Diarrhea is a non-specific medical condition. What that means is it can have many causes, some not too serious and others deadly. Here’s what I told a reader dealing with this problem in his cat.
Q: Why does my cat get diarrhea, and what should I do about it? Is it serious?
A: At one time or another, every cat owner experiences the foul-smelling loose stools produced by cats with diarrhea. It’s one of the most common problems seen in cats, but diarrhea has many different causes. If you’ll excuse the pun, figuring out the cause of diarrhea is a process of elimination.
Kittens often have diarrhea caused by intestinal parasites, such as roundworms. A sudden change in diet, eating rich foods, food allergies, gastrointestinal infections caused by bacteria or viruses, pancreatitis and inflammatory bowel disease are other common causes of diarrhea. Possible causes of diarrhea in aging cats include hyperthyroidism or alimentary lymphoma.
Occasional diarrhea usually isn’t serious. Whether a case of “the runs” warrants a trip to the veterinarian depends on several factors. If your adult cat who goes outdoors is eating well and acting normally, you can probably wait a couple of days to see if the situation improves. He may just have “garbage gut” from eating a dead mouse. Anxiety caused by guests in the home or other environmental changes can also trigger a bout of diarrhea.
If you have a kitten or a senior cat and diarrhea persists for more than a couple of days, or if your cat has bloody diarrhea, he needs to see the veterinarian. Very young and very old cats can quickly become dehydrated if they have diarrhea. You should also be concerned if your cat isn’t eating, seems lethargic and is vomiting in addition to the diarrhea.
With an examination and some detective work, your veterinarian can determine whether your cat’s diarrhea needs to be treated with antibiotics, a hypoallergenic diet or probiotics. A diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease may call for corticosteroid injections, while diarrhea caused by intestinal cancer may be resolved with chemotherapy.
There’s more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.