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Why does my cat have diarrhea?

Diarrhea in cats can come from a variety of things and can be concerning for pet owners. Here, our Corpus Christi vets discuss diarrhea in cats including the causes, how you can help, and when to see a vet.

Cats With Diarrhea

Diarrhea is defined as unformed or loose stools that occur in greater quantity and frequency. It is caused by faster fecal material movement through the intestine combined with decreased water, nutrient, and electrolyte absorption. Diarrhea is not a disease in and of itself; rather, it is a symptom of a variety of illnesses.

If your cat suddenly starts having accidents around the house and the poop is unformed to fluid, then it's diarrhea. If your cat is still using the litter box it can be harder to tell if your cat has diarrhea.

It is important to remember that some variation in the consistency of poops happens in healthy cats. If frequent liquid or semi-liquid stools continue for more than two days, you should consult your vet.

What causes diarrhea in cats?

  • Parasites:  Parasites can irritate your cat’s gastrointestinal, causing all kinds of diarrhea involving the small and/or large bowels. Significant numbers of parasites that cause diarrhea are more common in younger kittens
  • Infections: Viral or bacterial infections can also cause diarrhea and also occur more frequently in younger cats
  • Dietary indiscretion or diet change: Cats tend to be more careful about what they eat than dogs are, but sometimes they do eat inappropriate things like grass, string, etc. Even a purposeful change in diet from one food to another can cause diarrhea
  • Stress: Just like with people, stress/anxiety/excitement can result in GI upset (especially lower bowel irritation or colitis)
  • Primary inflammatory disorders: Like inflammatory bowel disease in people, inflammatory disorders can cause your cat to develop diarrhea
  • Metabolic diseases: From disorders of the pancreas or liver to thyroid imbalances, many other problems upset the motility or environment in the GI tract resulting in diarrhea
  • Medications/toxins: Most know that certain antibiotics can upset the GI tract but other medications and certain toxins can also cause diarrhea
  • Constipation: Constipation may seem counterintuitive, but I mention it because older cats are prone to developing motility problems in their colons leading to constipation. In these cases, the cats often manage to only pass a small amount of more liquid stools around the obstruction.

What You Can Do

Many vets thought that diarrhea required some brief period of fasting to ‘rest’ the bowels but that turned out not to be the case. We realize that your cat’s intestines need nutrition to heal themselves so we recommend still providing your cat with just the right kind of food.

So the next question is, what should you feed your cat? Increasing fiber intake may be beneficial for diarrhea. Smaller meals (four per day) of easily digestible foods are also advised. That means a low-fat, carbohydrate-heavy diet consisting primarily of potatoes, pasta, or rice with chicken and/or turkey, low-fat cottage cheese, or yogurt.

You can find many references to administering Kaopectate or Peptobismal® and even Imodium® to your cat for diarrhea. Peptobismal is NOT recommended for use in cats, and determining dosages for the other products can be hard. So ask what your Corpus Christi vets recommends. 

How Long Diarrhea Lasts in Cats

Sometimes, diarrhea comes and goes within a few hours. Other times, it can last for days, weeks, or months, or come back often. Diarrhea that lasts for 24 to 48 hours probably won't cause a problem unless your cat is older or you have a kitten.

If it lasts longer, your cat can get dehydrated, which can be dangerous and you need to contact your vet right away for an appointment.

How to Treat Diarrhea in Cats

If your pet has a single bout of diarrhea but otherwise appears normal, it is unlikely to be cause for concern. Keep an eye on your pet's bowel movements to see if things improve. If your cat has more than two episodes of diarrhea in a row, this may indicate a problem, so it's a good idea to contact your veterinarian if your cat has two or more bouts of diarrhea.

If your pet appears to be straining to pass a stool but only passing small amounts of watery diarrhea, they could be experiencing a painful blockage due to the ingestion of a foreign object such as a toy. This is a very serious concern and needs urgent veterinary attention, contact your vet right away or head to the nearest emergency animal hospital for care.

How to Stop Chronic Diarrhea in Cats

Recurrent diarrhea over a short period of time is likely cause for concern, and it could even be a sign of a much more serious underlying health problem. This is especially true if your pet is very old, very young, or has a compromised immune system. A number of these infections can be quite serious, contagious, or even fatal. If your pet has frequent bouts of diarrhea, contact your veterinarian right away.

Cats that are showing other symptoms as well as diarrhea should also be seen by a vet as soon as possible. If your pet has any of the following symptoms contact your vet right away to make an appointment:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Blood in stool
  • Unusual drooling
  • Lack of Appetite
  • Signs of dehydration (Sunken dry-looking eyes, dry nose, or dry, sticky gums)

If your cat is showing symptoms that are causing you concern, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible. Your vet will let you know whether or not your cat's symptoms indicate that examination and treatment are necessary.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Has your cat had consistent diarrhea? Contact our Corpus Christi vets to have your kitty cared for.

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