Cat in litter box

Key takeaway

Cats can experience diarrhea as a result of a number of conditions and circumstances, from eating a bad bite of food to struggling with a bacterial infection. Because it can cause dehydration and hinder nourishment, diarrhea can be a dangerous symptom that should be addressed immediately.

Just like people, cats can have a variety of conditions that may result in diarrhea. Diarrhea is loose, wet stool, often difficult for your cat to control. You may notice your cat seems uncomfortable in his belly, is not eating as well, is lethargic, or has other symptoms of discomfort if they have diarrhea.

It can be worrying when you notice that your cat is having painful gastrointestinal symptoms. Luckily, cat diarrhea usually has identifiable causes that you can treat at home or with the help of your vet.

What causes diarrhea in cats? We’ll start by getting to the bottom of the causes.


Causes Of Cat Diarrhea

Diarrhea in cats is defined as significant amounts of soft or watery feces generated more often than healthy, firm stool. Diarrhea is caused by an increase in fecal material movement in the intestines , as well as a decrease in water, nutrient, and electrolyte absorption. It's frequently a symptom of a more serious underlying ailment, such as the ones listed below.

Diarrhea may be an issue for cats because it reduces their ability to absorb nutrition and can lead to dehydration. It might also indicate the presence of other, perhaps more significant underlying problems.

If you notice that your cat has consistent diarrhea over a few days, along with other noticeable symptoms, it could be a sign of one of the following ailments.

  1. Dietary indiscretion: This can occur if your cat eats something they shouldn't have. The majority of instances are minor and recover within a few days, but dietary indiscretion can cause stomach discomfort, vomiting, fatigue, and a lack of appetite, as well as other disorders including pancreatitis.
  2. Diet changes: A new diet, similar to dietary indiscretion, might be the source of your cat's diarrhea. When pets get accustomed to a specific brand or kind of food, abruptly changing it might create gastrointestinal issues. Your cat may acclimate to their new diet on its own, or you may need to reintroduce the old food before gradually introducing the new diet.
  3. Bacterial infections: Bacterial infections, such as E. coli or salmonella, can be contracted by eating raw or undercooked meat. These illnesses can cause bloody diarrhea, a fever, and sluggish behavior in cats. If you feel your cat has developed a bacterial illness, it's critical to get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible so they can be diagnosed and treated.
  4. Food intolerance: If your cat does not adjust to their new diet, it is possible that they have a food intolerance. Certain proteins that some cats have difficulty digesting, such as some fish, beef, milk, or gluten, are common reasons. If your cat gets diarrhea after switching foods, it's conceivable that they're allergic to or can’t digest one of the ingredients in their new diet.
  5. Allergies: Cats, like people, can have allergic reactions to particular foods in their diet. An allergy might be the cause of your cat's recurrent diarrhea symptoms, as well as other skin or ear problems. Unfortunately, there is no accurate food allergy testing available. If you believe your cat has a food allergy, a Dutch.com veterinarian can help you figure out what's causing the problem.
  6. Inflammatory bowel disease: In some cases, your cat’s diarrhea may be caused by an underlying inflammatory bowel disease, which can have long-lasting effects on your cat’s health. This may be caused by bacteria or a virus, or an inappropriate immune system response, so it’s important to have your cat checked by a vet to ensure they aren’t suffering from serious bowel disease.1
  7. Colitis: Colitis is a condition caused by inflammation in the colon. Similar to inflammatory bowel disease, colitis can become serious. Often when a cat has colitis, blood and/or mucous can be seen in the abnormal bowel movements. That makes it extra important that you have your cat seen by a vet.2

    Possible causes of cat diarrhea

  8. Parasites: Cats are more likely to contract parasites if they spend time outside, on grass, visit other cats, or touch other cats' excrement.3 The following are some of the most prevalent parasites that cats are vulnerable to:
    1. Roundworms
    2. Hookworms
    3. Whipworms
    4. Coccidia
    5. Giardia

It's probable that your cat has a parasite if they develop additional symptoms including loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, abdominal bloating, or coughing. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian and bring a fecal sample for testing if you believe they have a parasite.

  1. Pancreatic disease: Pancreatic disease is common in cats, especially as they get older. Pancreatic diseases can develop at any time and can present serious health complications, eventually culminating in death. Your vet can conduct tests to determine whether your cat is suffering from a mild, moderate, or serious pancreatic disease.
  2. Hyperthyroidism: The thyroid produces important hormones used throughout cats’ bodies, which can be disrupted in cases of hyperthyroidism. Signs of hyperthyroidism may include diarrhea, increased appetite, vomiting, as well as weight loss, enlargement of the thyroid gland, and frequent urination. This condition requires medication or surgery to be effectively treated.4
  3. Illnesses such as kidney or liver disease, and cancer: Other illnesses, infections, inflammations, and cancers can also result in diarrhea. Once again, such illnesses can become serious or life-threatening, requiring professional medical treatment.
  4. Antibiotics and other medications: If your cat has experienced a bacterial infection and has been prescribed antibiotics, or they start medication for some other condition, they may also experience diarrhea as a side effect. In these cases, diarrhea will likely pass once the medication regimen has ended.
  5. Stress or emotional upset: Finally, cats can be sensitive to environmental and emotional stimuli and respond accordingly. Diarrhea can sometimes be a sign of anxiety. It's possible that your cat's diarrhea is caused by stress and worry, even after other gastrointestinal disorders or conditions have been ruled out. A Dutch-affiliated veterinarian can assist you and your cat find science-backed medications to help them overcome their anxiety and get back to purring in your lap or chasing lasers across the wall.

