How to Treat Diarrhea in Cats


Updated: August 17, 2023

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Dealing with diarrhea in cats can be concerning for pet owners. Feline diarrhea is characterized by frequent, loose, and watery bowel movements, often accompanied by abdominal discomfort and changes in behavior. While occasional episodes might result from dietary indiscretion or minor stressors, persistent or severe diarrhea warrants attention to ensure your cat’s well-being. Addressing the underlying causes and providing appropriate treatment are essential steps in restoring your feline companion’s health.

Several factors can trigger diarrhea in cats, including dietary changes, infections, parasites, allergies, and underlying health conditions. It’s crucial to monitor your cat’s overall condition, hydration levels, and any other accompanying symptoms. If the diarrhea persists for more than a day or if your cat displays signs of distress, lethargy, or dehydration, consulting a veterinarian is recommended.

Treatment approaches vary based on the underlying cause of the diarrhea. At-home care may involve temporary fasting, providing easily digestible foods, and ensuring access to clean water to prevent dehydration. However, professional guidance is essential to accurately diagnose the cause and determine the most appropriate treatment plan. Your veterinarian might recommend diagnostic tests to identify the root cause and prescribe medications to address infections, parasites, or other underlying issues.

What Is Diarrhea in Cats?

Much like humans, cats can experience occasional episodes of digestive discomfort, leading to unwanted outcomes. If your feline friend is litter-trained, this provides an opportunity to assess their daily bowel movements, allowing you to promptly notice any abnormalities.

Diarrhea is indicative of issues occurring within the small or large intestine. It arises from an excess absorption of water caused by disruptions in the intestinal lining. This imbalance stems from various factors, including inflammatory responses, digestive irregularities, or metabolic abnormalities.

Acute Versus Chronic Diarrhea

The onset of an acute episode of diarrhea in cats is sudden, often occurring within one to three days. It might vanish as unexpectedly as it appeared initially. In cases where the cause can be swiftly identified, there is a high likelihood that these feline companions will soon revert to their normal state.

On the other hand, chronic diarrhea persists for five days or more. Certain cats, particularly those with food intolerances, may grapple with intermittent or continuous loose bowel movements for extended periods, even spanning months.

Both acute and chronic forms of diarrhea can give rise to complications such as dehydration and the presence of blood in the stool. While you might be inclined to downplay the significance of your cat’s diarrhea issues, it’s crucial to treat their digestive distress seriously.

The relatively petite size of a cat, coupled with their inability to vocalize their sickness, underscores the urgency of evaluating their condition. It’s only after confirming that the abnormal bowel movements stem from minor and temporary factors that you can alleviate your concerns.

What Are the Causes of Diarrhea in Cats?

Pinpointing the cause behind your cat’s soft stools is frequently more straightforward than you might anticipate. Occasionally, the reasons are apparent, while at other times, they remain elusive, necessitating the involvement of your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis.

Food Allergies and Intolerances:

Distinguishing whether your cat is grappling with a food allergy or an intolerance to a particular ingredient can be challenging at times. Both conditions might manifest as vomiting. Regardless of the situation, it’s advisable to steer clear of the implicated food.

Dietary Changes or Indulgence:

Is your feline companion an enthusiastic hunter or prone to rummaging through the trash? While not as prevalent as in dogs, instances of dietary indiscretion can lead to diarrhea in cats.

Most adult cats lack the capacity to process dairy products, including milk and cream, despite common misconceptions. Similar to many adult mammals, cats lose their ability to digest lactose shortly after weaning.

Should you come across a new treat you wish to introduce to your cat, veterinarians recommend a gradual transition spanning several days. Abrupt dietary alterations can disturb digestion.

Parasitic Factors:

In young kittens, intestinal worms and other parasites are prime culprits behind diarrhea. Estimates suggest that up to 45 out of every 100 cats could harbor these internal parasites.

Coccidia:

Easily transmissible among infected cats, coccidia can also spread through the ingestion of prey carrying the infection. Isospora, a one-celled parasite, is prevalent in kittens and results in incontinence and bloody stools. Timely treatment for diarrhea is crucial, given that infestations often initiate at a young age.

Toxoplasma gondii:

This parasite affects older cats and may or may not exhibit symptoms such as diarrhea. Notably, Toxoplasma gondii can be transmitted to humans, posing particular risks to individuals with compromised immune systems and pregnant women.

Worms

Roundworms:

Among both humans and pets, roundworms are the most prevalent parasites. Cornell Veterinary School reports that as much as 75 percent of cats, particularly kittens, might experience roundworm infestations. Cats engaged in hunting activities also tend to have a higher incidence of these parasites.

Hookworms:

While hookworms are less frequent compared to roundworms, they give rise to more severe symptoms. Feeding on blood, these worms can lead to anemia and result in bloody or tarry diarrhea.

Tapeworms:

Tapeworms are commonly found in cats, although they seldom lead to diarrhea. Their presence often results from consuming prey or ingesting fleas.

