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Dealing With Adult Cat Diarrhea

Cats risk dehydration when they are afflicted with diarrhea.

Featured Image: minoandriani/iStock/Thinkstock

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My experiences in more than 20 years as a veterinarian have made it clear to me that cats enjoy bouts of diarrhea about as much as owners enjoy cleaning them up. Diarrhea is quite unpopular.

A memorable case from the Animal House of Chicago, where I am chief of staff, occurred with an adult cat named Clyde. As he grew into adulthood, Clyde became a very finicky eater, and the owners found themselves forever feeding Clyde different cat foods. This rapid changing of diets resulted in Clyde developing a severe case of pancreatitis. Medical and dietary treatments resolved this, and fortunately we were able to find a prescription cat food that Clyde would eat consistently.

Adult cats (from about age 2 to 10) tend to have a mature immune system and well-established intestinal tract, so if diarrhea develops, it often is a result of some exposure to or ingestion of an irritant. Diarrhea occurs for many reasons.

With an adult cat, if the cause of the diarrhea is unknown, I first suspect a food allergy. Determining what caused the diarrhea gives you and your veterinarian the best chance to prevent it from happening again. Overactive thyroid, food allergies, kidney failure, cancer, poisoning (from houseplants, rat poison, human medications, etc.), parasites and infectious disease, among other things, all can result in diarrhea.

Obtain veterinary assistance if the cause isn’t apparent or it is an ongoing problem. A food with fewer allergens or treatments for a disease might reduce or eliminate the diarrhea.

Recognizing Diarrhea

Frequent, urgent pooping of loose, watery stools are the classic signs of diarrhea that most people recognize. But did you know that a cat who has a bout of watery poop and then continues to strain is not suffering from constipation? This, too, is diarrhea. The following signs of illness often accompany diarrhea:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Malaise
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration

You must look at your cat’s poop to check for diarrhea. This is easy to do for indoor cats — just look in the cat litter box. If you allow your cat outdoors, it’s more complicated. If you don’t happen to observe him, you’ll need to look for his poop soon after he goes. In either case, if you find loose, watery stools and this persists more than a day, take a sample to your veterinarian.

Judging Urgency Of Treatment

Small-sized adult cats, along with kittens and senior cats, are at special risk of becoming dehydrated from even a single episode of diarrhea. Use this checklist to determine if you need to rush to your veterinarian or can wait a day.

  1. If your cat seems OK after a single bout of diarrhea, it may be safe to simply monitor him. However, if you notice any lethargy, fever or changes in behavior, call your veterinarian for an examination as soon as possible.
  2. If your cat seems fine but has recurrent episodes of diarrhea that do not seem to be resolving, call your veterinarian for a non-emergency appointment.
  3. If your cat is passing blood in his stools or if you notice any weakness or other signs of debilitation along with the diarrhea, contact your veterinarian immediately and have your cat seen as soon as possible. Red blood in the poop usually indicates a problem with the lower intestine/colon or rectum. Black blood in the poop usually indicates a more serious problem higher up in the digestive tract.
  4. If there is no blood, call your vet and ask about over-the-counter medications or options for at-home treatments for your cat. Because there are so many causes of diarrhea, the treatment will vary.

Keep The Water Coming

Water is critical for an adult cat, or any cat, suffering diarrhea. The fluid lost because of the diarrhea contains electrolytes, which are essential to help control important physiologic functions. Mix about 10 to 50 percent of Pedialyte in with your cat’s water to replace these. Pedialyte is an over-the-counter electrolyte beverage designed for infants and children. In my experience, cats accept the original, clear, unflavored Pedialyte the most.

To detect dehydration, gently pinch the normally loose skin at the back of the neck. The skin snaps right back down in a properly hydrated cat. If the pinched skin flattens slowly or remains tented, the cat is dehydrated.

A dehydrated cat needs immediate veterinary care. If your veterinarian determines your adult cat is dehydrated, drinking may no longer be adequate to get fluid into your cat. Supplemental fluids may be given either via an intravenous or subcutaneous route.

Home Care For An Adult Cat With Diarrhea Changing Food

An adult cat with diarrhea who otherwise seems healthy and is acting normally might benefit from a 12-hour food fast. Note this is food only, not water. Always provide plenty of water for a cat suffering from diarrhea.

After 12 hours of withholding food, offer your cat a bland, fat-free food. Consider a fat-free prepared/canned cat food.

Another option is cooked, ground turkey mixed with canned 100 percent pumpkin, such as Nummy Tum-Tum pure organic pumpkin canned cat food supplement. If canned pumpkin is not easily found, try fresh, cooked sweet potato. Pets with diarrhea usually tolerate and digest pumpkin or sweet potato.

