Diarrhea in cats

Many, if not most cats, will get diarrhea at some point in their lives. Generally speaking, in an adult cat, this is not in itself a serious issue; but if the symptoms last for more than a day, they should not be ignored either. How you deal with a cat with diarrhea depends on the cat and what is causing the problem in the first place.

What is diarrhea?

'Diarrhea' is when your cat goes to the toilet very frequently and passes loose or liquid feces. However, the frequency and urgency with which the cat goes to the toilet also counts, so if the cat spends a lot of the day in the litter tray, itís diarrhea even if the stool is relatively solid.

Diarrhea can develop suddenly or slowly over days or weeks, depending on the cause. Diarrhea which hits hard and suddenly might mean any of the following:

your cat has picked up an intestinal or stomach virus
intestinal parasites are causing a problem
the cat has a food allergy
the cat has eaten something rotten or toxic
or simply
youíve changed the catís food to something that does not agree with her.

Chronic diarrhea (diarrhea which persists for weeks) is something you should always take seriously. Apart from the potential damage caused by dehydration, the diarrhea may well indicate more serious health problems. Chronic diarrhea might be a sign that a cat has a fungal or bacterial infection, an inflammatory bowel disorder or liver, pancreas or kidney problems.

Finally diarrhea may be caused by an intestinal tract blockage. There might be something stuck in the gut, a tumour growing, or the gut might have got twisted. Solid stool canít pass the blockage and watery stool is all that comes out. In this is what is happening, surgery might be needed.


Loose and flowing bowels are the obvious sign that a cat has diarrhea. (Thatís actually what the word means. It comes from the ancient Greek for 'flowing through'.) However this might not be the only symptom. Check for vomiting, thirst, decreased appetite and blood or mucus in the stool. You might not see any of these symptoms, but also check if the cat is lethargic and depressed. A sick cat might hide out in a quiet corner of the house, so if you only see your cat when she visits the litter tray, this is a sign something is wrong.

In the long term dehydration and weight loss will set in, but you should not wait for the long term - if the diarrhea lasts more than a day, consult a vet.

Diagnosis and treatment

The more you can tell the vet about the problem, the better he will be able to help you and your cat. Here are some of the questions the vet will probably ask so that he can diagnose the cause of the diarrhea:

1. How old is your cat?
Parasites are most common in cats under two years old, although any cat can get them. However, young cats are more inquisitive and more likely to experiment with their diet. This leads them to sometimes eat things that are either poisonous or just not food.

2. Has your cat been put on a new diet?
Cats are natural conservatives. Most cats donít like it when their regular food is changed, but for some cats it goes further than simple dislike. The cat may be intolerant to certain foods or additives in its new diet. Milk contains lactose. Despite the popular image of a cat lapping a bowl of milk, most cats tolerate lactose poorly if at all. A large drink of milk will probably cause digestive problems.

3. Does your cat spend any time outside in the garden?
Outdoor cats can get bacterial or parasitic infections from other cats. No matter how well you feed them at home, at some point theyíll sample food that has been thrown away; or eat birds, rodents and lizards that they come across. Any of these might be infected, especially if the animal was dead before the cat caught up with it. Even outdoor water can be a problem. For example, the water might have single-celled parasites that can cause diarrhea (e.g., the Giardia bug). Or the water might be be contaminated. Oil, insecticides, fertilizers or heavy metals can all cause intestinal havoc.

4. Is your cat fully vaccinated?
Viral infections, such as feline panleukopenia (distemper) and feline leukemia virus can cause diarrhea. (So can other viruses that your cat has not been vaccinated for, but here the questions are all about the vet narrowing the field of possible causes.)

5. Is your cat regularly treated for worms?
Intestinal worms that often cause diarrhea in cats include roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms. Even a regularly-treated cat can pick these up, especially while roaming outside.

6. Does your cat have a previous medical condition?
Long-term problems affecting the digestive system such as kidney failure, diabetes or liver disease can also directly or indirectly cause diarrhea.

The vet has to diagnose the problem before treating it.This might well entail a blood test as well as a general medical examination. If the blood tests are clean and the cat does not have a fever, the chances are that a serious infection is not the problem. But the vet might examine the feces and even do a culture from it if he thinks a bacterial infection is the problem.

Once itís known what is causing the diarrhea, the appropriate treatment can begin. If bacterial infection is the culprit, the vet will prescribe antibiotics. If it is worms or other parasites, these will be targeted with specific anti-parasite treatments . But it is important to establish the cause - thereís no point in treating for parasites if the bowels need anti-inflammatory medicine.

As well as treating the cause, your vet will probably offer help with the symptom. With diarrhea Kaolin/Pectin is widely used. This helps with preventing dehydration, absorbing and removing bacterial toxins and poisons from the intestinal tract, and helps to relax inflamed intestines and slow their movement to normal rates.

In the past the over-the-counter drug Kaopectate, was used to treat feline diarrhea. The original formula of Kaopectate included kaolin and pectin, but this has now been changed for bismuth subsalicylate. The latter, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association can be toxic to cats. New formula Kaopectate has been on the market since 2004. Treating a sick cat with this might well make the problem worse.

The vet may also prescribe some nutritional supplement for the intestinal mucosa. For example calcium montmorillonite and electrolites help to restore minerals lost to diarrhea. Montmorillonite is a naturally-occurring clay which is often fed to horses, dogs and farm animals. It effectively absorbs heavy metals, toxins, and hazardous chemicals, and quickly relieves diarrhea in 90% of such cases. The antibacterial effects of montmorillonite are well known. In fact even wild animals have been seen eating Montmorillonite clay, presumably to help their digestion.

How to help a cat with diarrhea

As soon as you see that your cat has diarrhea, make sure that it has plenty of liquid to prevent dehydration. If the catís diet is mostly of dry food, you may substitute it for wet food to increase the intake of fluid.

Do not use over-the-counter medication on the off-chance that it can help. Also do not use anti-diarrhea medication intended for use by humans. Cats have different metabolisms and you are likely to do more harm than good. You can try withdrawing food for a while to calm a sick catís intestines, but never leave the cat without nourishment for more than 24 hours.

If diarrhea in an adult cat goes on for more than 24 hours, go to the vet. If you have a kitten with diarrhea, donít wait. Go to the vet at once.

Note: This information is for guidance only. It is not intended to replace consultation with a licensed practitioner.

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