Cat Diarrhea – Symptoms & Causes

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Diarrhea in cats is not a disease in itself but rather a symptom that something is wrong with your cat or kitten’s health. This could be a minor problem or could signify a more serious illness.

Like humans, many cats or kittens may suffer from an acute bout of diarrhea. The meaning of ‘acute’ is that it comes on suddenly but will not last longer than a few days or maybe up to a week or so. If your cat or kitten is well and is eating, playing and generally looking well and has no other symptoms other than a loose bowel motion every so often then there is probably no cause for immediate alarm. The cause may well be a change in diet or an increase in dairy products such as milk. Cats and kittens should never be given cow’s milk to drink as most felines have lactose intolerance. More reading on this subject can be found here: Should Cats or Kittens drink Milk

Other causes could include food allergies, worm and parasitic infestation and viral or bacterial infections.

If the diarrhea problem is chronic, (The definition of ‘chronic’ is an illness that persists for a long period of time) or your cat or kitten is showing signs of other symptoms such as the following then a visit to your vet must be scheduled.

Potential Serious Illness

If your cat or kitten has any of the following symptoms as well as diarrhea then you should consult with your vet to rule out any serious illness.

  • Fever
  • Pain
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in the diarrhea
  • Lethargy or depression
  • Weight Loss
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Foul smelling diarrhea
  • Straining when making bowel motion
  • Any other sign of illness

Diet

What you feed your cat has a huge impact on the state of your cat’s poop. Many of the cheaper brands of cat food are bulked out with vegetables and carbohydrates which pass straight through your cat. A basic rule of thumb is ‘If you put rubbish in, then the rubbish will come out’. Feed your cat the best quality food that you can afford.

Cats are carnivores and have certain dietary requirements. More reading on this dietary requirement of cats.

What can I do at home for diarrhea in kittens or cats before calling the vet?

Withhold food (but not water) for 24 hours (12 hours for kittens) to give your cat’s digestive system a rest. Then feed him a bland diet of 50% boiled rice and 50% chicken or 50/50 boiled rice and cooked hamburger for the next two to three days. Do not feed any dairy products. If diarrhea doesn’t resolve seek advice from your vet.

Watch out for dehydration

A lot of water is lost from the cat or kitten’s system when passing frequent watery motions so watch your cat for symptoms of dehydration. Sticky or dry gums can often indicate dehydration. Your cat’s gums should feel slippery and not sticky. Check your cat’s hydration level by gently pinching up a bit of skin on your cat’s back. When released it should quickly return to its natural position. If the skin returns slowly then this is a sign of dehydration.

Encourage your cat to drink plenty of water. If dehydrated, Lectade may be given. Lectade is an oral re-hydration therapy for cats and dogs and can be used to reverse the effects of dehydration and loss of electrolytes following diarrhea.

Bacterial Infections that cause diarrhea in cats and kittens

Bacterial infections such as Salmonella, E. coli, Clostridia and Campylobacter are often found in young cats or immuno-suppressed cats. The symptoms can range from mild to severe diarrhea, loss of appetite, depression, fever and vomiting.

Antibiotics are likely to be prescribed by your vet and in more serious cases the cat may also require intravenous fluids and supportive care.

Viral infections that cause diarrhea in cats and kittens

Cats are susceptible to a number of viral infections. All of them include diarrhea as one of the symptoms. Your vet can test your cat and offer advice and treatment for the following viral infections.

  • Panleukopenia (feline distemper)
  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
  • Feline immuno-deficiency virus (FIV)
  • Feline corona virus (FCoV)
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)

Worms that cause diarrhea in cats and kittens

Roundworm

Symptoms include Diarrhea, weight loss, poor growth.

Hookworm

Symptoms include Diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, pale gums, dehydration, anemia, swollen abdomen, black and tarry stools.

Read more on when and how to worm your cat or kitten or Can humans catch worms from cats?

Parasites that cause diarrhea in cats and kittens

Coccidiosis

Diarrhea is the main sign of coccidiosis. Blood and mucous in the diarrhea is a common symptom.

Coccidian parasites are quite commonly found in the intestinal tracts of cats however the immune system of a healthy adult cat is usually able to keep them under control. Kittens on the other hand do not have a fully developed immune system and may suffer from the effects of this parasite. Stress increases the effects. Stress can be brought on by simple factors such as the kitten going to a new home or having a new pet introduced to the environment. More reading about Stress in Cats Other illnesses such as FIV can also can put a greater load on a kitten’s immune system thus making it more difficult for the kitten to combat the coccidian parasite.

Your vet will prescribe Sulfa antibiotics. This will not kill the organism but will keep it in check until your kitten develops a good level of immunity.

Giardia

Symptoms include diarrhea with mucus and having a pale greasy appearance. The diarrhea may be greenish or yellowish. There may also be blood in the diarrhea There is usually a very bad odor to the diarrhea. Other symptoms are weight loss, abdominal pain and vomiting.

Cryptosporidia

Cryptosporidia is a single cell parasite. It can cause diarrhea in younger cats and those who are immuno-suppressed.

Tritrichomonas foetus

Tritrichomonas is a single cell protozoan which can cause diarrhea with mucus and blood. An inflamed painful anus is also a symptom. Your vet may prescribe Ronidazole

Other Diseases or Conditions which can cause Diarrhea in cats and kittens

  • Diet change
  • Blockage such as hairball or foreign object
  • Food intolerance or sensitivity
  • Toxins
  • Cancer
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
  • Idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Pancreatitis
  • Fungal infections
  • Bowel Disease

As you can see there are many causes of diarrhea in cats and kittens. If diarrhea persists you should seek advice from your vet.

This article is for information purposes only and is in no way intended to replace veterinary advice.

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