Mix together equal parts turkey and pumpkin and feed it to your cat in small amounts, upping the frequency until the diarrhea resolves. If the diarrhea does not resolve in the first two to three days on a bland diet, consult your veterinarian if you haven’t already.

For some cases of diarrhea, it may be necessary to modify the diet permanently. Special foods may need to be given in order to avoid certain ingredients, add fiber to the diet and decrease the fat intake, or increase digestibility.

Natural Remedies

Slippery elm, peppermint, chamomile and homeopathic podophyllum might all offer some help in minimizing the side effects associated with intermittent diarrhea. Consult your veterinarian for all dosage recommendations.

Metamucil can also be used to help resolve diarrhea. Adding half a teaspoon of Metamucil into your cat’s food with each feeding, especially if he has soft feces, often normalizes the poop.

Visiting The Vet When Your Cat Has Diarrhea

Your adult cat needs to be seen by a veterinarian if diarrhea continues for more than a day or if he shows other signs of illness, including lethargy, vomiting, fever, dark-colored or bloody stools, straining to defecate, decreased appetite or unexplained weight loss. What will happen?

Your veterinarian will examine your adult cat and likely take a sample of poop to check for the presence of internal parasites, overgrowth of bacteria or other fecal abnormalities. Your veterinarian may also conduct blood work to identify other possible causes of the diarrhea.

Other diagnostic tests that might be recommended include X-rays, ultrasound, cultures, endoscopy and biopsy. The diagnostic tests performed and treatment recommended will depend on how the long the diarrhea has been present and the severity of your cat’s condition.

If internal parasites are found, your vet may prescribe a cat medication and/or a de-wormer. Not all de-wormers kill every kind of parasite, so the exact type of parasite(s) must be identified and the appropriate anti-parasitic medication(s) selected. De-worming might need to be repeated a few times, and you must clean areas your cat frequents to remove worm eggs.

If a bacterial infection is found or if the intestine appears to be damaged (blood in the poop is a sign of damage), then cat antibiotics will be prescribed.

Sometimes a drug is prescribed to slow down the transit time of food in the GI tract. This can only be done when an accurate diagnosis of the cause of the diarrhea is made. If the cause of the diarrhea is from a toxin or bacterial infection, this type of drug cannot be used.

Must-Know Info About Cat Diarrhea

Keep the following in mind when treating diarrhea in your cat:

  1. Although it happens, cats are not prone to diarrhea.
  2. A cat who frequently has hairballs might also get diarrhea. In such a case, this might indicate a need to test for another underlying health issue, such as inflammatory bowel syndrome.
  3. Cats who spend a lot of time outdoors may be at an increased risk for internal parasites or ingestion of inappropriate food, which could lead to diarrhea. If your cat goes outside, check that your neighbors are not feeding him. Eating too much or eating food he is not used to can give a cat diarrhea. Poisonous plants are also a concern. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a list of toxic and non-toxic plants on its website.
  4. Dairy foods are a no-no for cats. Sure, cats love the taste of milk and yogurt, but some cats lack the enzyme that allows them to digest it. This can cause gas or diarrhea.
  5. Never change your cat’s food suddenly. Add some new cat food to the old and increase the amount of new food gradually with each meal over a period of days. This allows your cat’s GI tract to adjust to the new food.
  6. Danger! Over-the-counter remedies like Pepto Bismol and Kaopectate can cause salicylate toxicity in cats. Never give these to a cat.
  7. If someone in your home gets diarrhea at the same time that your cat has it, take the person to a doctor and your cat to the vet right away.There might be a microscopic parasite (Giardia or toxoplasmosis) that has infected both and is causing illness. Such parasites have the potential to become life-threatening to small children, elderly adults and those with compromised health.
  8. Please do not scold your cat for the accidents. He cannot help it and adding stress may only make his diarrhea worse.
  9. Consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will ask you a series of questions to determine the severity of the diarrhea. When did the diarrhea start? How many bowel movements has your cat had? What does the poop look like? Is your cat uncomfortable?
  10. Know the signs of an emergency. Call you veterinarian immediately if your cat has diarrhea and:
  11. Blood in the diarrhea or the poop is black or tarry
  12. You suspect your cat may have eaten something toxic or poisonous
  13. A fever, is depressed or seems dehydrated, or if your cat’s gums are pale or yellow
  14. Appears to be in pain or discomfort
  15. Is also vomiting

By: Dr. Byron de la Navarre
Featured Image: minoandriani/iStock/Thinkstock