Every now and then, your favorite feline pet eats something that can upset its stomach. And one of the earliest signs that you will observe is loose and watery stools. Of course, this is not the only reason why felines, canines, and other pets can have bouts of diarrhea. After all, it is a natural occurrence among all living organisms that have a digestive tract. They will always have diarrhea at least once in their lifetime. But if your kitty is having more frequent or prolonged bouts of loose stools, then something is not right. One’s understanding of the different causes of diarrhea will help in the determination of the most definitive treatment.
What Can Cause Diarrhea in Cats?
Diarrhea is not a disease entity in itself. It is a sign or a symptom that something is wrong. This “something wrong” is what causes the diarrhea. And like everything else, knowing what’s causing the problem can help you determine the correct solution. So, let’s look at the different conditions that can have diarrhea as one of their symptoms.
We will first look at what can produce mild feline diarrhea:
- Eating Spoiled or Contaminated Food
Felines that eat contaminated or spoiled food are at risk of having loose, watery stools. The toxins present in such food items can irritate the mucosa of the intestines. This causes the digestive tract to contract and relax at a more rapid pace. The increased peristalsis moves the fecal matter through the colon and rectum. Since the fecal matter moves very fast, water is not reabsorbed into the intestinal lumen. This causes more water to be present in the stool, leading to diarrhea.
- Changes in the Cat’s Diet
Sometimes a sudden change in the cat’s diet can also lead to diarrhea. There may be some ingredients in the pet food that the kitty’s digestive system is not able to digest well. Any undigestible food material can cause changes in the motility of the intestines. That is why changing a cat’s diet should always be done in a gradual manner.
Check out our guide on the Cat Food for Sensitive Stomachs for more info.
- Food Intolerance
There are cats that may not be able to digest certain food items. They are obligate carnivores. As such, they are more efficient at digesting animal proteins. A major culprit is milk, which can produce diarrhea in lactose-intolerant cats. True, kittens drink milk from their mothers but the composition of cat milk is different from the milk that we give them when they’re already adults. They may have insufficient lactase or be deficient of it. Hence, they become diarrheic after drinking milk.
- Food Allergies
Cats that have food allergies can also experience diarrhea as one of the symptoms. Many pet parents often confuse food allergies with food intolerance. Food allergy is different since it involves the activation of the cat’s immune system. Certain food molecules that should not pass through the intestinal wall pass anyway. As such, antibodies attack these molecules and lead to a number of manifestations that we now associate with allergies. One of these is diarrhea. Head over to our review of hypoallergenic cat food for more alternatives.
- Side Effects of Medications
Some medications are known to cause diarrhea. For example, antibiotics can kill the bacteria in the gut – both good and bad. This upsets the intestinal balance and causes loose, watery stools. Medications used in cancer therapy can also cause diarrhea because of rapid differentiation of the cells in the intestines. This causes increased shedding and leads to diarrhea. Other medicines that can cause diarrhea include proton pump inhibitors and antidepressants.
You may not believe it but stress is a very common cause of feline diarrhea. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system. One of the effects of this activation is an increase in gastrointestinal motility. Because of the hypermotility of the GIT, diarrhea ensues.
There are also more serious conditions that can produce severe diarrhea in felines:
- Parasitic Infections
Intestinal parasites like roundworms (Toxocara cati and Toxascaris leonine), hookworms (Uncinaria and Ancylostoma), and whipworms can also cause diarrhea. Enteric protozoans like Giardia, Cryptosporidium, and Cystoisospora species are also known to produce watery stools. These parasites feed on the food that’s present in the cat’s intestines. They also cause inflammatory changes within the walls of the intestines. This can alter the absorption capabilities of the digestive tract while also affecting its motility.
- Viral or Bacterial Infections
Rotavirus infections are quite common in cats. The virus causes intestinal inflammation. Over time, it can lead to a dysfunction of the intestinal walls. Other viruses that can lead to feline diarrhea include coronaviruses, feline leukemia virus, feline panleukopenia virus, and feline immunodeficiency virus. There are also bacterial organisms that produce loose stools in kitties. These include Salmonella species, Clostridium perfringes, Campylobacter jejuni, and Helicobacter pylori. The mechanism is the same as in viral infections.
- Kidney Disease
One of the principal functions of the kidneys is the regulation and maintenance of fluid and electrolyte balance. If the cat’s kidneys are not functioning as they should, then there can be a problem in the electrolytes and fluid levels in its body. This can have an effect on the peristalsis of the colon, leading to diarrhea.
- Inflammatory Disorders of the Large Intestines
Any condition that can cause inflammation of the cat’s colon can produce diarrhea. Inflammation causes cells and tissues to swell while also triggering increased secretion of fluids. Irritation also makes the colon contract at a more rapid pace, pushing the liquid fecal matter through the rectum and anus.
- Tumors in the Gastrointestinal Tract
Another possible cause of feline diarrhea is the presence of tumors or cancerous growth in the GIT. Cancer alters the function of the cells of the intestinal wall, preventing them from absorbing water from the stool. The result is a more liquid stool that can pass through the colon with very minimal effort.
