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Dealing with Chronic Diarrhea in Cats

Maybe you’ve been cleaning out your cat’s litter box lately and noticed it’s been having diarrhea. Perhaps you’re concerned about it. In most cases, the condition resolves itself. But, sometimes chronic diarrhea in cats is a sign of underlying diseases. But don’t worry, take a read below and learn when soft stool is harmless or when you need to call your veterinarian! 

Cat in litter box, Dealing with Chronic Diarrhea in Cats - I Love Veterinary

What does normal cat poop look like?

You can learn a lot about your cats’ health from looking at its stool. It might seem a little odd, but give it a look when you’re cleaning the litter box anyway. 

Adult, healthy cats should poop once a day. It can be difficult to be certain whether this is the case for your cat. Most cats hide the poop, do it during the night or outdoors. But fear not, if your cat is suffering from diarrhea, it’s likely you’ll know. 

But how does normal cat poop then look like, compared to diarrhea? The normal stool should be: 

Colour

Normal cat stool is a deep brown color –  with no discoloration, blood, mucus, or parasites. 

Smell

In a normal and healthy cat, the stool shouldn’t smell too bad. All feces will have some degree of smell, but it shouldn’t be very strong, foul, or change characteristics. 

Texture 

The stool should be firm but not too hard. It still needs to have some degree of softness while still being firm. 

Cleaning cat's litter box, Dealing with Chronic Diarrhea in Cats - I Love Veterinary

What are the signs of feline diarrhea? 

Cat diarrhea is defined as loose and/or watery stool. Also often excreted with increased frequency. Diarrhea is not a disease in its own right but a symptom of an underlying cause, especially if it’s been present for a long time and has turned into chronic diarrhea.

Diarrhea may be the only symptom present of a condition or one of several signs. Other symptoms often accompanying diarrhea are: 

  • Parasites visible in the stool 
  • Mucus or blood in the stool 
  • Nausea or vomiting 

The definition of Chronic diarrhea is diarrhea lasting for three weeks or longer. In cases with chronic diarrhea, the symptoms mentioned above are often seen in combination with: 

  • Lethargy (tiredness)
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Weight Loss

It is also common for cats suffering from diarrhea to become unclean. This means that well-trained cats can start having accidents around the house. It can also mean that fur on the back of the legs can become stained and soiled. 

Cat using litter box, Dealing with Chronic Diarrhea in Cats - I Love Veterinary

Which factors contribute to diarrhea?

Diarrhea occurs when fecal matter moves through the intestinal tract too fast. In combination with that, there’s also decreased reabsorption of electrolytes, water, and chemicals. Leaving the water inside the intestines, causing diarrhea. Factors that aren’t infectious/viral that can contribute to diarrhea include:

  • New diet 
  • Stress 
  • Other medicinal treatment and supplements

In most cases, diarrhea will likely be associated with the gastrointestinal tract. Often it is attributable to inflammatory or infectious diseases, including: 

But, it can also be caused by other more general diseases such as:  

In the end, if your cat’s diarrhea has lasted for more than three weeks and have become chronic, it is advisable to seek veterinary care. This to help your cat get better – no one likes having diarrhea – and to try to determine the underlying cause. 

E. Coli bacteria cells, Dealing with Chronic Diarrhea in Cats - I Love Veterinary

How does nutrition relate to diarrhea?

We have all seen the Disney movies where the little kitten gets a bowl of milk. Maybe you’ve been tempted to give your cat some milk. Or even cream? Most of our little friends love it, but it is not a good idea to give cat milk – or milk products like cream or yogurt. They cannot digest it, and it can cause diarrhea. 

Some cats get diarrhea because they’re allergic. Food-intolerances are often seen in adult animals. In some cases, with on-going or recurring diarrhea being the main symptom. In these cases, cat food with hydrolyzed or novel proteins is recommendable. 

Even if your cat is not allergic, changes in the cat food is often a part of the strategy – alongside medication, in treating chronic diarrhea. In many cases, it will mean your cat needs to be on a prescribed diet for the rest of its life. However, these days, there are quite a few options, so even your picky cat can find something it will like. 

What information do you need to relay to your vet?

In cases of short term diarrhea, it can often be managed with home remedies. However, if diarrhea has become chronic or the condition worsens, it is advisable to seek out advice from your veterinarian. When contacting your veterinarian, they will ask some questions. 

History 

It’s important to provide them with a detailed medical history. This includes when diarrhea started, other symptoms, and possible causes.

Changes 

Your veterinarian will ask you if there are any changes that have happened in your cat’s environment. This could be a new stressor (e.g. a new family member, house moving, etc.), a new diet, or maybe a new supplement you’ve been giving your cat (e.g. vitamins and herbs). 

Veterinarian and cat - I Love Veterinary

The stool 

How frequent is your cat defecating, and how is the stool? Often veterinarians separate stool into three types according to the texture. 

  • Normal: Moist, with a distinct shape that loses form when picked up. 
  • Soft: Has texture but no real shape. Resembling in texture cottage cheese. 
  • Diarrhea: Watery, with no texture. Puddles that need to be wiped up vs. picked up. 

Your veterinarian will usually also ask if there are any other symptoms and ask you to bring a sample of fresh fecal matter. 

Besides doing a thorough clinical examination, your veterinarian is also likely to recommend diagnostic tests. In cases of mild or short-term diarrhea, these might be deferred. But, if diarrhea has become chronic, the condition worsens, or treatment fails, more in-depth diagnostics will be advisable.

Cat on infusion, Dealing with Chronic Diarrhea in Cats - I Love Veterinary

What are the options for effective treatment of diarrhea in felines? 

What treatment options are available depends a lot on the cause. For some cats with mild and acute diarrhea, conservative treatment might be all that’s needed. This will often include some easily digestible cat food that will help stabilize the gastrointestinal system, along with some probiotics. In these mild cases, the vet might also prescribe parasite treatment. 

If the diarrhea is severe and leading to a change in your cat’s general health, more intensive care and treatment will be necessary. This can include hospital stays in the worst of cases. A veterinarian will then likely prescribe fluids and other supportive care. Often along with anti-inflammatory prescription drugs, to calm down the intestines. As well as trying to localize and treat the underlying cause. 

In some cases, especially with chronic diarrhea, a change in cat food might also be part of the treatment. This, if your vet suspects that allergy to specific types of food or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is to blame. A change in diet will then help to prevent future episodes of diarrhea. 

Summary 

No one likes having diarrhea. This goes especially for animals that like being extra clean, like cats. Especially when it’s long term, it can become severe and uncomfortable. Luckily there are treatment options, and the prognosis is in general good for our small furry friends. 

Interview with Shawn Wilkie - Cofounder of Talkatoo and cohost of Veterinary Innovation Podcast
Interview with Shawn Wilkie - Cofounder of Talkatoo and cohost of Veterinary Innovation Podcast
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