Less Common Parasites:

Whipworms and Giardia are rarer parasites in cats that infrequently cause diarrhea.

Colitis:

Colitis, characterized by an inflamed colon, is a symptom that might not always have an identifiable source. Veterinarians might address it as a primary condition. Signs include difficulty defecating and diarrhea tinged with blood and/or mucus.

Infections and Infectious Causes:

Bacterial infections usually underlie infectious diarrhea. This occurs when disease-causing microorganisms overgrow, suppressing beneficial bacteria.

Infectious causes encompass contagious agents such as viruses. In unusual instances, diarrhea can signify conditions like feline leukemia or other viral ailments.

Stress:

While less common in comparison to dogs or humans, stress can trigger sporadic instances of diarrhea in cats. Cats often manifest stress through other systems, such as the urinary tract.

Medication Side Effects:

It’s important to note that numerous medications, particularly antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs, can lead to digestive inflammation and diarrhea.

Metabolic Factors:

Diarrhea can signal a significant metabolic issue, especially in older cats. Hyperactive thyroid, a prevalent disorder among cats, can manifest as diarrhea due to metabolic changes. Diabetic cats experiencing ketoacidosis might encounter systemic failure leading to diarrhea.

Constipation and Cancer:

Both diarrhea and constipation can cause cats to strain. Constipated cats might pass soft and bloody stools. Severe constipation, known as obstipation, demands immediate attention. Cancer can contribute to diarrhea by disrupting metabolic processes or causing obstructions.

How Do You Treat Diarrhea in Cats?

Feeding:

If your cat is experiencing both vomiting and diarrhea, it’s recommended to fast her for 24 to 48 hours. However, when dealing solely with diarrhea, it’s beneficial to provide nourishment that aids in repairing the intestinal tract promptly.

A favorable approach involves feeding your cat three to four small meals a day comprising a bland diet. For cats, this entails offering home-cooked chicken or a comparable protein source, or even meat-based baby food. It’s crucial to ensure the baby food contains no onion components.

Some individuals propose using rice or potatoes, but such options are likely to be rejected by your cat. Since felines are obligate carnivores, they derive limited usable nutrition from carbohydrates.

Yogurt and cottage cheese are endorsed by some, but exercise caution if your cat is lactose intolerant, as this could potentially exacerbate diarrhea.

Monitoring mild diarrhea for one to three days is acceptable. However, if the condition worsens, you observe blood in the stools, they appear black and tarry, or there’s no improvement within a couple of days, seeking assistance from a veterinary professional is crucial.

Over-The-Counter Medications:

Steer clear of Pepto Bismol and Kao-pectate for cats, as they contain bismuth subsalicylate, an aspirin derivative. Aspirin and related substances are highly toxic to cats. Never administer these medications without your veterinarian’s guidance, as they might be able to determine a safe dosage.

Regarding other potential home remedies, it’s advisable to consult your veterinarian before administering anything. Cats are particularly susceptible to toxicities and dosage challenges due to their distinctive liver metabolism.

When Should You Seek Medical Attention?

When to Seek Medical Attention:

As previously mentioned, refrain from leaving diarrhea untreated for more than a few days. Even in sporadic cases, if your typical remedies yield no improvement, contact your veterinarian for guidance.

Another indication of an urgent issue is if your cat appears unwell. If diarrhea is accompanied by lethargy, reduced appetite, vomiting, or other signs of general illness, reach out to your veterinarian without delay.

Diagnosis:

Diagnosing the cause of diarrhea involves an array of potential factors. If dietary adjustments and time don’t resolve the issue, your veterinarian will need to delve into specific causes using various methods:

  • Fecal exam: Microscopic analysis can reveal the presence of worms and coccidia.
  • Physical exam: Palpation can identify severe constipation and assess dehydration.
  • Bloodwork: Assesses dehydration and identifies metabolic causes like hyperthyroidism or certain infections.
  • Therapeutic diagnosis: Sometimes, treatment can act as a diagnostic tool. Treating for a presumed case of colitis, for instance, may lead to improvement.
  • Radiographs: While not always conclusive for diarrhea, they can uncover constipation, obstructions, or tumors.
  • Ultrasound: Provides insights into organ issues such as the pancreas or liver.
  • Allergy test: Determines specific food allergies; alternatively, treatment might target food intolerance.

Treatment:

Treatment depends on the root cause of your cat’s digestive distress:

  • Medications: Address the identified cause, e.g., Metronidazole (Flagyl) for Giardia, Sulfadimethoxine (Albon) for coccidia, or Centrine to relieve spasms.
  • Probiotics: Vital for gut health; your vet might prescribe cat-specific compounds.
  • Eliminating medications: Consult your vet before discontinuing any medications; inform them about supplements, pharmaceuticals, and food your cat consumes.
  • Metabolic disorders: Address thyroid issues or other metabolic disorders; often, restoring balance in other systems helps resolve gut problems.
  • Allergy and limited-ingredient cat food: Discuss allergy diets and ingredient limitations with your vet to manage hypersensitivity. Consult about low-fiber or no-grain diets, beneficial for persistent diarrhea.

