Grey cat looking up

A cat with a gastrointestinal problem may have vomiting or diarrhoea.

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What to do if your cat has digestive issues

By Dr Hester Mulhall MA, VetMB, MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

A change of diet or giving your cat medication or a probiotic product could be the answer if your pet has digestive issues.

A digestive issue is any problem that affects part of the digestive tract, which includes the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, liver, small intestines, large intestines, rectum and anus. 

How do I know if my cat has digestive problems?

If your pet has a gastrointestinal problem, they may have vomiting or diarrhoea. They can also have less obvious signs, such as slight changes to faecal consistency, decreased or increased appetite, constipation, increased gassiness, straining to defaecate, and presence of blood or mucus in their stools.

Digestive or gastrointestinal symptoms are often very non-specific. This means that they could signal an underlying problem somewhere along the digestive tract, or could in fact indicate a different health problem, so it is best to seek veterinary advice.

Causes of these symptoms can include food allergies and intolerances, intestinal worms, concurrent diseases (e.g. kidney disease), infections and toxins. There can also be environmental factors, such as constipation due to not wanting to use a dirty litter tray or not wanting to share one with another cat in a multi-pet household.

How can I help my cat with digestive problems?

This will depend on the type of problem and the underlying cause. The vet will recommend a suitable plan including any medications, dietary advice and recommended supplements. They may suggest using a probiotic product, as there is some evidence that this can help rebalance the gut microbiota.  

How long does cat gastroenteritis last?

Gasteroenteritis means that the stomach and intestines have a degree of inflammation. This can result in symptoms of varying severity including diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain or discomfort. The length of time this takes to resolve depends on the trigger and what treatment options are possible. A cat is likely to recover from a viral gastroentertitis much more quickly than inflammation caused by a food allergy. It can actually take 12 weeks or more for a cat to respond to treatment with a novel diet trial when managing dietary allergies.

What is the best cat food for digestive problems?

This will again depend on the specific problem, so you should seek veterinary advice rather than trialling an option yourself. Different diets can aid with one type of digestive problem, but not others. There are special easily digestible sensitive diets that can be suitable, particularly if your cat has gastrointestinal symptoms following surgery.

If your cat has a dietary allergy, then they will need to trial a novel protein diet or a hydrolysed protein diet. Sometimes it can take a while to find a food that is suitable, because cats are often allergic to more than one source of protein or carbohydrate. Another example is that cats with constipation may need a diet that is higher or lower in fibre. There are many different therapeutic diets available to help manage concurrent health conditions that may be recommended by a vet.

How can I firm up my cat's stool?

If your cat has diarrhoea or loose faeces, get advice from a vet as the recommended treatment will vary depending on possible causes. Treatment options can include use of worming treatments, a diet trial, antibiotics, kaolin products (to firm the faeces), prebiotics and probiotics.

What can I give my cat to settle their stomach?

If your cat has mild diarrhoea or a one-off incidence of vomiting, they should be fine to continue with their usual diet. Do not withhold food or water, as they can become dehydrated. Otherwise you can try feeding a sensitive diet for a few days that is designed to be easily digested, although bear in mind that sudden dietary changes can sometimes exacerbate diarrhoea.

Feed your cat a wet food if possible to help with hydration. Bland boiled chicken or white fish is a suitable alternative for a few days, and can be fed along with some of the cooking liquid to help with fluid intake. If the symptoms do not improve within a few days or your cat becomes more unwell, contact a vet for advice.

How can I help my cat with a sensitive stomach?

The best thing to do is to follow recommended dietary and medical management plans as set out by a veterinary professional. If your cat is on a special diet, avoid feeding any additional treats, as they could trigger an issue.

When should I see a vet about my cat's digestive issues?

If your cat is showing gastrointestinal symptoms that do not resolve within a few days or become worse, you should speak to a vet. You should keep a note of any changes to diet and also any episodes of diarrhoea or vomiting. It can also be helpful to bring in a faecal sample in a clean, well-sealed container.

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