If you're reading this article you're likely dealing with quite a mess. Diarrhea is no fun for anyone and unfortunately, it can also affect your feline companion. While diarrhea can be a nightmare for a pet parent to have to constantly clean up, it can also be a telltale sign that your cat may be under the weather or have a more severe condition needing medical attention. In this article, we will cover all of the reasons why your cat may be suffering from diarrhea, how to treat it, as well as how to prevent it from happening. Don't panic, there is hope. Let's get started!
What is Diarrhea
You've likely experienced a bout of diarrhea at some point in your life. Diarrhea is characterized as unformed or loose stools. It can occur suddenly, without warning and end quickly but can also last weeks or months and occur intermittently. These two types of diarrhea are referred to as acute diarrhea and chronic diarrhea. Each type has different causes and therefore differing treatment methods.
It is important for cat owners to understand that diarrhea is not a disease but rather a symptom of many different diseases and ailments. Diarrhea is considered to be a non-specific symptom. In other words, it is a common symptom of disease and typically is accompanied by other clinical signs that vets use to make an accurate diagnosis. The sole symptom of diarrhea is unusual.
Typically, one episode of diarrhea isn't a cause for alarm. However, if diarrhea becomes a regular occurrence it's not something that should be ignored.
What Causes Diarrhea
People typically associate diarrhea with a stomach bug or food poisoning. However, there are a slew of reasons that often result in diarrhea. Identifying what is causing your cat to have diarrhea is the first step in being able to relieve the symptom and treat the underlying cause. Understanding the reason for diarrhea will also help pet parents prevent it from happening again.
A common reason for diarrhea to occur is because of a change in diet. Many pet owners know what it's like to have a picky eater on their hands. Your furry companion may absolutely adore their food for a handful of months and then suddenly begin turning their noses up at dinnertime. As a doting cat parent, you want your feline to enjoy their food and make sure they are getting all the nutrients they need, so you make a quick switch to a new food option. Boom. Diarrhea.
Switching up your cat's food is a great idea. In fact, changing your cat's protein source every three months can help prevent inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and help prevent diarrhea, cat vomiting, and a slew of other unpleasant symptoms. However, it is imperative to go slowly when transitioning to a new food. Gradually replace small portions of the existing food with the new food. The last thing you want to do is make the switch to a great, new food at the expense of upsetting your cat's fragile stomach in the process.
A lot of commercial pet foods are considered rendered, or not safe for human consumption. This makes sense to some pet owners until you begin to consider what is actually in the food that is so unsafe for people. Unfortunately, many rendered bags of cat food contain things like bird feathers and beaks, animal skin, hooves, eyes, and heads. As you can imagine, these ingredients which are oddly considered to be "proteins" can wreak havoc on the stomach.
We recommend looking into human-grade cat food, especially if your feline friend has a weak stomach or is having digestive issues. Additionally, many holistic vets recommend implementing a raw food diet when possible. Talk to your vet and make sure that you are feeding your cat the best food you can. It can truly make a world of a difference for your furry friend.
Food Intolerances & Food Allergies
Food intolerances and food allergies can also lead to diarrhea in cats. Pet parents may not realize that their feline can develop allergies just like people. In many cases, a food intolerance or allergy is at the root of chronic diarrhea which occurs intermittently over long periods of time, sometimes months on end.
Another interesting and often unknown fact is that allergies in cats can develop when the cat is fed the same food for too long. Feeding your feline the same protein day after day (even if it is high-quality protein) can cause inflammation of the GI tract which therefore leads to allergies developing. Finding new ways to switch up your cat's food is a wonderful way to prevent the gastrointestinal inflammation, thus preventing allergies, and finally, preventing cat diarrhea.
A telltale sign that your cat may have allergies is when they are healthy in nearly every other aspect of their life. Are your cat's energy levels normal? Is your cat a healthy weight? Does diarrhea occur intermittently without a major change in their life? You may want to consider the possibility of allergies and switch their food. Again, make this change gradual!
Milk - A Common Misconception
We have all seen the adorable photos and videos of tiny kittens lapping up every last drop of milk from their bowls. In fact, most mammals love a heaping of milk when offered. However, it is essential that the milk is from the same species. Cats don't have the proper enzymes that are necessary to break down the milk sugars found in cow's milk. Feeding cats the milk of other animals puts them at a high risk of developing secondary gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Eating Spoiled Food
Some cats (and many dogs) will eat just about anything they can get their paws on. If your cat gets into the trash and feasts on spoiled food you'll likely find diarrhea and vomiting shortly after. Luckily, this acute diarrhea typically resolves fairly quickly and is also extremely preventable. Keeping spoiled food and other inedible items out of your cat's reach is an easy way to ensure that your kitty's digestive system stays healthy and functioning properly.