Intravenous fluids might be necessary in some cases, especially for imbalances due to diseases like diabetes or fatty liver.

Your veterinarian’s expertise guides the course of treatment, which might involve discontinuing medications, exploring metabolic issues, or introducing specialized diets to alleviate your cat’s discomfort.

Probiotics:

Probiotics, along with the prebiotics they nourish, play a crucial role in maintaining effective gut motility and function in cats. Your veterinarian is likely to recommend a specialized formulation of probiotics tailored for cats to assist in managing diarrhea. It’s important to note that yogurt won’t provide the specific intestinal cultures necessary for your cat’s needs.

Discontinuing Medications:

It’s essential not to halt any medications your cat is taking without consulting your veterinarian. Similarly, inform your cat’s healthcare provider about all supplements, pharmaceuticals, and foods your pet is consuming.

That said, your vet may decide to temporarily cease medications and explore potential alternatives. Probiotics can be especially helpful when dealing with certain antibiotics.

Metabolic Disorders:

Should your cat suffer from a thyroid issue or another endocrine or metabolic disorder, your veterinarian will address these concerns. Often, restoring balance to other bodily systems can alleviate gut-related discomfort. Some endocrine disorders may require straightforward supplementation, like a thyroid-inhibiting drug or insulin.

In specific situations, your cat might require intravenous fluids and medications to correct imbalances before addressing conditions such as diabetes or fatty liver.

Allergy and Limited-Ingredient Cat Food:

Allergy diets are not exclusively available through prescription nowadays, but your veterinarian can guide you on suitable cat food options if your pet experiences hypersensitivity.

Similarly, your vet can assist you in determining which ingredients to restrict. For instance, your cat might not tolerate beef, and you might need to limit other sources like duck. You can also consult with your veterinary professional to decide whether a low-fiber or no-grain diet could be beneficial, as these often help cats with persistent diarrhea.

What causes diarrhea in cats?

Diarrhea in cats can be triggered by various factors, including dietary changes, infections, parasites, allergies, stress, medications, and underlying health conditions.

When should I be concerned about my cat’s diarrhea?

If your cat’s diarrhea persists for more than a day, worsens, contains blood or is accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting, lethargy, or loss of appetite, it’s essential to seek veterinary attention promptly.

Can I feed my cat during a bout of diarrhea?

If your cat is experiencing vomiting along with diarrhea, fasting for 24 to 48 hours is recommended. However, if diarrhea is the only issue, offering small, frequent meals of bland foods like home-cooked chicken or meat-based baby food can help nourish the intestinal tract.

Can I give over-the-counter medications to my cat for diarrhea?

No, it’s important to avoid over-the-counter medications like Pepto Bismol and Kao-pectate, as they contain substances that are toxic to cats. Always consult your veterinarian before administering any medication.

Are probiotics helpful for treating cat diarrhea?

Probiotics can be beneficial for cats with diarrhea, as they support a healthy gut environment. Your veterinarian can recommend specific probiotic formulations designed for cats to help restore gut balance.

When should I seek medical attention for my cat’s diarrhea?

If your cat’s diarrhea persists for more than a few days, worsens, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, such as lethargy or vomiting, it’s crucial to consult your veterinarian.

Can stress cause diarrhea in cats?

Yes, stress can occasionally lead to diarrhea in cats, although it’s less common compared to dogs or humans. Cats may show signs of stress through behaviors like changes in eating habits or using the litter box less frequently.

Conclusion

Treating diarrhea in cats requires a careful and informed approach to ensure your feline friend’s well-being. Diarrhea can arise from a variety of causes, including dietary changes, infections, parasites, and underlying health conditions. While mild cases might resolve with supportive care, persistent or severe diarrhea demands prompt veterinary attention.

Feeding strategies, such as fasting during vomiting episodes and providing small, bland meals during diarrhea, can aid in recovery. Probiotics designed for cats can be valuable in restoring gut health. However, it’s important to avoid over-the-counter medications and consult a veterinarian before making any decisions.

Knowing when to seek medical attention is vital. If diarrhea persists, worsens, or is accompanied by additional symptoms like lethargy or vomiting, reaching out to a veterinary professional is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment. Through diagnostic tools such as physical exams, bloodwork, fecal tests, and imaging, veterinarians can pinpoint the cause of diarrhea and formulate tailored treatment plans, which might include medications or dietary adjustments.


Michael R

Michael R

I'm a publisher and editor at Cat Guide 101. I imagine that since you’re here, you likely own a cat — or two! — so helping you better understand them is my aim. I'd like to invite you to check out our about page to learn more about the Cat Guide 101 story.

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