How to Treat Diarrhea in Cats

Orange tabby cat sitting behind a roll of toilet paper on the floor.
Any cat can develop diarrhea.

Getty Images/Lightspruch

Diarrhea is something everyone has experienced, but it isn't a healthy way to eliminate waste. Cats can develop diarrhea in response to a variety of conditions. Some of these conditions are more serious than others, but regardless of the cause, continuous diarrhea should be treated immediately. Serious problems can develop secondarily to diarrhea; it's important for cat owners to be aware of what causes this symptom and how it can be treated.

What Is Diarrhea in Cats?

Diarrhea happens when too much fluid is present in your cat's stool. This can occur when the contents in your cat's digestive system move through the intestinal tract too quickly for the body to absorb the fluids or if the digestive system is producing too much fluid on its own. Watery or extremely soft stool is produced as a result of this extra liquid. Unlike normal stool, diarrhea is also smelly, messy, and lacks the form that allows it to be easily scooped from a litterbox.

Signs of Diarrhea in Cats

Signs of Diarrhea in Cats

  • Watery stool
  • Smelly stool
  • Stool smeared on the floor or your cat's bedding
  • Scooting hind end
  • Feces in your cat's fur
  • Extra clumps in the litter box
  • Splattered stool on the side of the litter box
  • Frequent trips to the litter box
  • Poor coat quality
  • Skin tenting

Diarrhea may seem obvious in some situations, but if you aren't sure if your cat has it, there are some signs that you can look for. Of course, watery stool is an obvious sign if you see it, but you may notice the odor first. Diarrhea has a much stronger odor than formed stool. A cat with diarrhea may feel the constant urge to defecate, which leads to more frequent trips to the litter box. Additionally, because diarrhea is very watery, your cat may leave signs of it on carpeting, bedding, and other surfaces, especially if your cat is scooting its rear end.

The fur on your cat's rear end may also have feces in it, and sometimes, feces is even splattered on the side of the litter box or wall. You won't find formed stool in the cat litter, but instead you'll find extra clumps that aren't urine. If diarrhea continues without treatment, dehydration will develop leading to lethargy, skin tenting, sunken eyes, and even a poor coat quality.

Causes of Diarrhea in Cats

There are many reasons why a cat can have diarrhea, and some are more serious than others.

Diagnosing the Cause of Diarrhea in Cats

If your cat has diarrhea, you'll need to figure out what is causing it in order to treat it properly. A visit to your veterinarian may be necessary if the diarrhea continues for more than 48 hours without improvement or if additional symptoms, such as vomiting, are seen. If you don't think there was any chance that your cat ingested a toxin, your veterinarian will check your cat's diarrhea for intestinal parasites. If the veterinarian doesn't find parasites, they might recommend a fecal culture, blood work, X-rays, or other tests. In cases of chronic diarrhea, abdominal ultrasound or intestinal biopsy may be recommended.

Treatment of Diarrhea in Cats

Once the cause of the diarrhea is determined, a treatment plan can be made. Your veterinarian may prescribe various medications, including antidiarrheal medications. Fluid therapy may be needed if your cat is dehydrated and a food trial may be recommended if a food allergy, sensitivity, or your veterinarian suspects IBD. Probiotics and other supplements are often also used to help the intestinal tract recover and may require long-term use, depending on your cat's diagnosis.

How to Prevent Diarrhea in Cats

You may not be able to prevent all the causes of diarrhea in your cat, but there are several things you can do to help decrease the likelihood of it occurring. Ensure any dietary changes are made slowly, don't allow your cat to get into the trash or eat any dangerous household plants, and administer regular monthly heartworm and flea preventatives that include intestinal parasite prevention. Finally, get your cat checked out by your veterinarian at least once a year to help detect any problems before they can cause diarrhea.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.