Diarrhea in cats can be recognized by a series of frequent loose, watery stools, which may or may not have made it to the litter box!
There’s a variety of possible causes for diarrhea in cats, but the most common are not too serious. Generally, diarrhea can be treated at home unless it lasts for more than a day or two, in which case your cat is at risk of dehydration.
Why does my cat have diarrhea?
The most common reason for diarrhea in cats is something they’ve eaten that they are struggling to digest. If you’ve recently changed their food they may be having trouble adjusting to it, or they may have had a reaction to some table scraps or garbage they managed to find and eat.
Here are the most likely reasons for a cat to have diarrhea:
- Change in regular diet
- Food intolerance or ingestion of a food toxic to cats
- Ingestion of garbage or food which has spoiled
- Bacterial or viral infection
- Internal parasites such as roundworms, coccidia or giardia
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Kidney or Liver disease
- Cancer or tumors in the digestive tract
- Side effect of medications
What should I give a cat with diarrhea?
It used to be advised that after a spell of diarrhea you should withhold food from your cat for 12-24 hours. However, more recent research suggests that this can cause further problems.
Instead, feed your cat a simple diet – eliminating any treats or table scraps and just feeding them a nutritionally complete cat food, or boiled rice and chicken.
If you have recently changed the brand or type of your cat’s food and they suffer from diarrhea, this does not necessarily mean your cat is intolerant to the new food. Trying to introduce them to the food bit by bit by mixing more and more of the new food with your cat’s existing food. This will allow their stomach a chance to get used to it.
If the diarrhea continues after a few days revert to the old food and arrange an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss suitable foods for your cat.
Depending on the cause of the diarrhea, your veterinarian may recommend increased fiber intake to help firm up your cat’s stools. A simple and effective way of doing this is to mix a small amount of canned pumpkin into their regular food.
The most important thing to keep an eye on when your cat is suffering from diarrhea is the risk of dehydration. They need to be drinking even more than usual as they will be losing so much water through their stools.
You can’t force your cat to drink water, but there are a few ways you can encourage it. Firstly, try mixing some water into their regular food, especially if they eat dry kibble rather than wet food.
You could also try mixing some chicken broth (without added salt) into their water bowl. The taste of the chicken may encourage them to drink more than they otherwise would.
Whilst cats do love milk, and many would happily lap up a bowl even if they weren’t thirsty, avoid giving your cat any dairy as it is likely to worsen their condition.
Your veterinarian will be able to advice on the best treatment for diarrhea in your cat depending on what is seen to have caused it. If the diarrhea has been caused by ingesting toxic foods, then the vet may keep your cat in overnight on a drip to flush the body of toxins.
The veterinarian may also prescribe anti-diarrhea medication, but this is to be used under veterinary supervision only as it can be easily mis administered.
If the problem is deemed to be bacterial or viral, the vet may prescribe probiotics to feed the friendly bacteria in your cat’s stomach and return their bacterial population to normal.
If the issue is being caused by a parasite such as roundworms, the vet will prescribe de-wormers. These target multiple parasites and should be taken regularly every few months to prevent an outbreak.
Diarrhea in Kittens
Cats who are very young or elderly have much weaker immune systems than adult cats, and conditions such as diarrhea, which are usually harmless to cats, can be very dangerous.
Diarrhea in kittens is usually caused by food ingested or a parasite; it’s much rarer to see organ diseases or cancer in such young cats.
Kittens are constantly discovering new foods and tastes, so it’s expected that they would have some trouble digesting some of them. If your kitten just has one instance of diarrhea and is acting as lively as usual, you won’t normally need to take any action. However, if there are multiple instances or other warning signs (see below), you should head straight to the veterinarian for advice.
Kittens can dehydrate much quicker than adult cats, and this can potentially cause much more serious issues during such a crucial period of development.
This is one of the reasons why we recommend taking out pet insurance on your kittens as early as possible, to ensure they are fully protected whilst their immune system is still developing.
When should I worry about my cat’s diarrhea?
All cats suffer from diarrhea once in a while, and one instance of it is usually nothing to worry about. However, it’s important to look out for the below warning signs so you know when you should be heading to your veterinarian for treatment:
- Bloody or black stools (this could be a sign of internal bleeding)
- Diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours
There are a few instances where you should consult your veterinarian at the first signs of diarrhea, even if the above symptoms are not present:
- Your cat is very young
- Your cat is very old
- Your cat has other underlying health problems
- Your cat is taking regular medication
Whilst diarrhea in your cat is often nothing to worry about, it’s always good to double check with your veterinarian to give you some peace of mind.
For further peace of mind, make sure your cat is up to date on de-wormers and injections, as well as getting them fully insured. If you don’t have insurance for your cat yet, take a look at our easy quote tool for some free quotes from leading pet insurance providers.
Always consult your veterinarian
Whilst all our articles are researched and our views are provided in good faith, we advise pet owners not to rely on the content and to consult with the veterinarian if they are at all concerned about the health or well-being of their pet.