If your cat starts experiencing diarrhea it can be concerning, and even inconvenient and time-consuming, if you need to continuously clean up after your cat. But while diarrhea in cats will likely be easy to detect, the causes of it can vary from a simple change in their diet to much more serious diseases. Diarrhea can also come on very suddenly only to stop just as quickly, or it can last for several weeks, or even months. While diarrhea alone shouldn’t typically cause concern, it can lead to dehydration and it’s important to identify any underlying conditions, as those could also be quite serious.
Causes of Diarrhea in Cats
Causes of diarrhea can range greatly from something as small as getting into food they shouldn’t have, to more serious diseases and conditions.
Some of the causes of diarrhea in cats are:
- Change in diet
- Intolerance to certain food, especially dairy
- Consumption of spoiled food
- Infection, either bacterial or viral
- Parasites such as roundworms, coccidian, and Giardia
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Kidney or liver disease
- Cancerous tumors in the digestive tract
Symptoms of Diarrhea in Cats
Of course, the main symptom of diarrhea – and the one that will be the first to tell you there’s a problem – is the loose, watery stools your cat will frequently experience. Some of the other symptoms you may notice accompanying the stools are:
- Passage of blood in mucus or stool
- Straining to defecate
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Defecating more frequently
- Pale or yellow gums
- Sensitive abdomen
While unpleasant, it’s important that you check your cat’s stools often while they’re experiencing diarrhea. This is because another symptom, and one of the most serious, is bloody or black stools. If these are found in your cat’s diarrhea, it’s important to get them to the vet immediately. This could indicate internal bleeding of the stomach or the intestines and is a very serious medical condition.
Diagnosing Diarrhea in Cats
Because your vet will likely be able to see that your cat is experiencing diarrhea, and because they’ll take a full history of current symptoms, diarrhea itself isn’t difficult to diagnose. However, diagnosing the cause of the diarrhea can be a bit more challenging, because there are so many possible causes. Getting to the root of the problem is important however, as this is the only way the diarrhea can be properly treated.
To help determine the cause of the diarrhea, the vet will first need to localize the diarrhea to the small or large intestine. In order to do this the vet will ask about the symptoms, which will indicate where the diarrhea is.
While talking about the symptoms, the vet will also ask whether they came on suddenly, or if they’ve been building over a period of time. If the symptoms suddenly appeared, the cause could be something as simple as the cat eating the wrong kind of food, and it’s known as “acute” diarrhea. If the cat has been experiencing symptoms for an extended period of time, the cause could be something more serious and it’s known as “chronic” diarrhea. If the diarrhea comes and goes, it’s known as “intermittent” diarrhea.
A full medical history and physical exam will also be done when diagnosing diarrhea. The medical history will tell the vet whether or not the cat has been dewormed, what vaccinations they’ve had, what medication they’re on or have been on, and how often they interact with other animals. All of these can help the vet determine the cause of the diarrhea, which can help them completely diagnose it.
Once the vet has heard the medical history and the symptoms, they will perform a fecal flotation, something that’s done in nearly all cases of cat diarrhea. This test will show the presence of any parasites or worms, and will also determine if bacteria is present. If it is, a fecal culture and sensitivity will be done. Other tests that might be performed during diagnosis are a complete blood count, chemistry panel, radiographs, and ultrasounds.
After the vet has performed all of the tests and received all results back, only then will they be able to prescribe appropriate treatment.
Treating Diarrhea in Cats
Of course, treatment can’t be started for cats suffering from diarrhea until the cause is found; and that treatment will need to focus on clearing up the cause or underlying condition. However, there are some things you can do at home to keep your cat more comfortable and help to stop the diarrhea.
Most vets recommend to hold off giving food to any cat experiencing diarrhea for 12 to 24 hours, but to allow small amounts of water often. After this time, a bland diet including things such as boiled chicken and rice can be introduced slowly. The cat needs to be watched during this time and, if the diarrhea does not return after several days on the bland diet, the cat’s normal food can be reintroduced over the course of 3 or 4 days. If the diarrhea is due to the diet, it may need to be changed permanently to increase fiber, reduce fat, or to just generally help the overall digestive system.
If the diarrhea was due to parasites, a deworming medication will be prescribed. It’s important that the right medication be prescribed for the right parasite, as not all medications will kill all parasites.
Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the diarrhea, but this is typically only in the case of bacterial diarrhea. If the intestine or any part of the digestive tract has been damaged due to the diarrhea, antibiotics may also need to be prescribed.
Most often, diarrhea in cats is nothing serious and should clear up on its own within a few days. However, it’s still important that you get your cat to the vet right away, as diarrhea that’s left untreated can lead to major complications and cause serious sickness.