Veterinarian Reviewed on April 1, 2014 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Cat Diarrhea (Feline Diarrhea)
Signs and Symptoms
Diarrhea is a problem that commonly affects cats of all breeds and ages, and involves an increase in the volume, frequency, and/or the watery consistency of bowel movements. Many different factors can trigger cat diarrhea, and this condition can have a sudden onset and short duration (acute diarrhea) or it can continue for an extended period of time (chronic diarrhea). Feline diarrhea is characterized by loose or watery stools that are passed more frequently, and often more urgently, than normal. Sometimes, blood or mucous may be present in the feces of a cat suffering from diarrhea. Often, the liquid stools will be accompanied by a bad odor. After defecating, a cat with this problem may continue to strain, and may also develop matted fur beneath its tail. Tenderness in its hind end and a loss of appetite may also be exhibited by a cat that is experiencing diarrhea.
Rather than being a disease or illness in itself, diarrhea is actually a symptom of another problem or condition, such as in the case of Cat Distemper. The potential underlying causes and triggers are nearly countless, and the majority of them are not serious. As a result, diarrhea is often short-lived and not a cause for alarm. However, sometimes diarrhea is a symptom of a more serious, and possibly even life-threatening, illness. In addition, even less serious diarrhea can lead to other health problems if it persists and is left untreated. This is due to the fact that diarrhea can quickly cause severe dehydration, especially in kittens.
When trying to determine whether or not your cat’s diarrhea is a cause for real concern, there are a number of signs that you can look for. First of all, if your pet’s diarrhea is persistent or is causing your cat a great deal of distress, consult with a veterinarian. Furthermore, there are several symptoms and warning signs that may suggest that your cat is suffering from a more serious, underlying condition. For example, if your cat has a Cat Loss of Appetite and has Cat Vomiting as well as experiencing diarrhea, this may suggest that your pet is ill. In addition, abdominal pain, Cat Fever, Cat Swollen Abdomen, and lethargy are other warning signs to watch out for. Also, if you observe blood in your cat’s feces, you should have your pet examined by a veterinarian. Moreover, if your cat experiences diarrhea and is particularly young, elderly, or suffers from other health problems, you should contact a veterinary doctor. Such cats are particularly susceptible to developing severe Cat Dehydration, which could put their health at great risk.
Identifying the underlying cause of a cat’s diarrhea is not always easy, as there are so many different factors that can trigger this problem. However, if your pet is showing signs that indicate that its diarrhea may be the result of an illness or condition that requires specific treatment, there are a number of different tests that a veterinarian can perform in order to hopefully arrive at a diagnosis. Some of these tests include fecal tests, blood tests, x-rays, biopsies, and exploratory surgery.
The first thing a veterinarian will do is take a complete medical history of the feline patient and then conduct a thorough physical exam. Next, one or more of the above tests may be performed. Fecal studies can include fecal smears and fecal floats, and these tests allow a veterinarian to look for the presence of harmful bacteria or worms in the cat’s stools. Blood tests serve a similar purpose, potentially revealing the presence of an infection, allergies, or showing signs that an infection of worms could be at the root of the feline patient’s problems.
In some cases, abdominal x-rays may be employed. These radiographs can be used to identify any abnormalities in the cat’s abdominal area. Such irregularities can include masses, structural anomalies, or the presence of foreign objects that a cat may have purposely or inadvertently swallowed. Ultrasound can also be used for this purpose, and this diagnostic tool also allows veterinarians to study soft tissue, which x-rays do not.
Conducting a biopsy or exploratory surgery are other methods which may be used to arrive at a diagnosis. A biopsy involves obtaining a sample of tissue from the cat’s intestinal tract so it can be studied directly. Anesthetic will likely be required in order for the veterinarian to be able to procure the sample. Anesthetic is also required when exploratory surgery is performed. This method allows a veterinary doctor to take a close and direct look at the cat’s abdominal area in order to identify any potential problems or abnormalities. As a result, there are a number of different tests and methods that may be used in order to attempt to make a diagnosis of the underlying cause of a cat’s diarrhea.
