My Cat Has Diarrhea, How Can I Help?

Nobody likes talking about diarrhea. It’s an embarrassing thing to discuss, and if it happens to you, chances are you’ll just buy some Imodium and wait for nature to take its course. Unfortunately, your furry friend doesn’t have that option. As pet owners, we’re sensitive to any changes in our cat’s health, and your instinctive reaction might be to run straight off to the vet. In reality, there may be ways you can help your cat back to health without incurring any of those expensive bills. Hold your nose and prepare yourself – in this article, we’re going to be talking about cat diarrhea, how to spot it, why it occurs, and how you can help!

The causes and risks of diarrhea in cats have been the subject of extensive scientific study. We’re using research like this to inform the advice we’re about to give to you.

How Do I Identify Cat Diarrhea?

cat diarrhea

This isn’t the sort of toilet trouble we had in mind. Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Well, the first place it’ll show up is in your cat’s litter tray. You’re the person who changes the litter tray for them. Whether you want to be or not, you’re familiar with your cat’s normal stools! A healthy stool is solid, and easy to scoop up. Cat diarrhea will be sloppier. It’ll have a high liquid content, and it may even be runny. It can also be a different colour to your cat’s normal excretions. A different – or worse – smell compared to normal stool is also a key indicator of cat diarrhea. If you’re not sure, though, there are other potential signs to look out for.

  • Changes in eating habit. If your cat is suddenly turning its nose up at its favourite cat food, it can be an early sign that something isn’t right. Your cat may be eating less, or even refuse to eat anything at all. Also keep an eye on their liquid intake. It varies from cat to cat, but taking on much more (or much less) fluid than normal can also be a sign of cat diarrhea. In extreme cases, your cat may start losing weight.
  • Changes in behaviour. How do you react to illness when you’re not feeling well? You might just want to sleep all the time. You might also feel generally sad and lethargic until the illness passes. Cats are exactly the same. We know they like to sleep – that’s why we buy them such lovely cat beds – but if your furry friend is snoozing much more than normal, they may be feeling under the weather. If your cat is normally very sociable, but suddenly doesn’t want to play or sit close to you, cat diarrhea might be the reason. Equally, if your cat is normally very quiet but is suddenly very talkative, it may be trying to tell you something’s wrong.
  • Sudden vomiting. All cats throw up occasionally. For long haired cats, it’s just a fact of life that they get hairballs (have you considered a good fur comb?) and need to get rid of them. But if they’re throwing up more than usual, all is not well. If you notice vomiting in addition to the other symptoms of cat diarrhea, the problem may be worse than just a mild stomach upset. We’d advise you to head straight to the vet in these circumstances.
  • Changes in bathroom habit. We don’t mean the stool itself, we’ve already covered that. With cat diarrhea, your cat may not always make it to the litter tray in the first place. If your cat is toilet trained and well behaved with its bathroom habits, chances are it isn’t now going to the toilet elsewhere just to annoy you. Accidents outside the litter tray, and increases in toilet visits, are both pretty good cat diarrhea tells.
  • Changes in the gums. Strange as it may sound, cat diarrhea can change the colour of your cat’s gums. It might not be as weird as you think. When you’re sick, your face may go a little pale or yellow. Your cat is covered in fur, so it can’t communicate illness the same way! If you notice your cat’s gums are paler than normal, or even a little yellow, then they’re probably not feeling great. Like with the vomiting, this can be a sign of something more serious. If you notice this in conjunction with any other symptom, it’s time to go to the vet. Better safe than sorry!

What Causes Cat Diarrhea?

cat diarrhea

Cats will try to tell you when something’s wrong. This one’s dropping pretty heavy hints. Image courtesy of Flickr

There are a number of possible factors at work. It isn’t normal for cats to have diarrhea. Unlike other medical conditions, cat diarrhea isn’t an illness that some cat breeds suffer with more than others. Cats who go outdoors may be more prone to getting it than house cats. This is purely down to the the fact that they’ll be exposed to more types of bacteria than cats who stay at home. There’s also the risk that they’re getting food from elsewhere, and eating things they shouldn’t really be eating!

Other than that, though, there are a few possible underlying causes of cat diarrhea, and some are more serious than others.