There are a number of conditions and circumstances that can cause diarrhea in your cat. If you notice your pet has diarrhea, consulting your vet is a good idea. This way, your vet can study your cat’s symptoms to make a diagnosis and treatment plan that suits them.

What To Do When Your Cat Has Diarrhea

Keep these easy do’s and don'ts in mind as you try to figure out what's causing your cat's diarrhea:

Do:

  • Keep a close check on your cat's bowel movements.
  • Allow your cat to eat small bits of food that you know they can easily digest.
  • Keep cats away from unfamiliar items that aren't safe to eat.
  • To receive professional advice, speak with your veterinarian.

What to do if your cat has diarrhea

Don’t:

  • Change your cat's diet quickly (if a diet change is necessary, it's best to do so gradually).
  • Allow your cat to roam free in the yard without your supervision.
  • Do not wait until the last minute to contact your veterinarian—and remember to bring a fresh stool sample with you so that your veterinarian can check for parasites.

How To Describe Your Cat’s Diarrhea To A Vet

Vets will likely want to know the Purina Fecal Score for your cat’s diarrhea, as well as a few key other pieces of information.5 How often do they defecate in a day? Is the amount of feces generated each time significant or insignificant? Are they straining their bowels when they defecate? Is there a mucous coating on the diarrhea?

Purina Fecal Score chart

According to the Purina Fecal Scoring System, the following descriptors can be used to explain your cat's diarrhea to your veterinarian:

  • Score 1: Very hard and dry, usually individual pellets, cat is visibly struggling to expel, no residue left when picked up.
  • Score 2 (ideal stool): Firm but not hard, segmented, pliable, little to no residue remaining when picked up.
  • Score 3: Log-shaped, moist, minimal segmentation, leaves some residue on ground when picked up, but holds firm.
  • Score 4: Soggy, very moist, log-shaped, loses form and leaves residue when picked up.
  • Score 5: Very moist, distinct pile shape, leaves residue, and loses form when picked up.
  • Score 6: Texture but no defined shape, looks like piles or spots, leaves residue when picked up.
  • Score 7: Watery with no texture, presents as puddles.

If your cat's diarrhea persists for more than a few days or is followed by other symptoms such as lethargy, vomiting, or strange behavior, it's time to take him to the vet. A telemedicine consultation may assist in diagnosing the source of diarrhea and whether an in-person visit is necessary.

Kitten standing in front of litter box

Cat Diarrhea: Frequently Asked Questions

If you find yourself wondering why my cat has diarrhea, check out these quick-and-easy FAQs.

When should I be concerned about my cat’s diarrhea?

If your cat's diarrhea doesn't go away quickly (within a day or two), it might be the result of a serious underlying problem that requires medical attention.

If your cat has additional symptoms such as pain or discomfort in addition to diarrhea, this might indicate that something more severe is occurring. It's always a good idea to contact your veterinarian if you're unsure. Getting a professional evaluation is always beneficial, even if the cause appears minor, such as consuming old food.

What do you give a cat for diarrhea?

Before giving your cat anything for diarrhea, it's a good idea to see a veterinarian. Your cat may get dehydrated as a result of diarrhea, so make sure they have enough water. While you wait to visit your veterinarian, you can serve your cat a bland diet.

How long does cat diarrhea last?

The duration of your cat’s diarrhea depends on the underlying condition causing it. In some cases, diarrhea can last up to several weeks or months. In many cases, however, milder diarrhea may resolve in a day or two. The longer diarrhea lasts, the more important it is that you get your cat professionally seen by a veterinarian.

Why does my cat have diarrhea but is acting normal?

Your cat may be having a slight response to something they ate if they have diarrhea but otherwise appear okay. However, even if your cat appears to be performing normally, bacterial or viral illnesses can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and pain.

Even if your cat's behavior appears normal, taking them to the clinic if they have frequent diarrhea is a good idea. Some parasites and viruses take longer to manifest symptoms, so detecting them early is always beneficial to your pet's health.

Cat owner and cat attending virtual vet visit

Final Notes

Dutch telemedicine can be a useful approach to seek science-backed assistance for cat owners suffering from diarrhea caused by allergies or anxiety. Our veterinarians are trained to recognize the indications of allergies and anxiety in cats and can provide you with the medication you need to keep your pet healthy at a reasonable cost.

References

  1. “Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 18 Mar. 2021, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/inflammatory-bowel-disease

  2. Defarges, Alice. “Colitis in Small Animals - Digestive System.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 26 Oct. 2021, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/digestive-system/diseases-of-the-stomach-and-intestines-in-small-animals/colitis-in-small-animals?query=Colitis

  3. Peregrine, Andrew S. “Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats - Cat Owners.” MSD Veterinary Manual, MSD Veterinary Manual, 26 Oct. 2021, https://www.msdvetmanual.com/cat-owners/digestive-disorders-of-cats/gastrointestinal-parasites-of-cats?query=parasites+diarrhea

  4. Peterson, Mark E. “Hyperthyroidism in Animals - Endocrine System.” MSD Veterinary Manual, MSD Veterinary Manual, 26 Oct. 2021, https://www.msdvetmanual.com/endocrine-system/the-thyroid-gland/hyperthyroidism-in-animals?query=Hyperthyroidism

  5. “Diarrhea.” The Animal Medical Center, 21 Sept. 2020, https://www.amcny.org/pet_health_library/diarrhea/