How to Treat Diarrhea in Cats
Updated: December 14, 2023
Recognizing the symptoms, understanding potential causes, and implementing appropriate treatment are crucial steps in managing this common gastrointestinal disturbance. Causes of diarrhea in cats range from dietary indiscretions and sudden food changes to underlying medical conditions such as infections, parasites, or inflammatory bowel disease. Identifying the root cause is essential for effective treatment.
Immediate steps include assessing the cat’s overall health, monitoring hydration levels, and consulting a veterinarian for a comprehensive diagnosis. In many cases, simple dietary modifications, such as a bland diet or a gradual return to the cat’s regular food, can help alleviate symptoms.
However, severe or persistent cases may require veterinary intervention, including diagnostic tests, prescription medications, or supportive therapies. This comprehensive approach ensures a tailored and effective strategy to alleviate diarrhea, promoting the well-being of feline companions.
What Is Diarrhea in Cats?
Cats, much like humans, experience occasional stomach upsets leading to undesirable consequences. If your feline friend utilizes a litter box, it provides an opportunity to observe their daily bowel movements closely. This allows you to promptly detect any abnormalities.
Diarrhea indicates an issue in either the small or large intestine, resulting from an excess absorption of water due to disruptions in the intestinal lining. This imbalance arises from various factors, including inflammatory, digestive, or metabolic abnormalities. Monitoring your cat’s bathroom habits allows for early identification of such concerns, enabling timely intervention and care.
Acute Versus Chronic Diarrhea
An abrupt onset of diarrhea occurs suddenly, typically within one to three days, and may resolve as quickly as it appeared. If the cause can be promptly identified, there is a high likelihood that affected cats will swiftly return to their normal state.
Conversely, chronic diarrhea persists for five days or more, and certain cats, especially those with food intolerances, may experience intermittent loose bowels for extended periods, even months.
Both acute and chronic diarrhea pose risks of complications such as dehydration and the presence of blood in the stool. While one might dismiss episodes of diarrhea as inconsequential, it is crucial to take a cat’s digestive issues seriously due to their small size and inability to communicate sickness. Urgent assessment is necessary, and once it’s determined that abnormal stools stem from a minor and temporary indiscretion, concerns can be alleviated.
How serious is diarrhea in cats?
The severity of diarrhea in your cat is contingent on its duration and the presence of additional clinical signs. If your cat is experiencing prolonged diarrhea, particularly if it is severe and accompanied by alarming symptoms such as bloody stools, weakness, fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, dehydration, or loss of appetite, the situation may be grave. In such cases, it is crucial to seek prompt medical attention for your cat’s well-being.
What Are the Causes of Diarrhea in Cats?
Identifying the reason behind your cat’s loose stools is often more straightforward than anticipated. Occasionally, the causes may be elusive, necessitating the intervention of a veterinarian for proper diagnosis.
Food Allergies and Intolerances
Distinguishing between a food allergy and intolerance in your cat can be challenging. Both may present with symptoms like vomiting, making it crucial to eliminate the suspected culprit from their diet.
Change in Diet or Dietary Indiscretion
If your cat is an avid hunter or tends to raid the garbage, dietary indiscretion, though less common in cats than dogs, can lead to diarrhea. Many adult cats, despite popular beliefs, lack the ability to tolerate dairy products like milk and cream due to lactose intolerance, which develops shortly after weaning.
Introducing a new treat to your cat’s diet should be a gradual process, spanning several days, as sudden dietary changes can cause digestive disturbances, leading to diarrhea.
Diarrhea in kittens is often attributed to intestinal worms or other parasites, affecting up to 45 out of every 100 cats. Coccidia, a one-celled parasite, can spread easily between infected cats or through the ingestion of contaminated prey, causing incontinence and bloody stools if left untreated.
This parasite infects older cats and may or may not manifest symptoms like diarrhea. Notably, it can be transmitted to humans, posing a particular risk to immune-compromised and pregnant individuals. Vigilance and prompt veterinary attention are essential in addressing potential parasitic infections in cats.
How is diarrhea treated?
For otherwise healthy adult cats, your veterinarian may recommend withholding food for up to 24 hours or introducing small quantities of a veterinary diet tailored for gastrointestinal issues. These specialized diets are formulated with a balanced combination of fibers to nourish beneficial bacteria in your cat’s intestines and contain specific antioxidants that aid in immune system support during recovery.
Prescription of anti-diarrheal agents, de-wormers, and/or probiotics (beneficial bacteria supporting intestinal health) is a common approach. Various probiotic products may prove beneficial for cats with diarrhea, but their quality and effectiveness can vary. Therefore, it is essential to consult your veterinarian before introducing any such products to your cat. Many instances of acute diarrhea respond well to this conservative treatment, allowing the body’s natural healing mechanisms to address the issue, even if the initial cause remains unidentified. As the stools normalize, the transition back to your cat’s regular diet can typically occur over seven to ten days.
If there is no improvement within four days, your veterinarian may recommend further tests or a more aggressive treatment plan. Severe or prolonged diarrhea can lead to significant dehydration and metabolic disturbances due to fluid loss, potentially necessitating hospitalization for intravenous fluid therapy or other intensive interventions to ensure your pet’s well-being.