Bacterial or Viral Infection
Food aside, there are a slew of reasons that your cat may be suffering from diarrhea including bacterial and viral infections. People often refer to these infections as a simple stomach bug, but in cats, the infections can have the potential to be far from simple. Bacterial and viral infections of the gastrointestinal tract can cause your cat to experience severe diarrhea as well as vomiting, both of which can lead to extreme weight loss and dehydration.
Acute diarrhea is often a symptom that too much bacteria has accumulated in the cat's small intestine. While some bacterial infections may clear up on their own in about a weeks time, it is imperative to keep a close eye on your cat and act accordingly if necessary. Other infections will only resolve with appropriate medication and administering the anti-viral meds in a timely manner is paramount.
Furthermore, preventing the underlying cause of the bacterial or viral infection is essential. Again, it's important to remember that diarrhea is merely a symptom and the root of the problem must be handled efficiently in order to ensure the infection doesn't resurface.
Cat diarrhea is also a symptom of intestinal parasites. Internal parasites are transmitted to the cat's body and intestinal tract through contaminated water and food sources. When diarrhea is a symptom of an intestinal parasitic infestation it is typically acute and often short lasting but the damage can be quite severe if not treated appropriately. It is important to be well aware of whether your cat is at risk for contracting parasites there are preventative measures available. Unfortunately, the symptoms of internal parasites including vomiting, anemia, and weakness all make the cat more susceptible to contracting other infections.
Furthermore, intestinal parasites do not only affect your feline companion. In fact, there are some parasites that can be passed from the cat to their owner. Therefore, if your cat does, in fact, have intestinal parasites, seeking proper medical attention is incredibly important.
Internal parasites include:
- Stomach Worms
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
When you track the vast majority of ailments back to the root of the condition, you will likely find they have one thing in common: inflammation. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is no different. IBD includes conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastritis, pancreatitis, enteritis, and colitis, conditions also found in people that present similar symptoms. Chronic inflammation and therefore chronic diarrhea are much more serious than they may sound. The conditions included under the IBD "umbrella" have all been liked to severe disease including gastrointestinal lymphoma and GI cancers.
It goes without saying that it is critical for pet parents to receive an accurate, timely diagnosis if their cat is experiencing chronic diarrhea. It may seem to be an issue that will subside now, but in months or a years time it has the ability to develop into something much more and potentially irreversible.
Kidney or Liver Disease
We likely don't have to tell you the importance of the liver and kidneys. The detoxifying organs are essential for your cat to live a healthy, functioning life. When there is something wrong with the liver or kidneys, diarrhea may be one of the first symptoms that develop. However, your vet will not be able to diagnose liver or kidney dysfunction based on diarrhea alone. A series of other tests will have to be administered in order to check the organs. When it comes to kidney or liver disease, a timely diagnosis is of the utmost importance as the disease can develop into liver or kidney failure if not treated appropriately.
Knowing that your cat isn't feeling well, in any capacity, can be extremely heart wrenching for a pet owner. Many times a quick trip to the vet's office will leave you with a handful of medications to treat whatever ailment they are currently facing. However, unfortunately, many times this also means leaving with a slew of potential side effects of the medication, including diarrhea. If the medical condition that the drugs are prescribed for is a chronic condition it's a good idea to speak with your vet regarding alternatives that don't cause diarrhea. Again, chronic diarrhea comes with its own share of possible side effects that you'll want to avoid.
Diarrhea is a common symptom of hyperthyroidism (or an overactive thyroid). Hyperthyroidism causes the cat's heart to have to work harder in order to keep up with its overactive metabolism. If hyperthyroidism isn't accurately diagnosed and treated, the cat may suffer from heart problems, such which are fatal.
Addison's disease caused by a deficiency of adrenal gland hormones is rare in cats, but when it does develop it can cause diarrhea. The disease is treatable but only when properly diagnosed.
Chemicals and Toxins
Finally, diarrhea in cats can result from the ingestion of chemicals or toxins. This form of diarrhea can be either chronic or acute depending on what type of poisoning the cat is experiencing.
Acute Diarrhea From Poisoning
For example, acute diarrhea will often occur when the cat ingests something poisonous such as a toxic houseplant. Cats can be very curious creatures. If you have a cat it is extremely important to know what plants are poisonous and avoid bringing them into the house. Even plants that aren't specifically known poisonous plants can still do a substantial amount of damage to your cat's stomach. If your feline friend enjoys getting into your plants you may want to consider purchasing wheat grass (cat grass) which is not only safe but also provides a great source of nutritional benefits that are associated with consuming living things.
Additionally, the chemicals in herbicides, pesticides, and many household cleaners can cause acute diarrhea and vomiting if consumed. Your cat doesn't need to ingest a lot of these chemically based substances in order for them to be deadly. If for any reason you feel that your cat may have consumed these products we urge you to call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at 1-888-426-4435 and follow their guidelines as to what to do next. A vet visit will likely be necessary in order to ensure your cat is cleared from the poisonous substance.
