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What to Do When Your Cat Has Diarrhea

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Many of the concerns cat owners bring to their vets are related to diarrhea. If your cat is producing loose or wet stool, you might be wondering what you should do. Luckily, we are here to help!

Why Do Cats Get Diarrhea?

Just like humans, cats are susceptible to the occasional episode of diarrhea. In fact, cats often develop diarrhea for many of the same reasons that humans do!

cat sitting next to cat litter odors eliminator

In most cases, cat diarrhea occurs because their gastrointestinal tract cannot absorb nutrients properly. It may also result when the digestive system cannot function at full capacity, often the result of inflammation within the cat’s stomach and intestinal tract.

What Causes the Inflammation?

Given that inflammation within the gut of a cat is almost always at fault for episodes of feline diarrhea, you might be wondering what causes it in the first place.

The truth is, there are many reasons why cats experience inflammation within their digestive system. Common causes include food-borne allergies and intolerances to certain ingredients within their usual diet, chronic stress, and various metabolic diseases.

Infectious agents, like stomach and intestinal parasites, bacterial infections, and contagious viruses, can also cause cat diarrhea. These issues tend to be far more common in outdoor cats, especially those that hunt and consume prey.

In cases where the diarrhea is severe and ongoing, it could be linked to certain types of gastrointestinal cancers. Cancers that impact the cat’s digestive system, like gastrointestinal lymphoma, are far more common in elderly and geriatric cats than younger cats. In these cases, it is common for the cat to experience severe weight loss and other clinical signs of physical degeneration alongside their diarrhea.

What Causes Chronic Diarrhea in Cats?

The most common cause of chronic diarrhea in cats is intestinal bowel disease or IBD. Diarrhea related to intestinal bowel disease is usually triggered by certain ingredients in the cat’s food.

Common food allergens found in cat food include chicken, fish, and dairy products. If, for example, your cat has a sensitivity to chicken, consuming cat food that contains chicken parts could trigger a mild allergic reaction within the cat’s digestive system. These reactions could lead to inflammation within the stomach and intestines, which would, eventually, cause malabsorption of nutrients and acute diarrhea.

Other Food-Related Causes of Diarrhea

Eating cat food that is high in unhealthy fats can also cause diarrhea, which often occurs when the cat is consuming food that contains ingredients like processed meat and dairy products. The cheaper grocery store brands often cut costs by filling out their food with low-quality protein sources, which can cause diarrhea and other health issues.

It is also a common misconception that cow’s milk is healthy for cats. The truth is quite the opposite, and cats cannot properly digest the lactose found in the milk of cows, goats, and other types of ruminants. In other words, feeding cats milk that is rich in lactose can cause them to develop diarrhea. While it might be contrary to what you have seen in movies and television, you should not allow your cat to drink milk!

Inflammation in the intestine can also occur for reasons other than intestinal bowel disease. Other causes of inflammation in the gut can be related to stress. Cats are very prone to stress when their environment changes. If your cat experiences a stressful event, such as a family gathering or a trip to the veterinary clinic, it may develop diarrhea for a few days.

Infectious Agents That Can Cause Diarrhea in Cats

As mentioned previously, infectious agents can also cause cats to experience diarrhea.

Bacterial infections, like salmonella and campylobacter, can trigger severe cases of diarrhea in cats. These infections are usually acquired when the cat eats contaminated food, like raw or spoiled meat. They can also pick up these infections when they drink dirty water contaminated with animal feces. Again, these issues are far more common in cats that spend time outdoors.

Certain infectious viruses can also cause diarrhea in cats. These viruses are transmitted through the accidental or intentional consumption of feces or interacting with infected cats and wildlife.

Parasites are also a common cause of diarrhea, especially in outdoor cats. Intestinal worms and some microscopic parasites, such as giardia and coccidia, cause serious intestinal issues, including diarrhea.

How Do You Treat These Issues?

If your cat is experiencing diarrhea from a parasite, it will most likely require treatment through a veterinarian-prescribed medication. In these cases, you will have to book a checkup with a veterinarian, which will allow the vet to inspect the animal and confirm whether or not they are suffering from a parasite or a virus. They will most likely want to check a stool sample from your cat.

If you have an elderly cat displaying other clinical signs alongside diarrhea, we recommend that your cat get a full checkup with a veterinarian.

As mentioned, certain metabolic diseases and cancers that occur within the gastrointestinal tract can result in diarrhea. Unfortunately, these issues are fairly common in older cats, so any cat experiencing prolonged bouts of diarrhea alongside noticeable weight loss should see a veterinarian right away.

What Can I Give My Cat for Diarrhea?

While certain cases require more effort than others, you can sometimes treat diarrhea quite effectively with simple remedies. Probiotic supplements designed specifically for cats are readily available, and you can find them in most pet stores and vet clinics. Not only are they effective and affordable, but these supplements are also easy to administer to cats.

Essentially, probiotics are beneficial microorganisms that can help your cat’s digestive system by improving nutrient absorption. They also help with the healthy formation and elimination of waste. These products generally come in powdered form and can be sprinkled on your cat’s food.

Choosing a Different Type of Food

If you suspect that your cat could be suffering from intestinal bowel disease or a food-related allergic reaction, you can try changing up their food.

Read the ingredient list on your cat’s current food and try to select a vet-recommended brand that contains different ingredients. For example, if your cat eats food rich in chicken, try feeding the cat salmon-based cat food. Monitor the cat and keep an eye on the consistency of the bowel movements. In some cases, simply switching the food can be enough to resolve the diarrhea issue. Trying a bland diet for a few days may also help. There are prescription bland diets, as well as some available OTC.

Deworming Medication

You can also request non-prescription deworming medication through most veterinary clinics. If you suspect your cat is suffering from intestinal worms or another type of parasite, or have seen worms in your cat’s stool, speak with a veterinarian, and they will recommend a product that can help. Fortunately, these issues are surprisingly easy to treat.

What If Both of These Efforts Fail to Resolve the Diarrhea Issue?

If a switch in diet, probiotic supplements, and a deworming medication all fail to resolve your cat’s diarrhea, you should book an appointment with a veterinarian immediately.

A veterinarian may recommend checking a sample of your cat’s stool for the presence of parasites and harmful types of bacteria. They may also recommend treating the issue with prescription drugs, especially if the cat is dealing with a severe case of diarrhea.

In the event of a more severe case of diarrhea, your veterinarian may suggest blood tests, as well as internal imaging, like a radiograph or ultrasound. These efforts will hopefully get to the root cause of your cat’s chronic diarrhea.

What Should I Do If My Cat Has Diarrhea?

If your cat has diarrhea, the best thing you can do is monitor the situation. Try some of the solutions we discussed above and see if the diarrhea situation resolves itself.

If your cat goes outdoors, try keeping it inside for a while, as it could be possible that your cat is infectious. You would not want your cat’s issue to spread to other cats in the neighborhood!

You should also ensure you keep your cat’s hindquarters clean and make sure the litter box is cleaned more frequently than usual.

Final Words

As always, you can speak with a Hello Ralphie online veterinarian if you have any other questions or concerns about your cat’s health. Simply create a free online profile in minutes to view availability and then choose a vet that can provide advice or medication right away. 

For more information, consider reading our Why Is My Cat Losing Weight and Top 10 Lesser-Known Pet Toxins guides.

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