- Liver Disease
One of the functions of the liver is the production of bile, which it stores in the gallbladder. Bile is a very important substance that coats fatty food molecules prior to digestion by enzymatic lipases. If there’s a problem in the liver, then there may be inadequate bile formation. This means the cat may not be able to digest the fat present in its food. As such, you may see watery, loose stools that have fat globules in it.
Most pet parents won’t think that a hyperactive thyroid gland can cause diarrhea in cats but it actually does. Hyperthyroidism makes the sympathetic nervous system to go hyperactive. In turn, the gut increases its motility. This hastens the transit time of fecal matter, preventing the absorption of adequate amounts of water from the stool.
How Do You Know Your Kitty has Diarrhea?
We can classify diarrhea according to the region of the gastrointestinal tract where the problem occurs. If the problem is in the small intestines, then you may see your kitty passing out watery diarrhea as well as large volumes of loose stool. The problem with such a type of diarrhea is that it can lead to severe dehydration. It is also possible for electrolyte imbalances to occur.
If the main problem is in the large intestines, the cat may present symptoms of discomfort. It may strain while trying to push the stool through its colon and rectum. As such, you may not see the usual watery stool. Instead, the cat feces can be mushy or soft. In some cases, it can also contain mucus or blood.
If the only manifestation you see in the cat is loose, watery stool that occurs at infrequent times, you may consider these as benign and not meriting immediate attention. However, if you notice any of the following manifestations in your cat, it is best to bring it to the vet clinic at once.
- Loss of appetite
- Pain or any sign of discomfort
- Tar-looking blackish stool
- Bright red blood in the stool
- Diarrhea that persists longer than 2-3 days
Do understand that extremes in age can also warrant a veterinary evaluation at the soonest possible time. Puppies and geriatric dogs belong to this group. Also included are dogs that are already suffering from a medical condition.
How is Diarrhea in Cats Managed or Treated?
The effective management of feline diarrhea is a combination of symptomatic treatment and management of any underlying health condition.
- Antidiarrheal Medications
These medications have different mechanisms of action. Some can act by inhibiting the sympathetic nervous system of the cat to slow down the peristaltic activity of its gut. There are also those that attract irritants and toxins in the gut like a magnet, removing them from the GI tract. There are also those that work in other ways. Despite the fact that they work in different ways, antidiarrheal medications have one thing in common. They all have side effects. As such, this treatment option should only be done under the guidance and supervision of a veterinarian.
- Continue Feeding
In the past, people believed that the gastrointestinal tract should have adequate rest if ever there’s diarrhea. That’s why they always tell you not to feed someone who has diarrhea. That’s not true anymore. To help the intestines start healing itself, you have to supply it with the necessary nutrients for tissue repair, healing, and regeneration.
Now, if the cat also presents with vomiting in addition to diarrhea, then you have to withhold its regular food. A good alternative is to give it food that is bland yet full of nutrients. An example of this is rice and boiled unseasoned chicken. This will help supply the important proteins for tissue repair and the carbohydrates for energy.
- Encourage Your Cat to Drink More
Since the main feature of diarrhea is loose, watery stools, then it is important to keep your feline friend hydrated. Dehydration is a very serious complication of prolonged and severe diarrhea. In addition to water loss, the animal may also lose critical electrolytes from its body. This can lead to significant weakness and depression.
Ask your veterinarian what he can recommend as electrolyte replacement for your kitty. In clinics, cats with severe diarrhea are often administered with intravenous solutions that contain electrolytes. If your pet stays at home, then its water should have electrolytes as well. One alternative is to give your pet Pedialyte. The usual solution is equal parts water and Pedialyte.
Put it in its water bowl and encourage it to drink as much of the solution as possible. If the cat is too weak to drink, then you may have to introduce the Pedialyte solution using a needleless syringe. You’d have to ask the vet the exact dose of the solution to give and how frequent you should give it. You may also like our article on water bowls for cats.
- Replace the Cat’s Diet
If you observed that the diarrhea episodes started when you changed your cat’s diet, you may want to return it to its old cat food. This often does the trick of resolving the watery stool problem.
You may also want to consider a low-antigen diet or hypoallergenic diet. It is obvious that something in the new cat food is upsetting the cat’s stomach. A hypoallergenic diet can provide your feline friend with fewer ingredients that are least likely to cause an allergic or inflammatory reaction.
Whenever changing your cat’s diet, it’s imperative to do it in a gradual manner. Always introduce the new pet food a little at a time by mixing it with the current food.
- Provide Probiotics
In situations where the cause of the diarrhea is antibiotic-related, then providing probiotics to your cat can help. Antibiotics kill both the good and bad bacteria in the kitty’s intestines. This can lead to an imbalance in intestinal flora. Providing probiotics can restore the normal population of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Know that this also works in cases where the cat becomes diarrheic because of stress. For more options head over to our guide on probiotics for cats.
Frequent watery stools in cats are quite common. It can be mild or very serious that life-threatening complications can develop. What matters is you know how to recognize the symptoms. Understanding the possible causes of diarrhea in cats can also help you to determine the best possible treatment.
- Diarrhoea – International Cat Care
- Diarrhea – Cornell Feline Health Center
- Cat Diarrhea: 5 Treatment Options You Should Try – PetMD