Chronic Diarrhea from Poisoning
Your cat may be experiencing chronic diarrhea that is caused by an ongoing toxicity poisoning such as lead. We cannot stress enough how important it is to identify the underlying cause of chronic diarrhea. In cases of lead poisoning, it's like that the pet owner and other family members are also be affected whether they realize it or not.
You probably have a good idea whether or not your cat is experiencing diarrhea. Cat owners can look for the following additional symptoms of diarrhea if they are unsure.
Diarrhea symptoms include:
- Increased water in feces than normal
- An increased amount of feces
- Bathroom accidents
- Not making it to the litterbox
- Blood in the fecal matter
- Mucous in the fecal matter
- Straining to go to the bathroom
- Abdominal pain
- Possible lethargy
- Weight loss
The aforementioned clinical signs are all important to monitor. Be sure to write down any irregularities and report them to your vet. The more information your veterinarian has, the faster they will be able to diagnose why your cat is experiencing diarrhea.
When to Go to the Vet
There are a few things that pet owners should consider while deciding if it's time for a vet visit.
First, what is the general condition of your cat's health? Is your cat either very young or very old? Do they have any preexisting health conditions that will make them more susceptible to dehydration or the development of other illnesses?
Next, is your cat experiencing any other worrisome symptom such as vomiting, lethargy, depression or pain?
Additionally, how often is diarrhea occurring? Is it extremely watery or happening very often?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, we recommend taking your cat in to be examined by your veterinarian.
Finally, what does your cat's diarrhea look like? Is it the color of normal, healthy feces or is it black and tarry? Diarrhea that is black and tarry often points to internal bleeding which must be treated immediately. If your cat is experiencing black, tarry stools do not wait to get them the medical attention they need.
Diagnosing Cat Diarrhea
Once at the veterinarian's office the doctor will perform a series of tests in order to accurately diagnose what is causing your cat's diarrhea. These tests often include:
- CBC (Complete blood count)
- Stool and rectal swab samples (for parasite examination)
- Endoscope exam
Your vet will likely ask for you to bring in a sample of the diarrhea so that they can examine that as well. Again, it is extremely helpful to provide the vet with as much information about any health changes as it will help rule out certain illnesses and draw more attention to others.
Diarrhea Treatment: Home Remedies for Diarrhea
While it is paramount that the underlying cause of the diarrhea is diagnosed and treated, in the meantime you'll want to stop the symptom. There are several methods that pet parents have tried and seen positive results when it comes to relieving cat diarrhea.
Switch Up the Food
Unlike vomiting, diarrhea doesn't require the cat owner to withhold food for an extended period of time. In fact, withholding food during this time can actually do more harm than good and can put your cat at risk of developing a fatal type of liver disease known as hepatic lipidosis. With that being said, it is important to simplify your cat's food and make sure they are not receiving any treats or table scraps.
Additionally, consider whether or not your cat's diarrhea may be due to a recent change in their diet. They may have an intolerance to the new food source and you may want to go back to their original food until the specific allergy is determined.
Finally, it is entirely possible that your cat developed an allergy to the food that they have been eating for years. If this is the case, switching to a new food may do the trick in relieving any diarrhea they are experiencing.
Some cats who suffer from diarrhea often may benefit from a low fiber diet. Look for brands that are labeled as highly digestible or ideal for cats with sensitive stomachs.
On the other hand, some cats who experience bouts of diarrhea may benefit from a fiber supplement such as canned pumpkin.
Water and Electrolytes
If your cat is suffering from diarrhea it is extremely important to make sure they stay hydrated in order to prevent dehydration. Cat owners may also want to consider switching from dry cat food to a canned food in order to boost the moisture intake from their food source.
Probiotic supplements are highly effective at maintaining a healthy amount of bacteria in the cat's gut. A healthy amount of bacteria in the intestinal tract is necessary for regular, necessary digestion. Make sure to purchase a probiotic from a reputable company that is specifically formulated for cats.
Finally, many cat owners wonder if they can give their cat anti-diarrhea supplements that are formulated for humans. We urge our readers to not try these methods. Some anti-diarrhea medications can be fatal for a cat. Others, such as kaolin-pectin medications, are considered to be safe in some instances. However, it should be noted that some products that used to contain kaolin-pectin (such as Kaopectate) are now made with other ingredients that cat owners should avoid. We firmly believe it's better to be safe than sorry. Never use a medication designed for people without the supervision of your veterinarian.
Cat Diarrhea: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, we know you want what's best for your beloved feline. We want to stress one last time that diarrhea itself is not a disease but rather a symptom of many diseases. Pinpointing exactly what is causing the diarrhea is imperative in treating it and preventing diarrhea in the future.