When it comes to personal hygiene, cats are real hypochondriacs. Therefore, the early tell-tale signs of diarrhea in cats are easily overlooked. However, once the symptoms become apparent, things can get messy quickly.
In this article, we will talk about dietary fiber as a way of preventing diarrhea-related messes. Experts suggest that cats “presented for diarrhea can be managed with diets containing particular levels and types of fiber.”
Keep reading to learn more about cat diarrhea – the causes, the treatments, and the role of dietary fiber in feline diarrhea management.
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What Causes Cat Diarrhea?
Diarrhea is “an increase in frequency, fluidity or volume of feces,” and it is a “common complaint in cats.” Since an array of factors can trigger digestive upsets, finding the exact culprit behind your cat’s diarrhea bout can be tricky. Here are some of the most common diarrhea causes.
As obligate carnivores, cats thrive on high-protein, low-carb foods. However, specific commercially available cat formulas contain too many carbohydrates, thus changing the gut bacteria balance and causing inflammation and diarrhea.
Sudden Diet Changes
Sudden diet changes and adding new foods to the menu are common causes of diarrhea. For example, a cat used to eating kibble is likely to develop diarrhea if offered wet cat food. To avoid digestive upsets, vets recommend practicing gradual transitioning of between 7 and 10 days.
Dietary indiscretions indicate the cat ate something she should not have. That includes scavenging and eating human foods and table scraps, grass, or inedible items like strings and threads.
Food Allergies and Sensitivities
True food allergies in cats are rare but possible, and when present, they develop due to the protein component in the food. Sensitivities or intolerances are more common and regularly accompanied by diarrhea. Lactose intolerance is the most frequent food sensitivity in cats.
From tapeworms through roundworms to hookworms – the cat’s GI tract is a frequent parasite target. Gastrointestinal parasites in cats cause irritation followed by disrupted food digestion, nutrient utilization, and diarrhea.
Cats are very prone to stress, and stress often culminates in chronic diarrhea. Being separated from the littermates, moving to a new home, having guests, and getting a new pet are stress and diarrhea-triggering factors.
Bacteria (Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium perfringens) and viruses (feline leukemia virus, panleukopenia, infectious peritonitis, and immunodeficiency) are common causes of diarrhea, especially in young kittens.
Almost all health problems affecting the GI tract can trigger diarrhea. Common examples include inflammatory bowel syndrome, benign polyps and growths, intestinal tumors, vitamin B12 deficiency, pancreatic insufficiency, or pancreatitis.
Diarrhea can be one of the symptoms in cats with systemic health issues like hyperthyroidism, kidney problems, and liver dysfunction. However, cats with these ailments will show many other signs and symptoms.
Ingestion of toxins always results in diarrhea. Cats are frequently exposed to potential toxins like household detergents and cleaners, antifreeze, insecticides, human medicines, and toxic indoor and outdoor plants like lilies, philodendrons, foxgloves, and tulips.
Medications like NSAIDs, corticosteroids, bronchodilators, heart meds, anti-anxiety drugs, and antibiotics can cause diarrhea as a side effect. In fact, metronidazole – the most commonly prescribed antibiotic in cats disrupts the gut microbiome causing diarrhea.
Ways to Help Treat Cat Diarrhea
If your cat has diarrhea, do not practice the “wait and see” approach. Instead, be proactive and follow these tips to help your cat overcome its diarrhea and get back to its usual and healthy self.
Make Mindful Dietary Choices
When your cat has diarrhea, you need to get creative and make a special menu. Ideally, a cat with diarrhea should eat easily digestible foods.
For example, you can make a low-fat, high-carb meal with potatoes, rice, or pasta and a little bit of plain, boiled chicken or turkey, yogurt, or cottage cheese. Alternatively, you can use a meat-based baby food (just make sure it does not contain onions or garlic).
Finally, when feeding your cat with diarrhea, it is important to offer multiple but small meals. That way, the intestines will have time to process the food without being overloaded with work.
Add Dietary Fiber to Your Cat’s Meal
Adding certain types of fiber to your cat’s menu can help with diarrhea issues. The ideal choices for cats with diarrhea are prebiotic fibers like inulin and psyllium. These prebiotics exert their beneficial effects on two levels.
First, they bind and absorb the excess water. Second, they provide essential nutrients for the beneficial gut bacteria, thus restoring the balance in the GI tract and promoting normal functioning.
When first introducing your cat to a dietary fiber supplement, we suggest starting with a smaller amount and then gradually increasing the dose until reaching the recommended portion size.
Encourage Normal Water Intake
Diarrhea is frequently accompanied by dehydration – a potentially life-threatening condition. To prevent dehydration, you need to encourage your cat’s water appetite. Make sure there are several water bowls around the house, and they are always filled with fresh and clean water.
Cats do not have a very high thirst drive. Therefore, to make the water more enticing, you can put a few drops of chicken or beef broth or even a few drops of tuna oil into the water bowl.
Support Your Cat’s Digestion with Probiotics
Regular digestion is based on the presence of healthy bacteria (probiotics) within the cat’s digestive tract. If the balance of beneficial bacteria is disrupted, diarrhea will persist despite the resolution of the initial diarrhea trigger.
Adding a probiotic supplement to your cat’s regular diet will help balance the healthy gut bacteria, thus boosting gastrointestinal health and supporting normal digestion.
Always choose a probiotic that is formulated specifically for cats by a reputable and trustworthy brand. Remember – human probiotics do not contain the same bacteria cats need and often include non-cat-friendly ingredients like xylitol.
What to Avoid when Your Cat has Diarrhea
With the do’s of helping treat your cat’s diarrhea covered, it is time we say a word or two about the don’ts. Here is what you should not do when trying to treat diarrhea.
In the past, vets recommended resting the GI tract during stomach upsets and diarrhea bouts. While withholding food is helpful for cats with vomiting, today, we know that in order to heal, the intestines need nutrients. Therefore, you should never deprive your cat of food while experiencing diarrhea. However, you should be mindful of the food choices.
A similar concept applies to water. Withholding water for a couple of hours is recommended for vomiting cats but not ones with diarrhea. Depriving your cat of water will not help with diarrhea. In fact, it can make things worse by contributing to dehydration.
Using Human Medications
Human medications are a big no-go for cats. Many human anti-diarrheal medications are toxic to cats, and even if they are not directly harmful, they are doubtful to help with your cat’s diarrhea problem. For example, Pepto Bismol is potentially dangerous for cats, and Imodium is very hard to dose.
How does Fiber Help with Cat Diarrhea?
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the cat’s digestive system cannot break down and metabolize. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. High-fiber foods and supplements usually contain both types.
The fact that it cannot be metabolized makes it helpful for cats with diarrhea. Namely, dietary fiber provides the bulk, thus serving as an equalizer and helping food move correctly through the intestines.
On the one hand, the dietary fibers absorb water, thus modulating the moisture levels in the intestines and consequently affecting the cat’s poop texture and consistency. On the other hand, they also provide nutrients for the beneficial gut bacteria, normalizing microflora and boosting overall digestive health.
According to an IAMS Company research, the ideal crude fiber level for healthy cats ranges from 1.4 to 3.5%.
Food with High Fiber for Cats
If you search high-fiber food for cats on Google, you will find dozens of sites recommending canned pumpkin. Honestly, pumpkin is excellent – in addition to containing both soluble and insoluble fibers, it is also a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
However, there is one problem with pumpkin – the recommended amount is one to two tablespoons. According to Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, this dose is highly inefficient. To ensure adequate fiber intake, the cat should consume 2.5 cups of pumpkin a day – an amount that cats neither would nor should eat.
Therefore, if looking to increase your cat’s fiber intake, you should consult with your vet. The veterinarian will consider your cat’s unique needs before recommending the correct fiber supplementation method. The vet will also take a look at the food your cat already eats. This is because pet food manufacturers often add fiber to their formulas, usually in the form of:
- Beet pulp
- Guar gum
- Soybean hulls
When does Cat Diarrhea Need Veterinary Attention?
You must seek veterinary attention if, in addition to diarrhea, your cat is exhibiting secondary symptoms like:
- Blood in stool
- Frothy or foul-smelling breath
- Loss of appetite
It is also critical to take your cat to the vet if it is already battling a serious chronic condition that might aggravate the newly developed diarrhea situation.
The vet will perform a thorough physical examination and take your cat’s history to pinpoint the exact diarrhea cause. Sometimes, the vet will have to order more specific tests before reaching a diagnosis and crafting a treatment strategy.
Our Final Thoughts on Fiber for Cats with Diarrhea
Helping manage diarrhea and intestinal motility on various levels, dietary fiber is the equalizer of the digestive system.
Always choose a high-quality fiber supplement formulated for cats or add high-fiber foods to your cat’s menu.
Finding the right type and amount of dietary fiber for your cat will take some trial and error, but once you get things right, you can say the diarrhea goodbye.