Bowel Incontinence in Cats

Key Takeaways

Bowel incontinence in cats is involuntary passage of feces, and appears to happen without awareness. 

• This symptom is not to be confused with straining to defecate or inappropriate defecating/house soiling

• Bowel incontinence can be divided into two categories, reservoir: the inability to hold and store stool; and sphincter: the inability to keep the anal sphincter closed

• The causes vary but are categorized as neurologic and non-neurologic 

• Diagnostics include physical examination, urine, blood, and fecal analysis, and diagnostic imaging

• Treatment varies depending on the cause and can include dietary modifications, surgery, medications, and palliative care.

A Closer Look: What is Bowel Incontinence in Cats?

Bowel incontinence can be divided into two types.

Reservoir incontinence

• Caused by diseases involving the rectum

• Involves an inability to store a normal amount of stool

Sphincter incontinence

• Caused by disorders affecting the anal sphincter

• Involves an inability of the sphincter to completely close properly

Both types have similar symptoms. The frequency of bowel incontinence events is usually unrelated to the severity of the underlying disease. 

It can also be categorized as chronic or acute. Acute and temporary are typically associated with diarrhea. Both acute and chronic cases can be associated with a number of other symptoms depending on diagnosis.

Possible Causes

The causes of bowel incontinence in cats can be divided into two categories:

Neurologic disorders which interfere with the nervous system control over bowel movements, such as:

• Cognitive dysfunction syndrome

• Dysautonomia

• Organophosphate toxicosis

• Toxoplasmosis

Non-neurologic disorders which are anything that causes diarrhea, structural anomalies, etc, such as:

• Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

Feline infectious peritonitis

• Bacterial and viral infections that cause diarrhea

Manx Syndrome



• Injuries: esp. Tail, spinal cord, pelvic, brain

• Intervertebral disc disease

• Dietary intolerance

• Tumors and cancer

• Perineal hernia

Some cases of fecal incontinence have no identifiable cause.

Risk Factors

Bowel incontinence in cats is rare. Incontinence does not necessarily indicate an emergency as a solitary symptom, but it is a problem as it is messy, hard to live with, and hard to treat. Prompt veterinary care is advised for any cats showing symptoms of incontinence.

Testing and Diagnosis

Diagnostics begin with a medical history and physical examination of the cat. After this, a number of diagnostic tests are used:

• Urinalysis

• Fecal testing

• Imaging (x ray, ultrasound, CT, MRI)

• Blood work

• Biopsies of the colon or intestine

• Colonoscopy (visualization of the colon using a camera)

• Nerve conduction studies

Treatment varies widely depending on the cause of the incontinence. The severity of treatment also varies from minor, supportive treatments to palliative, symptom-focused care in the case of severe incurable conditions.

Some treatments include:

• Diet changes to diets that promote reduced fecal volume

• Surgery

• Medications to treat underlying disease

• Medication that reduces intestinal motility to reduce fecal passage

• Waiting for symptoms to pass in mild cases associated with disorders that resolve on their own

Supportive care for patients with fecal incontinence include:

• Veterinary-administered enemas to reduce feces in the colon

• Changing soiled bedding immediately

• Frequent bathing to remove feces from the hair and skin

• Manual stimulation of defecation

• Physical therapy

Similar symptoms

Bowel incontinence is not to be confused with

• Inappropriate elimination/house soiling due to a behavioral issue

• Straining to defecate

Associated Symptoms


• Manx cat syndrome




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