Acute Diarrhea in Cats-Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Causes of acute diarrhea   Should I take my cat to a vet?   Treating it at home   Diagnosis   Treatment    Home care

acute diarrhea in catsAcute diarrhea is characterised by the sudden onset of loose or watery stools lasting up to 14 days. Diarrhea lasting longer than this time is classed as chronic. A cat with diarrhea may pass more than the normal amount of feces, defecate more frequently, they may start out solid or the only symptom may be watery stools.

Causes of acute diarrhea:

  • Dietary indiscretion such as eating garbage, spoiled food or non-food items
  • Bacterial infection such as salmonella,  campylobacter, e-Coli, tularemia
  • Protozoal infections caused by giardia, cryptosporidium,
  • Viral infections including rotavirus, panleukopenia, feline enteric coronavirus
  • Parasitic infections such as roundworms, particularly in kittens
  • Poisonings such as Ibuprofen, zinc, antifreeze, chocolate and other
  • Sudden change in diet
  • Certain medications such as antibiotics, antacids, chemotherapy drugs
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Intussusception (telescoping of the bowels)
  • Acute liver or kidney disease

Additional symptoms:

Other symptoms which commonly accompany acute diarrhea in cats include:

  • Vomiting
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite)
  • Lethargy
  • Blood and/or mucus in the diarrhea
  • Foul smelling diarrhea
  • Increased thirst due to dehydration
  • Increased urgency to defecate and/or defecating outside the litter tray
  • Fever
  • Pain when touched
  • Hunched over appearance

Should I take a cat with diarrhea to the veterinarian?

If your cat is eating, still active and appears to be otherwise well, a wait and see approach may be safe for 24-48 hours.

If however your cat is experiencing other symptoms, such as those listed above, or you suspect he has ingested poison, your cat will need to be seen by a veterinarian.

Treating acute diarrhea at home:

You can put your cat on a bland diet of easily digested food to rest the gastrointestinal tract. Boiled lean chicken and rice are usually recommended. Ensure he has an adequate supply of clean, fresh drinking water as diarrhea can cause fluid loss and dehydration.

Lactobacillus which is found in yoghurt is a type of friendly bacteria which is found in the gastrointestinal tract of cats and help protect the body from pathogenic bacteria.

Boiled or canned (unsweetened) pumpkin can help to bulk up the stools.

Mildly dehydrated cats can be given non-flavoured electrolyte replacements such as Pedialyte. Signs of dehydration in cats include dry and tacky gums, poor skin elasticity and lethargy.

Never administer human medications to your cat unless your veterinarian has specifically told you to do so. Cats are unable to process medications commonly used to treat diarrhea in humans.

  • Lactobacillus, a type of friendly bacteria residing in the intestinal tract of mammals (including cats). These bacteria protect the body against harmful bacteria which can cause disease. This can be of help to cats with diarrhea, especially if they have been or are on a course of antibiotics which don’t discriminate against good and bad bacteria. Giving lactobacillus milk can replace lost helpful bacteria.

How is the cause of diarrhea diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you. If possible, bring along a fresh stool sample for your veterinarian to examine.

He will need to know how long your cat has had diarrhea if the diarrhea contained mucus or blood, if he has any other symptoms, what has he been eating, does he have any known medical conditions and is he on any medication?

The type of diarrhea may help to narrow down your veterinarian’s index of suspicion. Bloody diarrhea (known as dysentry) may be suggestive of infection or inflammation. A small increase in bowel movements with a large increase in amount of feces passed indicate the small bowel is involved, a large increase in the frequency of bowel movements and/or the presence of mucus are indicative of large bowel involvement.

Small intestine diarrhea: Volume is increased, frequency 2-3 times normal, no mucus, urgency may be normal to mildly increased. [2]Large intestine diarrhea: Volume is normal to decreased, mucus and blood may be present, the urgency is increased and frequency is more than 5 times normal. [3]

He will need to run some diagnostic tests which may include:

  • Baseline tests such as complete blood count, biochemical profile and urinalysis to evaluate organ function and look for signs of infection.
  • X-ray or ultrasound to evaluate the organs and look blockages.
  • Fecal studies for parasites, cysts, and eggs
  • Bile acid test

How is acute diarrhea treated in cats?

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause, supportive care will also be necessary, this may include:

  • Fluids to treat dehydration
  • Electrolytes to treat imbalances
  • Food may be withheld for 24 hours to rest the intestines after this time a bland diet will be given

Specific treatments include:

  • Antibiotics for bacterial infection.
  • Surgery to remove foreign bodies, blockages or telescoping of the intestines.
  • Gastric lavage (stomach pumping) or inducing vomiting for cats who have ingested poisons, activated charcoal may be administered to prevent further absorption of the toxins.
  • Worming medication to treat roundworms.
  • Most viral and protozoa infections are treated with supportive care.
  • Reduced protein and phosphorous diets for cats with kidney failure as well as addressing the specific cause.

Home care:

Follow your veterinarian’s instructions and administer all medications as prescribed.

Cats can be quite sensitive to sudden changes in diet, so if you are planning to switch types of food, do so gradually and over a few days.

If there is no improvement in your cat’s health, or if he becomes worse, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Some cats will eat anything they can get their paws on, that includes garbage and non-food items. Always dispose of food in the outside trash, avoid feeding human foods to your cat and keep all medications and toxins away from cats.







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