HEALTH & CARE

How to Treat Diarrhea in Cats: Don’t Delay

Cat diarrhea
Martha Harvey
Written by Martha Harvey

We all know how painful it can be to suffer through a bout of diarrhea. Imagine how doubly hard it is for our cats to suffer from it; since their bodies are small, their condition could deteriorate quickly. Do you suspect that your cat has diarrhea? Even if your cat is currently healthy, it won’t hurt to learn how to treat diarrhea in cats.

Diarrhea can be a nuisance both for you and your beloved feline. Not only is it hard to clean up the mess, but it could also put your cat’s life in danger. Don’t fret as we will discuss why diarrhea could afflict cats, what the symptoms are, and more importantly, how to treat it.

At the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of this common cat health problem. And you would know what to do in case you can’t bring your pet to the vet for one reason or another.

Understanding Diarrhea in Cats

Diarrhea in felines is pretty much what we humans experience. It is the rapid movement of body waste through the pet’s intestines. It is characterized by loose stools, increased amount of stools, or increased bowel movements.

The feces is often oddly-colored, like yellow or gray. It is often uncharacteristically foul-smelling. However, don’t mistake all soft stools for diarrhea. Cats may have them from time to time.

Cats with diarrhea pass watery stool that doesn’t hold shape, unlike soft stools, which may still hold some shape. Think of it as a watery mess. Cats who pass watery stool usually don’t even make it to their litter box. In comparison, cats can make it to their litter box when passing soft discharge.

Causes of Diarrhea in Cats

new food introduced to a cat

Diarrhea in cats isn’t exactly a disease. Most of the time, it is a symptom of a more serious condition such as:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease—this pertains to a group of feline disorders leading to long-term diarrhea or vomiting in cats. Inflammatory bowel disease is characterized by inflammation of the intestinal wall.

  • Intestinal tumors—this is more common in older cats. Tumors can interfere with food absorption and lead to obstruction in the intestines. Two of the more common tumors in feline intestines are adenocarcinoma and lymphoma.

  • Benign growths—although not a common cause of diarrhea in cats, benign growths can line up the intestine and cause gradual obstruction to the passage of food.

  • Systemic ailments—liver disease, kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism are some of the systemic diseases that can impact the intestine and result in diarrhea.

However, diarrhea in cats is not often caused by those conditions. Vets say that a change in diet is the most common cause of diarrhea. A sudden alteration in the cat’s diet, like when new food is introduced, can upset his stomach and lead to the passing of loose stools. However, the cat will eventually settle down once his body systems adapt to the new diet.

See Also: Best Cat Food for Diarrhea

Another common cause of diarrhea is when the cat ingested spoiled food. We’d like to note that some adult cats are healthy enough to tolerate it, although many are not, and thus would fall sick afterward.

Aside from changes in the cat’s diet and the ingestion of spoiled food, there are other possible explanations for cat diarrhea, such as:

  • Infections—many infectious agents can cause diarrhea. Examples include bacteria (salmonella and campylobacter come to mind), parasites (coccidia and giardia are examples), and virus (feline parvovirus, for instance). These infectious agents are prone to affecting more than one cat in a household. Kittens are also more vulnerable to these diarrhea-causing infections.

  • Ingestion of dairy products—cats are lactose intolerant. They lack the necessary enzymes needed to process milk. As such, ingestion of milk and other milk-based products such as ice cream and cheese can lead to stomach troubles.

  • Ingestion of foreign objects—hairball, for instance, can cause cats to get diarrhea.

  • Allergies—while not as common a cause as changes in diet, dietary allergy may also cause diarrhea in cats. Some cats may be hypersensitive to an ingredient present in their diet, like protein.

See Also: How to Treat Cat Allergies

Symptoms of Diarrhea

cat vomitting

As we’ve mentioned earlier, diarrhea is characterized by loose, smelly, and watery stools in your pet’s litter box.

Aside from the loose stool, there are other tell-tale signs that your pet is suffering from diarrhea. One is when he frequently licks his bottom. This may sound yucky but consider that the area is tender and even sore. It’s one way for him to soothe that part of his body.

You may also notice that his appetite has suffered. He may no longer be touching the food he usually eats.

Other signs of diarrhea in cats are vomiting, poor appetite, lethargy, and increased defecating frequency.

See Also: How to Clean Up Cat Vomit

How to Treat Diarrhea in Cats

The question you may have in mind is: “Should you bring your cat to a veterinarian once you’ve determined he has diarrhea?”

It really depends on his condition. If he passes soft stool but remains playful, then you might want to wait another day or so to observe him. The same goes if he eats and drinks normally.

Moreover, if you’ve just introduced a new food to his diet or you suspect that he has ingested a dangerous food item, then it is practical to wait for a day or so before bringing him to the vet.

You can also try the following home treatment options to help soothe his condition:

#1: Give Him Unlimited Access to Water

giving cat unlimited access to water

Water is very important for any feline who is suffering from diarrhea. The condition may not only lead to loss of fluids; it can also lead to electrolyte loss which can affect critical physiological functions. Thus, you should encourage him to drink as much water as possible.

How can you do this? Try some tricks like placing numerous bowls containing fresh waters in multiple spots around the home. If you have a drinking fountain that’s not in use, then take it out and place it in an area where your cat will see it.

See Also: DIY Cat Water Fountain

But don’t place the fresh water bowl near his litter box because he will definitely avoid it like the plague. Just think about this: would you drink near the toilet?

