Diarrhea in Cats: Common Causes & When It's Serious

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

Cats With Diarrhea

Diarrhea is defined as unformed or loose stools, usually with increased amount and frequency. It is a result of faster movement of fecal material through the intestine combined with decreased absorption of water, nutrients, and electrolytes. Diarrhea is not a disease itself, it is a sign of many different diseases. 

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.

Common Causes Of 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.

How You Can Help

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 food just the right kind of food.

So the question now is what should you be feeding your cat? Adding more fiber is an option since it is considered to be good for diarrhea. Smaller meals (say 4 a day) of something easily digestible are also recommended. That means a low-fat, mostly carbohydrate diet like 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. You can ask your vet for their recommendation.

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.

When to Seek Veterinary Assistance

If your pet has a single episode of diarrhea but is otherwise acting normally, it's likely not a cause for concern. Monitor your pet's bowel movements to see if things clear up. If your cat experiences more than 2 episodes in short succession, this may indicate an issue, so it's generally 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.

Recurring diarrhea over a short period of time is likely a cause for concern, and may even be a sign of a much more serious underlying health issue. This is particularly true if your pet is very old, very young, or has a compromised immune system. A number of these infections can be pretty serious, contagious, or even life-threatening. Contact your vet right away if your pet is experiencing repeated bouts of diarrhea. 

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 Grenada vets to have your kitty cared for.