  • Changes in diet. Let’s start with a basic one. If you’ve recently changed what you’ve been feeding to your cat, and it starts suffering from diarrhea, the likely cause is probably the obvious answer. Cats, like humans, can have sensitive stomachs. However unlike humans, they’re not great at avoiding foods that they know make them ill.
  • Dairy intolerance. Cats love dairy products. Unfortunately, their bodies aren’t brilliant at processing them. Cats – especially fully grown ones – have low levels of lactase. That’s the enzyme that cats need to break down milk, yogurt, and other dairy based foods. When it doesn’t get digested, it sits in the large intestine and begins to ferment. That translates into bad wind, or cat diarrhea.
  • Spoiled food. Ever cooked something from the fridge, felt a bit queasy, gone back and checked the use-by date on the packaging and realised you’ve made a terrible mistake? It happens to all of us from time to time. You might also make the same mistake with cat food. If your cat is suddenly ill – and you haven’t changed its food or given it dairy products – double check the dates on all your cat food packaging. If it’s out of date, throw it out, buy some more, and apologise to your cat profusely! We’re sure they’ll forgive you once they’re feeling better. Also, meat that’s left over from your own food last night isn’t always advisable to give to your cat, no matter how much they resent you for throwing it away.
  • Allergies. Being allergic to things isn’t purely a human concern. Cats can have allergies too. In fact, this scientific study says somewhere between 10 and 20% of all cats are likely to be allergic to something. If your cat’s under the weather, consider any changes you’ve made to their environment recently. We’re not just talking food. Have you changed the washing powder you use for your bedding? Are you using a new air freshener around the house? Is there a new plant or flower in the home? Any one of them could be the culprit.
  • Parasites and worms. Like we said, cats that go outside are more prone to this than house cats. You don’t know what your cat gets up to when you can’t see it, and it may be going anywhere! There are many parasites that consider your cat to be a good vessel to live in. Worms are a common one. There are a few ways you can identify and solve a worm infestation in your cat, and we’ve covered them on our essential cat health aids page.
  • More serious illnesses. If none of the above causes seem to be a likely answer, it might be time to accept that something more serious might be at work. Cat diarrhea is a known symptom of several severe illnesses in cats. These include, without limitation; bowel, liver and kidney disease; hyperthyroidism; colitis; tumours of the digestive tract; and cat cancer. If the diarrhea is persistent and continues for more than 48 hours, and you can’t identify any other possible cause from the list above, it’s time to go to a vet.

How Can I Treat Cat Diarrhea?

Most cases of cat diarrhea will pass within 48 hours, and your pet will soon be back to normal. They’re just a little uncomfortable in the meantime. There are various things you can do to help their recovery along, though.

1. Simplify Their Diet

cat diarrhea

Cats are unable to prepare their own food or medication, no matter how elaborate their disguise might be. Image courtesy of Public Domain Pictures

You may have read that it’s best practice not to feed a cat who has diarrhea, and restrict them to water only. We completely disagree with that advice. Worse than that, it can be dangerous – it reduces the healing capacity of the intestinal tract, and leaves your cat prone to liver disease. Keep feeding them, but keep it simple. No treats, and no handouts from the dinner table! If you’ve changed your cat’s usual food, go back to what you were giving them before. If you haven’t, consider the possibility that you have a bad batch of food, and buy replacements. Cats thrive on protein – duck and rabbit in particular are high in this ingredient, so if your cat has a favourite brand of either kind, give them plenty of that.

2. Change Their Fiber Intake

This can be a little difficult to manage, and that’s because your cat may need less or more. You’re going to have to pay close attention to their stool. Lucky you! If your cat is producing a lot more stool than usual, they may be taking in too much fiber. Look out for low-fiber content foods. They usually advertise themselves as being easily digestible, or are marketed at cats with sensitive stomachs. However if your cat is going to the toilet more often than usual but not producing much stool each time, the opposite problem could be true. They need more fiber! There are various cat supplements on the market which can deal with this. Canned pumpkin is a popular, natural remedy. Try mixing a couple of teaspoons in with your cat’s food.

3. Get Them To Take On More Water

Cat diarrhea causes dehydration, just like human diarrhea does. That lost water needs to be replaced. Cats, as you probably know, aren’t big drinkers. To help them along, make the water as appealing to them as possible. Swap out the water in their bowl for a fresh supply regularly. Hold off on kibble and give them more of their favourite wet food – wet food contains most of the moisture a cat needs. Diluting chicken or beef stock in their water is also a good trick to get them interested.

4. Try Probiotics

It’s increasingly common for us as humans to have a probiotic shake or yogurt in the morning. It aids our digestive health. Equivalent products are available for cats, and they serve exactly the same purpose. A cat’s digestive system needs a certain amount of healthy bacteria in order to sustain normal function. If they’re running low, a good probiotic can restore the natural balance. Don’t just feed them yours! Choose a brand that’s made especially for cats. For safety’s sake, go for a reputable brand who you’re familiar with.

5. Medication

The majority of cat diarrhea medications can only be administered by vets, but there are a few you can get over the counter. Anti-diarrhea products for cats should contain an ingredient called kaolin-pectin, which is perfect safe, and should be mixed into your cats regular food for them to ingest.

The purpose of this article is not to worry you. It’s far, far more likely that your pet’s cat diarrhea is a minor stomach upset, caused by something innocuous, than it is to be a severe health problem. By understanding more about the potential causes, you can stop problems before they start. And by following the steps above, you should be able to make life a little easier for your pet whilst they recover! If you’re at all in doubt – and especially if symptoms persist beyond 48 hours – see a vet. Even more serious problems can be dealt with if they’re identified early.

Thanks for stopping by our site today and reading this page. We hope it was useful to you. And if it was, please share it among your cat loving friends!

Hi! My name is Jamie Fallon. I run Catmart.net, an online cat health and cat behavior resource. If I’m not sat in front of my PC—and I usually am—then I’m either spending time with my cats or my other half… Whoever jumps on me or asks me for food first!