#2: Add Pedialyte to Fresh Water

This is an electrolyte beverage that can be purchased over-the-counter. It’s usually prescribed to infants and children who are suffering from diarrhea. You can also use it to treat diarrhea in cats.

Adding Pedialyte to your feline’s water can help in replacing electrolytes lost due to diarrhea. Most cats prefer drinking clear and unflavored Pedialyte. Try adding 10 to 15 percent of Pedialyte to fresh water to entice your pet to drink it.

#3: 12-Hour Food Fast

Young and adult cats with diarrhea who appear to be healthy and are acting normally could benefit from a short, 12-hour food fast. This is called ‘resting the gut’ and can help his stomach to settle down.

But keep in mind that this only applies to food; meaning you’d still have to provide the cat with lots of water to replace lost electrolytes.

#4: Bland, Fat-Free Food

pumpking for a cat

After the 12-hour period, give him bland and fat-free food. You can always offer canned cat food. Or you may cook ground turkey with 100% pumpkin.

If the latter is not available, try mixing fresh and cooked sweet potato. Mix equal parts of the ground turkey and vegetable then feed it to your pet in small amounts. Slowly increase the frequency and amount until his diarrhea stops.

This bland diet should resolve diarrhea in 2-3 days. If it fails to do so, you may want to consult your vet.

#5: Try Natural Remedies

But before you bring your cat to a vet, you might want to try some natural remedies for cat diarrhea. Slippery elm bark and chamomile are reputed to have positive effects against feline diarrhea.

Slippery elm bark is an herb which has been used for many centuries in soothing the digestive tract. You can find it in capsule or in powder form in health food shops.

You can mix about a teaspoon of slippery elm bark or a capsule of its powder form into the water. Then mix it in with the food of the cat. You may also mix slippery elm bark powder into the wet food.

You can also try giving chamomile tea to a cat with diarrhea. Dilute a small amount of the tea with water then serve it at room temperature. Chamomile tea is reputed to ease diarrhea as well as upset stomach and vomiting.

See Also: How to Grow Cat Grass

#6: Try Psyllium or Metamucil

Psyllium

This is a bulk-forming laxative that is widely available in powder or capsule forms. It is used in treating large bowel diarrhea, constipation, and inflammatory bowel diseases in humans. It can also increase stool size.

While it is not FDA-approved for application in cats, it is commonly used by vets in treating feline diarrhea. The effects of this drug will take about 72 hours to become noticeable.

When to Bring a Cat to the Vet?

taking a cat to a vet

If you’ve tried all these suggestions and his condition has not improved after 1-2 days, then we suggest you bring your pet to the vet.

The following are other signs that you should bring a cat with diarrhea to the vet:

  • Fever

  • Blood in the stools

  • Pale gums

  • Pain

  • Vomiting

  • Dehydration; this often happens two to three days after the cat first experienced diarrhea

Take note that kittens, senior cats, and small adult cats are at a higher risk of dehydration from a single bout of diarrhea.

Your cat will be examined by the vet for underlying illnesses. The doctor may also take a stool sample to determine if there are internal parasites and conduct blood tests to discover possible causes of feline diarrhea.

Other diagnostic exams that vets may undertake to identify the underlying cause of diarrhea include biopsy, endoscopy, ultrasound, cultures, and radiographs. The diagnostic tests and recommended treatment would depend largely on the duration and the seriousness of your pet’s condition.

You can also help the vet have a better understanding of your pet’s condition by giving him/her a detailed history of the disease.

Here are some questions that the vet would likely ask you:

  • When did the diarrhea start? How long has it been going on?

  • How many times a day does your cat pass stool?

  • Have you noticed increased urgency to defecate?

  • Have you seen traces of blood in the stool?

  • Did you make any changes in the cat’s diet?

  • Have you noticed signs of illness like lethargy, loss of appetite, and vomiting?

  • Do you let your cat go outside?

  • Has he been exposed to other animals which may have been sick?

Keep in mind these questions so that you will be able to give the vet a thorough history of your cat’s condition. In doing so, you can help the vet determine an appropriate treatment for your beloved pet.

Cat Diarrhea Prevention

diet for a cat

Now, you may be wondering: “What can I do to prevent my cat from getting diarrhea?”

First, we suggest that you keep him indoors so that he won’t ingest any spoiled food that may harm his digestive system.

Moreover, avoid giving him dairy foods even if he likes them. Cats are notorious for their love of milk and yogurt. But as we’ve mentioned earlier, cats can’t digest milk and other dairy products, so it would be a good idea to keep those products away from him.

Finally, introduce new food into his diet gradually. Mix it with the old food to facilitate an easier transition for his GI tract.

Wrap Up

happy and healthy cat

Healthy cats don’t normally suffer from diarrhea. But when they do, it can be due to many possible causes. Most of the time, changes in their diet and the ingestion of spoiled food are the culprits. But it can also be caused by other factors such as infections, allergies, and systemic ailments.

If your cat doesn’t appear sick even after a bout or two of diarrhea, you can try to ‘rest the gut’ by not feeding him for 12 hours. After the 12-hour fast, introduce bland, fat-free food to him. You can also try natural remedies like chamomile and slippery elm bark.

Is your cat suffering from diarrhea? How lethargic does he seem to be? Have you tried any of our tips? Let us know how it goes for you! Don’t miss out on our next article: how to treat UTI in cats.

About the author
Martha Harvey
Martha Harvey

Martha Harvey is a skilled veterinarian and a member of American Veterinary Medical Association from Greeley, Colorado. She has 20 years experience of working in Animal Hospital. Martha loves all of her patients, but her favorite one is the Russian Blue cat Stitch, who lives with her.

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