For the most part, cats are neat creatures who like to keep their litter boxes clean. But sometimes even the most fastidious of cats can clear a room with their upset stomachs. Like many other animals (humans included), cats get diarrhea, and it can happen for a variety of reasons. Cat diarrhea can be caused by anything from stress, to something your cat ate or drank, to some sort of virus or illness in their system.
Figuring out why your cat has diarrhea is just as important as treating it, as it will help determine how to treat your cat (and if you should be concerned). So read on to learn what causes cat diarrhea and how to help your cat feel better.
“When managing a cat with diarrhea, the pet owner must first decide if the diarrhea requires immediate treatment,” explains Bonnie Bragdon, DVM, MS and co-founder of Independent Veterinary Practitioners Association.
Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which in itself presents a whole bunch of health risks to the cat. Dehydration “requires fluid therapy and if not treated could cause organ damage and even death,” warns Dr. Bragdon.
“A cat with diarrhea should be taken to a veterinarian for treatment immediately, if the cat is depressed or otherwise seems disoriented or not acting normally (i.e. unresponsive to stimulation, twitching, vocalizing abnormally, breathing abnormally),” says Dr. Bragdon.
If the cat is vomiting, not eating and not drinking in addition to having loose stool, warned Dr. Bragdon, the cat needs to see a veterinarian. “A cat experiencing vomiting and diarrhea loses water that much more quickly,” notes Dr. Bragdon.
Even if eating and drinking normally, the cat will not be able to drink enough to replace water lost. “The combination of diarrhea, vomiting and lack of appetite should cause immediate concern and the cat should be taken to a veterinarian,” cautions Dr. Bragdon.
What's causing your cat's diarrhea? There can be a few different possibilities. Let's narrow it down:
A common cause of cat diarrhea is what Dr. Bragdon refers to as “dietary indiscretion” but that can even be a simple change in the type of food. “Changes in brand or type of cat food can cause diarrhea,” says Dr. Bragdon.
And a cat who has gotten into the trash or eaten rich ‘people food’ can experience diarrhea. “If the stool is soft but formed, the cat is not vomiting and is eating normally, a trip to the veterinary office can be delayed a day or two to see if the stool returns to normal on its own,” continues Dr. Bragdon.
It can also be something in the food that the cat is specifically sensitive to. “If the diarrhea persists and if your cat’s diarrhea seems to be linked to food, your cat may be intolerant to certain types of protein or other ingredients,” explains Dr. Bragdon. A veterinarian will work with you to determine which foods to try to resolve the diarrhea.
Parasites, bacteria, and other pathogens can also cause diarrhea. “Kittens should have their stool checked for parasites or worms three to four times as they mature into teenagers,” says Dr. Bragdon. Adult cats should have parasite screenings annually. “Mother cats pass worms and other pathogens to their babies and adult cats can be infected for life or otherwise become infected through hunting (even insects),” continues Dr. Bragdon. If diarrhea is lasting more than two days, take your cat to the veterinarian for screening.
There are many other diseases which can cause loose or watery stools. “Pancreatitis, liver disease and gastrointestinal cancer can cause diarrhea. If you notice your cat has lost weight, a trip to the veterinarian is warranted,” says Dr. Bragdon.
One great first step in keeping your cat healthy (and hopefully diarrhea free!), is ensuring your cat is up to date on vaccines, deworming, and current preventions says Dr. Michelle Burch DVM from Safe Hounds Pet Insurance. “Preventative care will help to prevent intestinal parasite infections and some viral infections,” explains Dr. Burch.
If your cat is prescribed to take an antibiotic, Dr. Burch recommends supplementing with a probiotic. “You can speak with your veterinarian about a probiotic they carry in the hospital, or you can find one at your local pet store,” says Dr. Burch.
“When you notice a case of diarrhea in your cat, you can try home care to help them recover if no other symptoms are noted,” says Dr. Burch, who recommends treating your cat's diarrhea by feeding a bland diet of the following options with added probiotics:
Low fat cottage cheese and boiled white rice. Mix one part cottage cheese with three parts rice.
Boiled chicken or boiled hamburger and boiled white rice or pasta.
Beef or chicken broth over boiled white rice.
Single-ingredient meat flavored baby food with boiled white rice
If, after 48 to 72 hours, you do not see improvement with diarrhea or if your cat begins having more symptoms, then Dr. Burch recommends having your pet seen by your veterinarian.