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Everything you need to know about cat diarrhoea (and more!)

Grey cat in litter box advice © Shutterstock

To have diarrhoea is never nice for cats or humans. While we have the advantage of being able to rule out certain causes straight away, cats need our help to do so.

By Nick Whittle

There are lots of reasons why a cat has diarrhoea. Usually, the condition is caused by him eating the wrong sort of food or over-eating, but in some cases the condition indicates underlying problems, some of which are potentially life-threatening.

Acute diarrhoea is easily treatable. It stems more often than not from an upset tummy. But chronic diarrhoea warrants scrutiny of your cat’s health.

One of the difficulties of diagnosing a diarrheic cat is due to his bathroom cleanliness. As a result, unless he has uncontrollable diarrhoea many bowel-related problems go unseen.

If you do notice your cat has diarrhoea is there anything you can do? And what might be the cause?

What are the causes of cat diarrhoea?

One of the problems of landing the causes of a bout of cat or kitten diarrhoea is due to the number of possible culprits. If diarrhoea has onset quite suddenly and your cat is still alert its cause may be nothing more than an upset stomach.

But if the diarrhoea seems not to be easing up after a short period of time or has been ongoing for a while (chronic diarrhoea) your vet will recommend further screening of your cat’s overall health.

Checks will be carried out for one or more of the following:

  • Parasites: Some parasites are killed in the gut but some are not; if they exist in large numbers they will overcome the cat.
  • Infections: Viral or bacterial infections cause diarrhoea most notably of kittens. Viral vaccinations may have a similar effect on a cat’s digestive system.
  • Dietary changes: Changes to a cat’s diet may cause him to suffer with diarrhoea. Although cats are more careful about what they eat they can sometimes fall foul of rotten or contaminated food.
  • Stress: A stressed cat will suffer with diarrhoea. Emotions that lead to an increase in adrenaline (e.g. excitement and nervousness) may cause your cat to have diarrhoea.
  • Metabolic diseases: Cats and dogs are prone to metabolic illnesses. Imbalances and abnormalities of hormone secreting organs such as the liver, adrenal glands or thyroid will cause your cat to be either constipated or diarrheic.
  • Medications: Drugs such as NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) have a bad effect on an animals gut. Of cats, NSAIDs can lead to diarrhoea.

Vaccinations for various strains of flu may also cause your cat to be unwell. NSAIDs have other nasty side-effects and can damage the lining of the animal’s stomach.

Your cat has diarrhoea. How do you remedy the problem?

If you notice your cat has diarrhoea, do not panic. Almost all bouts of diarrhoea are self-limiting or are at the very least a sign of nothing more sinister than an upset stomach. To treat the condition is your only option at this first stage; you cannot be sure, after all, of the true cause of the diarrhoea.

Here are four ideas of a first response to your cat’s diarrhoea. Do not apply these remedies to a kitten with diarrhoea. A kitten has a far weaker digestive system than an adult cat and a loss of fluids by diarrhoea are not tolerated well. If your kitten has diarrhoea you should instead consult your vet at the earliest opportunity.

Here’s how first to respond when your cat develops diarrhoea:

1. Dietary change

Do not attempt to starve your cat. Starving him will not solve the problem and may even make matters worse: to fast a sick cat can force the onset of a liver disease called hepatic lipidosis. Instead, simplify his diet and make sure that he is not given anything extraneous to eat.

Treats and human food should be withheld. A plain dish of dry food will help your cat to recover.

2. Exclude fibre

Fibre increases the motility of the cat’s bowel. Clearly, a cat with diarrhoea does not need his bowel to move any faster. Withdrawing a certain amount of fibrous food from his diet may just slow the rate at which his bowel processes food. Foods which are digestible and advertised for ‘sensitive’ stomachs are a great way to cure diarrhoea.

3. Encourage him to drink

Any animal that suffers with diarrhoea is at risk of dehydration. The fluids it drinks are not absorbed by the bowel (like they normally are), and as such the cat can lose almost everything it drinks through the diarrhoea.

If your cat refuses to drink you should tempt him to eat some soft ‘wet’ food as opposed to dry kibble. You can even mix some extra warm water into canned food.

4. Administer medication

The short answer to this is more of a warning: do NOT administer human medications to your cat. Nor should you opt to buy something from the internet that claims to remedy a cat’s diarrhoea. Imodium may work for dogs but it is not to be used for cats.

So too should traditional medicines such as those containing kaolin and pectin be avoided because many now contain other ingredients that harm cats. Speak only to your vet about what medications are available.

If you become concerned that your cat cannot overcome a bout of diarrhoea you should waste no time and take her to be checked over by a vet. Loss of fluids and nutrients will take their toll of a cat in no time at all.

Sometimes diarrhoea may be a sign of a more serious disease or condition, therefore it is imperative that once you have exhausted attempts at home remedy you seek the help of a trained vet to aid your cat’s recovery.