As mentioned previously, a cat can experience diarrhea in two forms — acute diarrhea or chronic diarrhea. The acute form is characterized by a sudden onset and short duration. Often, acute diarrhea will only last for approximately forty-eight hours. Chronic diarrhea, on the other hand, lasts for an extended period of time, sometimes even for several weeks. In addition to the categorization of acute and chronic, diarrhea can also be classified according to its origin from either the small intestine or large intestine. Diarrhea originating from the large intestine can be more difficult for an animal to pass, and may cause more straining and effort. When loose or watery stools originate from the small intestine, they are often large in volume and are accompanied by a foul odor.
In many cases, diarrhea is simply a response to toxins or harmful substances in the body which can be expelled from the cat’s system relatively easily, after only a small number of episodes of diarrhea. Other times, the underlying problem may be more serious, causing diarrhea to be an ongoing or severe occurrence. The reason that cat diarrhea can be problematic if it is not treated or does not clear up on its own is that it can cause extreme dehydration. Excess water is expelled from the body in the liquid stools, resulting in water loss that can become very significant. This fluid loss eventually weakens a cat, and can also cause electrolyte disruptions and acid-base imbalances. These effects can then lead to a variety of other negative consequences with regards to a cat’s physiology and biochemistry.
There are numerous different factors and conditions that can cause cat diarrhea, some of which are more serious than others. Two of the most common causes of acute feline diarrhea are dietary changes and viral infections. Dietary changes that may be problematic can include feeding your pet rich or spoiled foods or dietary indiscretions on the part of your cat. This latter category can include eating inappropriate foods or non-food objects, or ingesting certain bugs and other critters. While viral infections may be one of the most frequent causes of acute diarrhea, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections can also give rise to feline diarrhea. Parasitic infections frequently involve worms, such as roundworms or hookworms.
Toxins and certain medications can also trigger diarrhea. For example, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not safe for felines and, when ingested, can cause serious harm, a symptom of which may be diarrhea. Also, inappropriate use of antibiotics can also cause diarrhea, as can exposure to some chemicals and cleaning agents. In addition, an intestinal blockage or obstruction can also give rise to this problem. Other potential triggers include metabolic disorders such as liver disease and kidney disease. As result, there are many potential causes of feline diarrhea. In many cases, the particular underlying cause will not be serious. However, if your cat’s diarrhea is persistent, particularly distressing for your pet, or is accompanied by other warning signs and symptoms, be sure to contact your veterinarian immediately. This way, if there is indeed a serious underlying condition, it can be identified and treated as promptly and effectively as possible.
When cat diarrhea is triggered by an underlying illness or medical condition, treatment will depend upon what that condition is. For example, if a bacterial infection is the culprit, antibiotics may be required. Similarly, if a parasitic infection is at the root of the problem, deworming will likely be necessary. However, in circumstances where the diarrhea is milder and does not seem to be caused by a serious illness or influence, there are several common steps that may be employed to provide relief for your cat.
Often, dietary adjustments will go a long way toward alleviating the suffering of a cat with diarrhea. Reducing the amount of food ingested for a day or two may be helpful. In addition, removing any rich foods and serving only a bland diet can also be very beneficial. It’s also important to make sure that your cat has access to plenty of fresh water at all times. Encouraging your pet to drink frequently will help to reduce the chance of dehydration occurring.
In some cases, the use of homeopathic remedies may also be appropriate. Natural substances have a variety of properties that can soothe digestive problems and promote healing. For instance, peony has anti-bacterial and analgesic effects, and helps to reduce inflammation and relax spasms. Myrrh and mullein have similar effects, soothing pain and discomfort. A number of other natural ingredients also have very beneficial properties that can relieve your cat’s distress and discomfort when it is suffering from diarrhea. Thus, homeopathic remedies can provide effective treatment and relief for some cats suffering from feline diarrhea.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan