Cat Diarrhea: A Definitive Guide To Treatment

Veterinarians.org Team


Medically reviewed by

Ivana Crnec,DVM

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What Causes Cat Diarrhea?

What Causes Diarrhea

Cat diarrhea can be caused by something as simple as a sudden diet change to something as complex as poisoning.

Here are the most common possible causes of diarrhea in cats.

Diet Changes. One of the most common causes of cat diarrhea is switching the cat’s food suddenly. To avoid gastrointestinal upsets (diarrhea and vomiting), all dietary changes must be done gradually. For example, if planning to use a new food, start by mixing it with the old one for a couple of days.

Dietary indiscretions. This is the medical term for saying the cat ate something it was not supposed to – from potentially dangerous human food to inedible things to spoiled cat food. Dietary indiscretions wreak havoc on the cat’s digestive system. Depending on what the cat ate, it can show additional signs and symptoms.

Low-Quality Cat Food. Not all commercially available cat food formulas are healthy and safe. Some contain ingredients that are hard to digest and may irritate the stomach and intestines (cause upsets), manifesting in diarrhea. It is advisable to buy cat diets made with human-grade ingredients.

Hairballs Overload. It is normal for cats to have hairballs – they are the result of the cat’s obsession with self-grooming. Usually, cats cough up these hairballs. However, it is possible for hair clumps to get lodged in the intestines and cause irritation. Cat diarrhea is the main sign of such irritations.

Food Allergies and Intolerances. Food allergies and food intolerances in cats are common. It is unusual, but milk is the most common cause of your cat’s intolerance-induced vomiting. This is because adult cats are lactose intolerant – they cannot process lactose (milk sugar), which results in diarrhea and stomach upset.

Intestinal Parasites. Worms (intestinal parasites) enter the cat’s body through infected feces or contaminated food and water. Common feline worms are Giardia, Coccidia, and Toxocara. The presence of these parasites results in issues like cat diarrhea, weight loss, dull coat, and poor growth.

GI Tract Infections. Bacterial infections and viral infections of the cat’s gastrointestinal tract result in diarrhea. Diarrhea is more common when the inflammation affects the lower GI tract portions – stomach (gastritis), duodenum (duodenitis), or colon (colitis). In such cases, the diarrhea is accompanied by weight loss, appetite changes, and dehydration.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Feline inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a specific and chronic inflammation and irritation of the digestive system. It occurs when inflammatory cells start infiltrating the intestinal walls resulting in impaired nutrient absorption and diarrhea. As a condition, IBD is quite complex.

Medication Side-Effect. Some frequently used meds (over-the-counter or prescription) can cause cat diarrhea as a side effect. Cat diarrhea can also be caused by supplements, herbs, and home remedies. If your cat develops diarrhea after adding a new drug to the healthcare regimen, discontinue the use and talk to your vet.

Intoxication or Poisoning. Cat diarrhea is one of the few clinical signs occurring in all types of intoxications. Namely, when a cat consumes a toxin or poison, it develops a series of signs and symptoms typical for the substance. Diarrhea and vomiting accompany almost all forms of poisoning in cats.

Systemic Diseases. Certain systemic health conditions (thyroid, liver, and kidney disease) may cause cat diarrhea, among other signs and symptoms. In such cases, the overall clinical manifestation will include much more severe and striking issues than diarrhea.

What are the Symptoms of Cat Diarrhea?

Diarrhea Symptoms

According to Hills Pet, some of the most common clinical signs of cat diarrhea are:

  • Loose or watery stools
  • Mucus or blood in the stool
  • Accidents in the house
  • Increased defecating frequency.

A cat with diarrhea is likely to experience additional signs and symptoms such as:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration.

What Does the Color of Your Cat’s Diarrhea Mean?

According to Pet MD, there are a few different colors in a cat’s feces may appear in. Some are completely normal, while others could be cause for concern:

  • Dark Brown. If a cat’s feces are dark brown, there should be little cause for concern, indicating a healthy cat.
  • Black. If a cat’s feces are black, shiny, or look like road tar, this could indicate digested blood in the stool. The presence of blood in the poop is always a cause for concern. Be sure to take a sample to the vet.
  • Tan/Light Brown. If a cat’s feces are tan or light brown, this could mean pancreatic or liver issues. However, cats with high fiber diets may also produce lighter-colored stool.
  • Red. If a cat’s feces are red, this indicates the presence of blood. While not as much of a cause for concern as black stools, red can still indicate an underlying issue.
  • Yellow/Green. If a cat’s feces are yellow or green, this can indicate complications with their organs or digestive tract. This is definitely a cause for concern, and a vet should be consulted right away.

What Does the Consistency of Your Cat’s Diarrhea Mean?

A cat with healthy bowel movements makes poop with a firm, easy to scoop, and uniform consistency. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, there are different consistencies that a cat’s diarrhea can appear in.

  • Soft and Round Pile. This diarrhea is very moist and has a distinct shape similar to a pile of soft-serve ice cream. It loses its form and leaves residue when picked up.
  • Small Piles. This type of diarrhea is similar in style to cottage cheese, having texture but no defined shape. It appears as piles and leaves residue when picked up.
  • Watery Liquid. This diarrhea (loose stools) is watery with no texture or shape. It appears in puddles that need to be wiped up rather than picked. It is important to give a detailed description of the cat’s poop to a vet. If possible, take a poop sample to the vet’s office.

What do You Give a Cat for Diarrhea?

There are many things a pet owner can give their cat if they’re experiencing diarrhea. Listed below are just a few things to try if dealing with cat diarrhea.

  • Switch up the Cat’s Food. Sometimes changing the old food with a new formula can do the trick and solve the diarrhea issue. As mentioned, it is important to switch to the new food gradually, over the course of several days.
  • Add Fiber. Many cases of diarrhea are a result of low fiber levels in the food. Adding more fiber to the cat’s diet is helpful. You can use high-fiber cat food or fiber supplements.
    • Purina Pro Plan. This dry cat food is perfect for cats with sensitive stomachs and skin. It helps support digestive pet health and a healthy immune system.
    • Blue Buffalo Blissful Belly. This dry cat food is for sensitive stomachs and contains highly digestible ingredients. It helps maintain healthy stools and supports immunity. 
    • Kin + Kind Organic Fiber. This pumpkin and flaxseed supplement promotes healthy poop and is excellent for stomach and bowel support for both cats and dogs.
  • Water and Electrolytes. Cats with diarrhea are at risk of becoming dehydrated. Access to fresh drinking water is important. Using canned and moist food is also a good idea. 
    • Blissful Belly Wet Cat Food. This wet cat food formula is made for cats with sensitive stomachs suffering from diarrhea. It contains highly digestible ingredients and helps keep the cat well-hydrated.
  • Cat Probiotics. Probiotic supplements are highly effective at keeping the cat’s intestinal tract healthy. Always purchase probiotics that are specifically formulated for cats.
  • Anti-Diarrheal Medications. There are many anti-diarrheal medications for cats. Some are available over-the-counter, and others need a prescription. It is highly advised to talk to your vet before giving your cat medication.
    • Vetoquinol Pro-Pectalin Medication. This over-the-counter medication is good for cats with diarrhea caused by stress and other non-life-threatening forms of diarrhea. It comes in the form of a gel packed in a syringe.
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What can I Feed My Cat With Diarrhea?

If a cat is experiencing diarrhea, VCA Hospitals states that a vet may advise a pet owner to withhold food for 24 hours. Either this or switch to a low-fiber and easily digestible diet.

Water should never be withheld and should always be out and available.

In some cases, pet owners can feed their cats a bland diet made at home, such as boiled rice or pasta with boneless skinless chicken.

For advice on the best diet to feed a cat with diarrhea, consult with your veterinarian.

When Should I Be Concerned About My Cat’s Diarrhea?

When to Go to the Vet

You should be concerned about your cat’s diarrhea if it lasts for more than a day or two. Also, you should seek medical help if your cat shows additional signs of illness (vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, lethargy).

Calling the vet ASAP is mandatory if the cat’s diarrhea is tarry and tainted with blood. The presence of blood in the feces is always a cause of concern and often indicative of severe and potentially life-threatening conditions.

How can I Prevent Cat Diarrhea?

Diarrhea Treatment Home Remedies for Diarrhea

There is no single way to prevent diarrhea in cats. However, there are certain things pet owners can do to keep their cat’s gut health at an optimal level, thus decreasing the risk of cat diarrhea.

  • Making the Right Dietary Choices. By right choices, we mean feeding high-quality food made for cats, practicing gradual diet changes, and ensuring constant access to drinking water.
  • Keeping a Close Eye on Cat Health. It is always a good idea to check your cat’s litter box for evidence of poop issues. Cats often mask signs of illness which is why it is important to be proactive.
  • Regular Deworming and Vaccination. It is critical that you keep your cat up-to-date on its dewormers and vaccines. This can help prevent diarrhea as well as other more severe conditions.

Staying on top of your cat’s health and ensuring high-quality veterinary care can be costly. It would be helpful to have a good pet insurance plan. We recommend OneVet as it gives 24/7 access to online vets and $3.000 in emergency funds. Plus, the plan covers up to 6 pets and does not exclude pets with pre-existing conditions. All that is for $19.99 a month.