If your cat has developed diarrhea, first you need to find out the cause so you can ease your cat’s discomfort. Therefore, it is important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will want to examine your cat as well as assess a sample of the diarrhea. There are many potential causes for diarrhea in cats, and your veterinarian will ask you questions about your cat’s history, diet, and the appearance of the stool. Your knowledge of your cat’s normal elimination behaviors will help greatly.

Attempts at a diet change to curb your cat’s diarrhea or using over-the-counter medications and remedies may lead to more problems for your kitty, and ultimately delay proper diagnosis and treatment. It is always best to consult with your veterinarian so you can make the best decision for your cat.

Diarrhea in Cats is NOT NORMAL

Normally, cats will have 1-2 bowel movements a day and these should be formed (have a stool shape) and appear moist. Deviations in this can be a sign of disease. Diarrhea can be a softened, but formed stool; watery, liquid stool; or somewhere in between. While the occasional tummy upset from a food change or dietary indiscretion may lead to a one-time soft stool, if there is no obvious, simple cause for diarrhea, or if the soft stool occurs more than once, you should speak with your veterinarian.

Know What Is Normal for Your Cat

Know or learn your cat’s regular routines and understand what is normal in her day-to-day activities. This is a critical part of making sure your cat stays healthy. It allows you to identify problems before they become advanced. When you scoop your cat’s litter box one or two times each day, you are helping your cat have a clean place to relieve itself, and you will be aware of your cat’s normal elimination behaviors. This will allow you to be able to recognize abnormalities early.

Details for Your Veterinarian

Please be as detailed as possible about the color, consistency, and odor of the stool because this is helpful information for your veterinarian. Don’t be afraid to take a photo. A picture in this case can really be worth a thousand words. Your cat’s veterinarian will want to know whether your cat is having more frequent bowel movements, if the volumes are larger or smaller than normal, if your cat is straining while passing the stool, and whether you have observed fresh (red) blood or mucus.

When you are calling to make your appointment for your cat, ask if they would like a stool sample and request specific directions on how they would like this collected and stored in advance of the appointment. Having a stool sample can simplify the diagnostic process and lead to a targeted treatment for your cat’s specific issue. Since your veterinarian may also wish to do blood work, ask if your cat needs to fast in advance of the appointment.

Cat looking at you

Possible Causes of Diarrhea in Cats

Intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, and/or tapeworms can cause diarrhea in cats. Regardless of whether your cat stays indoors or ventures outside from time-to-time, intestinal parasites are a real risk. Indoor cats may have intestinal parasites remaining in their system from when they were young or they can get infected by exposure to parasite eggs in contaminated materials. If your cat goes outside, he will get exposed to a wide variety of parasites through contact with parasite eggs in the environment or by hunting and consuming wildlife.

Kittens can develop infections with roundworms, the most common intestinal parasite, when they are nursing from their mother. Deworming treatments as a kitten may not prevent reinfection, and adult cats can have persistent infections.

Indoor cats may also be exposed to parasites when they eat contaminated food or by ingesting parasite eggs through grooming or exposure to infectious feces. Cats can also be at risk when they socialize with other animals, including both cats and dogs. Elimination of intestinal parasites should be done under the direction of your veterinarian, who can prescribe safe and effective treatments. Over-the-counter medications are not recommended.

Other health conditions that can cause diarrhea in cats include bacterial infections, viral infections, and infections with protozoal organisms such as Giardia. Dietary sensitivities and dietary imbalances may cause diarrhea. Inflammatory bowel disease and a lack of digestive enzymes can lead to diarrhea in cats.

What To Do If Your Cat Has Diarrhea

Treatment for diarrhea should not be attempted at home. Always talk with your veterinarian to ensure your cat receives proper treatment. Over-the-counter medications and so-called ‘natural’ substances used by humans with diarrhea may actually be toxic or dangerous for your cat. It might be tempting to try to change your cat’s diet as a way to resolve the diarrhea, but this is not recommended. Even if a food change resolves the current issue, it does not mean that the underlying problem has gone away. You could be delaying a diagnosis and proper treatment for your cat.

Your veterinarian will need to work through a list of possible causes by examining your cat and pursuing various diagnostic tests. The earlier that this process is started, the better the outcome for your cat.

Contributed by Dr. Kelly St. Denis, MSc, DVM, DABVP (Feline)