Diarrhea is a medical condition caused by an intestinal infection which results in cats eliminating loose or watery feces. It is not a disease, but having this condition can be the result of an underlying medical problem. Diarrhea can be acute or chronic in nature. Acute diarrhea is very sudden and can last up to 14 days. Chronic diarrhea may last for months until fully recovered or diarrhea may come and go. Normally, a single bout of diarrhea is not a cause for concern. However, if it lasted more than a day or two, it can lead to dehydration for your cat.
Causes of diarrhea in cats
There are many causes which can cause cats and kittens to have diarrhea. Once you are aware of the usual causes, you will know what to do. You can also take concrete steps to prevent your cat from catching diarrhea in the future. Here we look at some of the most common causes of diarrhea in kittens and cats.
Cats can develop allergies due to exposure to substances that are in the air, food or transmitted by fleas. If your cat is exposed to any of these elements, it may develop diarrhea as a side effect.
Bacterial, parasite or viral infection
Infectious agents can cause a cat to have diarrhea. Infectious agents can come in many forms such as bacteria like Campylobacter, E. Coli and Salmonella. Parasites such as Coccidia, Giardia, Roundworms and Tritrichomonas and viruses such as Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), Feline Panleukopenia (Feline Distemper) and Rotavirus are infectious agents as well.
Sometimes, a foreign object or even hairball may be the cause of your cat having diarrhea. The foreign object or hairball can get stuck in your cat’s intestine, causing it to develop stomach upsets.
Cancer in the digestive tract
A more serious medical condition is cancer. Tumors in the digestive tract may cause your cat to develop diarrhea as a side effect. Vomiting may accompany diarrhea for cats suffering from cancer in the digestive tract.
Change of diet
A sudden change in diet can cause your cat to develop diarrhea. Though, once your cat’s intestine starts to get used to the new cat food, the diarrhea will stop.
Colitis is a medical condition in which the inner lining of the colon is inflamed. If your cat develops this condition, one symptom of Colitis is diarrhea. There may be blood in the stool as well.
Consuming spoiled food
Food that is spoiled will cause your cat to develop diarrhea. This happens most often for cats that are allowed outdoors as these cats may consume decayed or spoiled food that they have found outdoors scavenging.
If you are not aware, cats are lactose intolerant. Milk or dairy products contain lactose, which means cats cannot consume these products at all. Though not toxic, your cat will develop a stomach upset as a result of drinking milk or ingesting other dairy products.
Just like food intolerance, your cat may be allergic to certain types of drugs and medications. As you probably know, cats and kittens like to explore, your cat can probably find a lot of drugs and medications lying all over the house on a single expedition. To prevent your cat from getting diarrhea from drugs and medications, cat proof or kitten proof your house and keep these drugs and medications out of your cat’s reach.
Just like humans, some cats may develop allergies to certain food. Also, a lot of cat owners are not aware that they cannot anyhow feed food that are not for cats’ consumption. One good example is food that is prepared for family meals. If you intend to feed your cat home cooked food, please consult your vet first.
A common medical disorder among older cats, hyperthyroidism is an endocrine disease in which there is an excessive amount of a hormone called thyroxine or T-4 being produced in the body. Diarrhea is one of the symptoms commonly associated with hyperthyroidism.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
A common cause of chronic diarrhea in cats. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is not a single disease, but a group of disorders caused by inflammatory cells that invade a cats’ gastrointestinal tract. This results in the intestine unable to perform its function properly. This disease is more common among older cats though cats of all ages can catch it.
This is more common among older cats though younger cats are also at risks as well. One of the most common causes of kidney failure is due to ingestion of toxic substances commonly found in households such as antifreeze, cleaning detergents, pesticides and certain medications meant for human consumption.
Liver disease normally occurs if the liver is damaged in any way. Complete liver failure is rare and the liver can regenerates by itself, making a complete recovery possible. Diarrhea is one of the common symptoms associated with liver disease.
Feline neoplasia is a condition in which there are abnormal growths in the body caused by uncontrolled division of cells. These abnormal growths can be classified into benign (non cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). These abnormal growths or tumors can occur in any part of the body, causing a series of other medical conditions.
Feline pancreatitis is a medical disorder in which there is inflammation in the pancreas. If your cat’s pancreas is inflamed, digestive enzymes in the pancreas will be able to escape, which results in damage to the pancreas and liver.
Some stuff may contain toxins which are deadly to cats. Examples are some common household flowers and plants that are poisonous to cats and also cleaning solutions and certain human medications. That is why it is important to remove these items or make sure they are out of reach to your cat before you bring your cat home.
Symptoms of diarrhea in cats
- Blood in the feces
- Defecate more frequently outside the litter box
- Dehydration due to frequent defecating
- Flatulence due to upset intestine
- Loss of appetite
- Straining to defecate
- Thirsty due to fluid loss
- Weight loss due to lack of appetite
Visit the vet
If your cat’s diarrhea persist for more than a day, it is important to bring your cat to the vet for a checkup. Also, if you notice your cat to behave lethargically, has blood in the stools, has decreased appetite, starts vomiting, straining to defecate or sudden weight loss, see your vet immediately.
Over at the clinic, your vet will physically examine for other underlying medical conditions. You will also be asked a series of questions to determine if the diarrhea is acute or chronic. A stool sample will be taken and check for presence of parasites as well as to identify the cause of the diarrhea. Other diagnostic tests performed may include biopsy, cultures, endoscopy, radiographs and ultrasound. Your vet will be able to advise you on which tests are necessary and recommend the best treatment for your cat’s diarrhea depending on the severity.
Once the test results are out, your vet will recommend a suitable treatment for your cat. If your cat’s condition is mild, food will be withheld for one to two days, though water will still be provided. After a day or two, you can start feeding your cat again. However, the food has to be bland for at least a few more days. Your vet may prescribe anti-diarrhea medications or IV fluids to treat dehydration in some cases. For more serious cases or cases with other underlying condition, your vet will advise you on the next course of action.
The information in the “Causes” section will help you identify some of the underlying causes of diarrhea. With this information, it will be easier to prevent your cat from developing diarrhea again. Here are some tips to help you prevent your cat from getting diarrhea.
- Cat-proof or kitten-proof your whole house to prevent your pet from ingesting substances or objects which cause harm to your cat. This list of “Plants Poisonous To Cats” will help you identify household plants you need to remove.
- Don’t change your cat’s diet unless there is a medical need.
- Don’t feed your cat dairy products.
- Don’t anyhow feed your cat any type of food unless you have checked with your vet first.
- Groom your cat more frequently to reduce the chances of your cat having too much hairball in the body.
- Keep your cat indoors at all times. This will reduce the chances of your cat getting diarrhea through ingesting spoiled food.
- Bring your cat to the vet regularly for routine checkups. This will helps to detect certain medical disorders early and prevent your cat’s health from deteriorating further.
Questions on feline diarrhea
Q: Is it normal for cats to have diarrhea?
A: It is not normal for cats to develop diarrhea. Though cats may get diarrhea from time to time if they have too many hairballs. When this happens too frequently, this will normally indicate an underlying medical issue. Cats that spend a lot of time outdoors tend to have higher risks of getting diarrhea as they may ingest food that are not supposed to be consumed.
Q: My cat has diarrhea with blood
A: If you discover blood in your cat’s stool, it is usually a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition. Bring your cat to the vet immediately to pinpoint the exact cause.
Q: Why does my cat always have diarrhea?
Many cases of feline diarrhea are mild and rarely lasted more than a few days. These bouts of diarrhea will come and go. More serious cases will require immediate treatment. If your cat consistently has bouts of diarrhea, it may be due to a more serious medical condition. You better get a vet to examine your cat to ensure it is not suffering from a more serious medical condition.
*This section will be updated periodically if there are new concerns or questions regarding diarrhea in cats.
Diarrhea in cats is easily treated and there should not be any long term concern. However, if cases are accompanied by certain symptoms such as blood in the stool or lasted more than a day or two, you should get your cat examined and tested for possible underlying medical conditions. At the end of the day, it is better to prevent your cat from developing diarrhea in the first place.