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Cat Diarrhea: Causes and Remedies

Your cat's diarrhea could have many causes. If it lasts for longer than a few days or becomes chronic, it could warrant a visit to the vet for testing and proper treatment.

January 31, 2024 5 min read
Cat Diarrhea: Causes and Remedies

What Is Cat Diarrhea?

Cat diarrhea is the rapid movement of ingested material through a cat’s intestine, resulting in one or more of the following: increased frequency of bowel movements, loose stools, or increased amount of stool.

What Causes Diarrhea in Cats?

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, usually with the digestive system. If the episode of diarrhea is short, it’s usually not a problem, and might have been caused by something in the food or water. As soon as those substances clear the digestive system, your cat should be fine.

Most domestic cats get diarrhea because their owners give them cow's 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 your cat, you should buy some cat milk, instead of using the kind that humans drink. It will cost a little more, but it will not give your cat diarrhea. There are several brands of cat milk available at the big chain pet stores like Petco and PetSmart.

Diarrhea in Kittens

While kittens normally have softer stools than adult cats, they can still get diarrhea. The color of a kitten’s stools can help you determine if there is any cause for alarm. Stools ranging in color from light brown to dark brown are normal for kittens. However, poop that appears red, green, or black could indicate a more serious problem. If you notice blood in your kitten’s stool you should contact your vet immediately. 

If your kitten’s stools are liquidy, mushy, or shapeless, then the cause is likely to be diarrhea. There are several factors that could be causing your kitten’s loose stools, including:

Cow’s Milk – As stated above, cow’s milk is one of the main culprits when it comes to cat diarrhea, and this is true for kittens as well as older cats. Instead of cow’s milk, use a kitten milk replacer mixed with kitten food after weaning, when she is around 4 to 6 weeks old. After weaning, kittens can be fed dry or canned kitten food.

Change in Cat Food – A sudden change in your kitten’s diet can cause diarrhea. If you need to switch kitten food, do so gradually over several days to prevent stress on the digestive system.

Food Allergies – Just like humans, kittens can develop food allergies, which can cause diarrhea as an allergic reaction. Visit your vet to identify the specific allergy and get the proper treatment.

Parasites and Infections: While food-related causes are most common, kittens can also develop diarrhea because of internal parasites, environmental stress, or bacterial infections.

Cat Diarrhea Symptoms

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

Your veterinarian will ask you a series of questions to determine the severity of your cat's diarrhea. 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 as to what is causing your cat's diarrhea. 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."

While cat diarrhea has a variety of causes, it should be treated quickly once accurately 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 your cat can begin the treatment, so they don’t become dehydrated. Cats can become dangerously dehydrated very quickly.

Treatments for Cat Diarrhea

Because there are so many causes of diarrhea, treatments will vary. Below are some helpful tips and home remedies for cat diarrhea:

What to Feed a Cat with Diarrhea

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.

Diarrhea Caused by Parasites

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.

Hydrate Your Kitty

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 bloodstream, possibly causing severe disease (septicemia).

Medicines for Cat Diarrhea

In some cases, medications may be given to decrease motility, (slow down the rate at which the intestine moves ingested material through the digestive system). Drugs should not be given if you suspect your cat has ingested a toxin or has a bacterial infection. It is always important to have an accurate diagnosis before use of these drugs. A visit to the vet is essential before administering any over the counter cat diarrhea medication. 

Preventing Infection

When your cat has diarrhea you should take great care with hygiene - after you handle her you need to wash your hands thoroughly each and every time. One possible cause for diarrhea in cats can be an infection. 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.

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