct the underlying cause, but they do allow fecal material to pass so the cat does not become constipated and ill.The medical approach may be successful for several months or years, but will generally fail at some time. When this happens, surgery must be considered. A procedure called subtotal colectomy removes the non-functioning part of the colon. Although this procedure involves removal of most of the colon, the anal sphincter (valve) is left intact so the cat should not lose bowel control.
Can the cat function without its colon?
Since one of the colon's primary responsibilities is to remove excess fluid from the fecal material, the cat that has had a subtotal colectomy will have rather soft stools immediately after surgery. In addition, there may be several bowel movements each day. However, after 1-2 months, most cats have soft, formed stools and average 3 bowel movements every two days. There should be no loss of fecal control.
SPECIFIC INSTRUCTIONS1. Feed your cat _________ cups/cans of __________ each 24 hours in 2-4 feedings.2. Give your cat the following medications:__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________3. Adjust the dosage of laxatives so your cat has a bowel movement at least once every other day. If diarrhea occurs, reduce the dosage or the frequency of administration.