What is diarrhea?

Diarrhea is the rapid movement of ingested material through the intestine, resulting in one or more of the following: increased frequency of bowel movements, loose stools, or increased amount of stool.

Cats usually don’t have diarrhea, at least not when they’re healthy. When it shows up, it's a sure sign of an internal problem, in most cases a digestive problem. If the episode of diarrhea is short, it’s not a problem, and it might be caused by something in the food or water. As soon as those substances clear its system, the cat should be fine.

Most domestic cats will have diarrhea because their owners give them human milk. Water and milk shouldn’t be mixed in a cat’s diet, as it’s not good for their health. If you like giving milk to the cat, you should buy some cat milk, instead of using the regular kind that humans drink. It will cost a little more, but it will not give your cat diarrhea. There are several brands available at the big chain pet stores like Petco and PetSmart.

When should I call the vet?

When a cat has diarrhea for a longer period of time, it will lose a lot of fluids, which means it will also be losing important minerals and salts that are vital for its health. If your cat has diarrhea, it might be a serious problem which will require a visit to your veterinarian to thoroughly check the feline, determine the severity of the diarrhea and prescribe the best treatment.

Your veterinarian will ask you a series of questions to determine how severe the diarrhea is. It will be helpful for your veterinarian to know when the diarrhea started, how many bowel movements your cat has had, what they look like, and if your cat is uncomfortable. It is especially important that you call your veterinarian immediately if your cat has the following:

  • Blood in the diarrhea or the stools are black or tarry

  • Eaten something toxic or poisonous

  • Fever, depression, or dehydration

  • Pale or yellow gums

  • Still not received all his vaccinations

  • Pain

  • Vomiting

Do not give your cat any medications, including over-the-counter human medications unless advised by your veterinarian to do so.

How suddenly the symptoms appeared is also a good clue to what the cause of the diarrhea may be. If the symptoms appeared suddenly, the condition is called "acute". If the symptoms remain over a long period of time (weeks), the diarrhea is called "chronic". If the symptoms appear, go away, and then come back again over several weeks, the diarrhea is considered "intermittent."

Cat diarrhea can have plenty of causes, so it should be treated quickly once it is diagnosed. If possible, when you go to the vet you should take a diarrhea sample with you, so the vet can diagnose it faster. The faster you can diagnose diarrhea, the faster the cat can begin the treatment, so they don’t become dehydrated. Cat's can become dangerously dehydrated very quickly.

How is diarrhea treated?

Because there are so many causes of diarrhea, the treatment will vary. In many cases of simple diarrhea in adult cats, it is recommended to withhold food for 12-24 hours, and provide small amounts of water frequently. Then, a bland diet such as boiled (fat-free) chicken and rice is offered in small amounts. If the diarrhea does not recur, the cat is slowly switched back to his normal diet over the course of several days.

For some cases of diarrhea, it may be necessary to modify the diet permanently. Special foods may need to be given as a way to avoid certain ingredients, add fiber to the diet, decrease the fat intake, or increase digestibility.

If parasites are present, the appropriate wormer and/or other medication will be prescribed. Few wormers kill every kind of parasite, so it is very important that the appropriate wormer be selected. In most cases it is necessary to repeat the wormer one or more times over several weeks or months to ensure complete eradication. It is also important to try to remove the worm eggs from the environment. The fecal flotation test looks for worm eggs, and if no eggs are being produced, the test could be negative even though worms could be present. For this reason, in some cases, even if the fecal flotation test is negative, a wormer may still be prescribed.

If dehydration is present, it is usually necessary to give the cat intravenous or subcutaneous fluids. Oral fluids are often not adequate since they pass through the animal too quickly to be absorbed properly. Antibiotics are given if the diarrhea is caused by bacteria. They may also be given if the intestine has been damaged (eg., blood in the stool would indicate an injured intestine) and there is a chance that the injury could allow bacteria from the intestine into the blood stream, possibly causing severe disease (septicemia).

In some cases, medications may be given to decrease motility, (slow down the rate at which the intestine moves ingested material through the intestine). These drugs should not be given if the cat could have ingested a toxin or may have a bacterial infection, so it is always important to have an accurate diagnosis before use of these drugs.

Important Tip

When your cat has diarrhea, taking care of her means that you should take great care in hygiene - after you handle him you need to wash your hands thoroughly each and every time. One possible cause for diarrhea in cats can be an infection, so in this case you need to keep the cat isolated, while all the utensils, foods, litter box and bedding is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

You should also wear gloves whenever you need to handle the cat’s stool. The cat should be kept inside the house for some time, so he doesn’t give the infection to others. Cat diarrhea is easy to treat in most cases, as long as you don’t ignore it.