Roundworms, Hookworms, and Tapeworms
Roundworms, the most prevalent parasites affecting both humans and pets, infest up to 75 percent of cats, particularly kittens. Cats engaged in hunting activities often face a higher risk of roundworm infestations. Although less common, hookworms pose more severe symptoms, including anemia and bloody or tarry diarrhea due to their blood-feeding behavior. Tapeworms, acquired through prey consumption or flea ingestion, are widespread in cats but seldom lead to diarrhea.
Other Parasites and Colitis
Less common parasites like whipworms and Giardia rarely induce diarrhea in cats. Colitis, characterized by inflammation in the colon, manifests as straining during defecation and diarrhea tinged with blood and/or mucus, often without an identifiable source.
Infections and Stress
Infections, commonly bacterial, can provoke diarrhea by upsetting the microbial balance in the gut. Contagious agents like viruses, though rare, may also cause feline diarrhea. Stress, while less frequent in cats than in dogs or humans, can contribute to diarrhea, with cats more commonly displaying stress-related issues in other systems, such as the urinary tract.
Medication Side Effects and Metabolic Issues
Certain medications, notably antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs, can trigger digestive inflammation and diarrhea in cats. Diarrhea may also indicate underlying metabolic problems, especially in older cats. Conditions like hyperactive thyroid (common in cats) and ketoacidosis in diabetic cats can manifest as diarrhea, signaling systemic issues that warrant attention.
Constipation, Cancer, and Obstructions
Cats may strain during both diarrhea and constipation, with constipated cats occasionally passing soft and bloody stools. Severe constipation, known as obstipation, demands immediate attention. Cancer, affecting metabolic pathways or causing obstructions, can contribute to diarrhea, underscoring the importance of thorough veterinary evaluation for feline gastrointestinal issues.
What should I feed my cat with diarrhea?
In many instances, it’s unnecessary to alter a cat’s diet when addressing a bout of diarrhea. Frequently, feline diarrhea is the result of ingesting something outside their usual food, leading to stomach upset. To mitigate this, remove all houseplants and potential nibble-worthy items from the cat’s reach.
On occasion, a veterinarian may suggest fasting your cat for 12-24 hours to allow the gut to rest. However, it’s crucial to seek veterinary guidance, as fasting may pose risks for certain cats. If normal stools resume after fasting, gradually reintroduce the cat’s regular food. Additionally, a vet might recommend starting with a bland diet.
Always consult with a vet before making dietary changes, as this can exacerbate diarrhea. Ensure an ample supply of water is available, as diarrhea can swiftly lead to dehydration in cats. Placing multiple water bowls strategically throughout your home can encourage increased water consumption. While probiotics may offer benefits, their use should be supervised by a veterinarian to ensure appropriateness and effectiveness.
How Do You Treat Diarrhea in Cats?
If your cat is experiencing both vomiting and diarrhea, it’s advisable to withhold food for 24 to 48 hours. However, if the issue is isolated to diarrhea, providing nourishment to support the healing of the intestinal tract is essential.
The recommended approach involves feeding your cat at least three or four small meals per day consisting of a bland diet. Ideal options for cats include home-cooked chicken or similar protein sources, as well as meat-based baby food without any onion products.
While some suggest rice or potatoes, felines, being obligate carnivores, may not derive significant usable nutrition from carbohydrates, and they may reject such offerings. Similarly, caution is warranted when considering yogurt and cottage cheese, especially if your cat is lactose intolerant, as these may potentially exacerbate diarrhea.
Monitoring mild diarrhea for one to three days is generally acceptable. However, if the condition persists, worsens, exhibits blood, appears black and tarry, or shows no improvement within a couple of days, prompt professional veterinary assistance is crucial for a thorough evaluation and appropriate intervention.
Pepto Bismol and Kao-pectate should never be given to cats due to the presence of bismuth subsalicylate, an aspirin derivative, in their ingredients. Aspirin and other salicylates are highly toxic to cats, making it imperative to avoid administering these medications without professional veterinary guidance. Only a veterinarian can determine a safe dosage for these substances, if at all applicable.
When considering other potential home remedies, it is crucial to consult with your veterinarian before administering any substances to your cat. Cats have unique liver metabolism traits, making them particularly susceptible to toxicities and challenges in determining safe dosages. Seeking professional advice ensures the well-being of your feline companion and prevents unintended complications from well-intentioned but potentially harmful interventions.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention?
As mentioned earlier, prompt attention to diarrhea in your cat is crucial, and if the condition persists beyond a few days, or if intermittent cases remain unresolved with normal treatment, it is imperative to contact your veterinarian.
An urgent problem is indicated if your cat exhibits signs of feeling unwell alongside diarrhea. Lethargy, dullness, lack of appetite, vomiting, and other general signs of illness warrant immediate veterinary attention.
Diagnosis of diarrhea involves a comprehensive approach to identify the specific cause:
- Fecal Exam: Microscopic examination can detect the presence of worms and coccidia.
- Physical Exam: Palpation helps assess the severity of constipation and dehydration.
