Diarrhea in Cats

Cat sitting in litter box next to toilet

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Diarrhea is not uncommon in cats. Just like humans and dogs, cats can get diarrhea occasionally. It's important for cat owners to understand how to respond if their cats develop diarrhea.

About Diarrhea in Cats

Diarrhea in cats is characterized by unformed stools that can range from soft to watery. It occurs when there is a disturbance in the gastrointestinal tract. The stool is purged from the body in response to inflammation or other GI problem.

Some cats with diarrhea will have accidents around the house. making it obvious to you what is going on. However, you may not immediately notice diarrhea if your cat is defecting in the litter box or outdoors. Very loose stool can look like clumps of urine when you're scooping the box. Look for accompanying signs that can help you determine whether or not your cat is having diarrhea.

Signs of Diarrhea in Cats

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Caked stool or stains around tail and anus
  • Vomiting
  • Frequent trips to the litter box
  • Vocalization

If you have more than one cat and you find diarrhea in the litter box or around the house, you will need to determine which cat is having diarrhea. This may take some time and effort. You can try to separate the cats and watch each cat's litter box closely. It's also possible that both cats are having diarrhea.

Causes of Diarrhea in Cats

There are many potential causes of diarrhea, some more common than others. Dietary causes are among the most common reasons for diarrhea. Your cat might have eaten something that did not agree with him. Or, a change in diet might have brought on diarrhea.

What to Do if your Cat is Having Diarrhea

If your cat has just one or two episodes of diarrhea without accompanying signs of illness, then you may wish to watch and wait. Withhold food for 12 to 24 hours and make sure your cat has access to fresh water.

Contact your veterinarian if:

  • Your cat is showing other signs of illness, such as vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite, or discomfort
  • Your cat has excessive flatulence
  • Diarrhea continues beyond 24 hours
  • Diarrhea is occurring frequently throughout the day
  • Diarrhea has blood in it (or you notice blood around your cat's anus)
  • Your cat's stool is black and/or tarry in appearance
  • You suspect your cat was exposed to a toxin
  • You see worms in the stool
  • Your cat is taking medications
  • Your cat's abdomen looks enlarged

It may be an emergency situation if you notice certain signs. Contact your vet immediately or visit the emergency vet if your cat is extremely lethargic, disoriented, or nonresponsive. It is also an emergency if your cat's gums are white, bluish, or gray in color.

Treatment for Diarrhea in Cats

If your cat needs to see the vet, try to bring a sample of diarrhea. Your vet will need information about your cat's environment, diet, medications, recent history, and health background. After performing a physical examination, your vet will likely want to analyze the stool sample to look for parasites (and possibly for bacterial overgrowth). Blood tests may be necessary to look for underlying causes and to assess the cat's current condition.

Most vets will prescribe anti-diarrhea medication and recommend a temporary switch to a bland diet to treat diarrhea. If the underlying cause can be determined, then it will be treated appropriately. If the vet diagnoses intestinal parasites, then your cat will need a dewormer. Antibiotics will be needed for bacterial infections. If toxin exposure is suspected, then the vet will begin treating aggressively to prevent the toxin from doing further damage. Cats may need to be hospitalized in cases of severe diarrhea.

How to Prevent Diarrhea in Cats

The best way to prevent diarrhea in cats is to prevent the things that cause diarrhea. Feed a complete and balanced cat food and avoid giving table scraps. Keep potential toxins like houseplants and chemicals out of reach. Be sure to bring your cat to the vet one or two times a year based upon the vet's recommendation. Routine fecal analysis is important for outdoor cats, but even indoor cats' stool should be checked periodically for parasites.