- Bloodwork: Determines dehydration levels and aids in diagnosing metabolic causes like hyperthyroidism. Some infectious causes can also be identified through blood tests.
- Therapeutic Diagnosis: In some cases, treatment may serve as a diagnostic tool. Treating presumptively for a temporary case of colitis, for example, can confirm the diagnosis if the cat responds positively.
- Radiographs: While not always highly informative for diarrhea, they can reveal issues like constipation or obstruction from foreign bodies or tumors.
- Ultrasound: Useful for identifying organ-related problems, such as those in the pancreas and liver.
- Allergy Test: Your veterinarian may conduct tests to identify specific food allergies, or you may collectively decide to treat for food intolerance based on the presented symptoms.
- This multifaceted diagnostic approach ensures a thorough understanding of the underlying cause, facilitating targeted and effective treatment for your cat’s diarrhea.
Treatment for your cat’s digestive upset depends on the identified cause, and medications are often prescribed accordingly:
Metronidazole (Flagyl): Effective against Giardia and certain bacteria, particularly useful for treating bloody diarrhea with significant mucus, a common sign of non-specific colitis.
Sulfadimethoxine (Albon): Commonly used to treat coccidia infections, with treatment durations that may need to be prolonged in some cases.
Centrine (injectable): Administered by veterinarians to relieve intestinal spasms.
Probiotics, along with the prebiotics they feed on, play a crucial role in promoting effective gut motility and function in cats. Your veterinarian may prescribe a specifically formulated compound to address diarrhea, emphasizing that yogurt does not provide suitable intestinal cultures for cats.
Never discontinue medications your cat is taking without consulting your veterinarian. Keep your cat’s doctor informed about all supplements, pharmaceuticals, and foods your pet is consuming. Your veterinarian may temporarily discontinue certain medications and explore alternatives, especially if probiotics can be beneficial alongside specific antibiotics.
If your cat has a thyroid problem or another endocrine or metabolic disorder, your veterinarian will address the underlying issues. Normalizing other bodily systems often contributes to gastrointestinal well-being. Some endocrine disorders may require simple supplementation, such as thyroid inhibiting drugs or insulin.
In more severe cases, intravenous fluids and drugs may be necessary to correct imbalances before addressing specific diseases, like diabetes or fatty liver. Always follow your veterinarian’s guidance for a comprehensive and tailored approach to your cat’s treatment.
Allergy and Limited-Ingredient Cat Food
Prescription diets are not always necessary for managing allergies, but if your cat experiences hypersensitivity, your veterinarian can provide guidance on suitable cat food options. Your veterinarian can also advise on specific ingredients to restrict.
For instance, if your cat is intolerant to beef, there may be a need to limit other protein sources, like duck. Additionally, discussions with your veterinary professional can help determine whether a low-fiber or grain-free diet is worth considering, as these options often prove beneficial for cats dealing with persistent diarrhea.
What causes diarrhea in cats?
Diarrhea in cats can be triggered by various factors, including dietary indiscretions, food allergies, infections, parasites, inflammatory bowel disease, stress, and certain medications.
When should I be concerned about my cat’s diarrhea?
If your cat’s diarrhea persists for more than a day or if there are additional signs such as blood in the stool, lethargy, vomiting, dehydration, or a lack of appetite, it’s essential to seek veterinary attention promptly.
Can I treat my cat’s diarrhea at home?
For mild cases, your veterinarian might recommend withholding food for a short period, introducing a bland diet, or using probiotics. However, any treatment plan should be discussed with and approved by your veterinarian.
Are there specific diets for cats with diarrhea?
Veterinary diets designed for gastrointestinal issues may be recommended. These diets often contain a balance of fibers that promote good bacteria in the intestines and antioxidants to support the immune system.
Can I give over-the-counter medications for diarrhea to my cat?
Avoid giving over-the-counter medications without consulting your veterinarian. Medications containing salicylates, like Pepto-Bismol, can be toxic to cats.
How can I prevent diarrhea in my cat?
Preventative measures include keeping toxic plants and substances out of your cat’s reach, ensuring a gradual transition when changing their diet, and promptly addressing any signs of illness.
Can stress cause diarrhea in cats?
Yes, stress can contribute to diarrhea in cats. Changes in the environment, routine, or the introduction of new pets can be stressors.
When should I seek emergency care for my cat’s diarrhea?
Emergency care is warranted if your cat shows severe symptoms like bloody diarrhea, weakness, fever, abdominal pain, and dehydration, or if there’s no improvement within a few days. Contact your veterinarian immediately in such cases.
Cats requires careful consideration of potential causes and appropriate veterinary guidance. While mild cases may respond to temporary dietary adjustments, it is crucial to consult with a veterinarian before initiating any treatment. Monitoring for additional signs of illness and seeking prompt veterinary attention for persistent or severe diarrhea is essential for the overall well-being of your feline companion.
By understanding the possible triggers, following veterinary advice, and implementing preventive measures, cat owners can contribute to the effective management and, when possible, the prevention of diarrhea in their beloved pets. Always prioritize your cat’s health and consult with a professional for tailored and effective solutions.