How to recognize normal and abnormal stool in cats

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How to recognize normal and abnormal stool in cats - A kitten sitting in a litter box

Finding something unexpected in your cat’s litter box can be alarming. Pet parents in this situation often find themselves wondering whether it’s something to worry about or not. Read on to learn:

  • What does healthy stool from a cat look like?
  • How can I tell what abnormal cat poop looks like?
  • How can I encourage normal stools in my cat?
  • How do vets treat digestive issues in cats?

While some abnormal stools in cats can be caused by health issues, most small and temporary changes are related to eating something out of the ordinary. Table scraps, another pet’s food, and even nibbling on houseplants can cause a temporary fecal change in cats. It’s important to know when a chat with a vet is needed about your cat’s stools.

What does healthy cat poop look like?

A healthy poop in your cat’s litter box should be a soft, fully formed brown log that holds its shape and can be easily scooped or picked up. Most cats poop about once a day, but individuals can vary. As long as your cat’s pooping habits and stools remain mostly consistent day to day, they are likely normal.

What does abnormal cat poop look like?

Any changes in consistency, color, or odor in a cat’s stool can be abnormal. These can include:

  • Excessively hard, crumbly, or dry stool
  • Watery or loose stools
  • The presence of blood, mucus, clots, or unusual colors
  • Undigested or unusual items in the stool
  • Excessive straining to defecate
  • A significant increase or decrease in the frequency of bowel movements

Stool consistency

  • Normal cat stool is soft but holds its shape, similar to modeling clay or play-dough. There are various ways a cat’s poop can change in consistency.
  • Diarrhea in cats occurs when stools are abnormally loose or watery. It is a common symptom in cats with a variety of causes. Diarrhea may also cause excessive straining as well as some mucus or blood in the stool or an abnormally foul odor.
  • Constipation occurs when stools are abnormally hard and dry and difficult to pass. This causes excessive straining to defecate, sometimes causing blood to appear around the hard stools. The first presentation of feline constipation is considered an emergency and requires the treatment of the underlying issue to prevent further complications.

Mucus, blood, and jelly-like blood clots in the stool can also cause changes in consistency. A small amount of blood or mucus in the stool, especially when a cat is experiencing diarrhea or constipation, is usually due to straining or irritation to the gastrointestinal tract. However, very bloody stool or passing only jelly-like clots is an emergency that needs to be treated right away.

Items in the stool

Fur, parasites, and abnormal items such as pieces of toys and other non-food items can sometimes be found in a cat’s poop. Small amounts of fur found in cat feces are normal as a result of grooming. Evidence of most parasitic infections cannot be seen in a cat’s feces, but tapeworms shed segments that look like small pieces of white rice in fresh feces.

If other foreign bodies such as dental floss, string, and other inedible objects are found in stool, you might need to take a moment to ensure your cat’s environment prevents access to these items in the future. While some material can successfully pass, others can cause internal damage or block your cat’s digestive tract entirely. In some cases, cat owners find a piece of string still hanging out of a cat’s anus after it has started pooping it out. Always contact a veterinarian before trying to pull the string out, as this can be dangerous.

Stool color

Slight changes in poop color can be normal if they are varying shades of light to dark brown. “Most temporary changes in stool color are the result of something the cat ate and not a cause for concern, especially if everything else seems ok,” explains Vetster veterinarian Jo Myers. “A single episode of a little bit of red blood or mucus on an otherwise normal bowel movement is unlikely to be a concern as long as your cat is otherwise feeling fine.”

A graphic of the quote above

Stools that are persistently orange, yellow, green, or white can indicate bacterial infections or other issues. A cat who enjoys chewing on grass or catnip may have occasional undigested pieces of the greenery in their stool. Black, tarry feces or large amounts of red blood are never normal and may indicate internal bleeding. Always seek veterinary care right away if your cat’s feces seem excessively bloody.

Stools with an unusually foul odor

While no cat poop smells particularly pleasant, the odor should stay consistent. In some cases, foods and treats that have a strong odor can cause a cat’s poop to smell stronger than usual. In other cases, foul-smelling diarrhea can sometimes indicate a number of different medical conditions, such as bacterial overgrowth or intestinal parasites. There are many potential causes for foul-smelling diarrhea in cats. While most causes of feline diarrhea are relatively harmless and a result of eating something out of the ordinary, diarrhea may also be life-threatening, especially for very young kittens, senior cats, or those living with chronic medical conditions.

What causes abnormal stools in cats?

Changes in a cat’s stool can be caused by dozens of different health issues and temporary situations that can range from harmless to life-threatening. In most cases, abnormal stools are caused by eating something out of the ordinary, also known as dietary indiscretion. Some of the most common causes of diarrhea include changes in diet, infectious disease, stress, or a chronic illness, among others. Constipation can be caused by chronic illnesses but can also result from obesity, arthritis, or pelvic injuries. It is most common in senior cats, especially those with mobility issues. Changes in color and odor can also be caused by food, disease, or internal bleeding.

How can I prevent my cat’s abnormal poop?

Maintaining a well-balanced diet, receiving regular wellness exams, and keeping vaccines and parasite control up to date does wonders in keeping a cat’s poop healthy and consistent. Keep trash, string, houseplants, and other tempting items out of reach. As much as your cat may enjoy them, keeping table scraps and extra treats to a minimum can also help prevent stool changes. Finally, encourage a healthy weight with a balanced diet and exercise.

How do veterinarians diagnose and treat abnormal bowel movements in cats?

Abnormal stools are a symptom rather than a condition, which can be caused by a wide variety of factors. When treatment is necessary, it is aimed at the underlying cause. Diagnostic testing can help narrow down why the change is happening. Recommended diagnostic tests vary depending on the type of stool change, presence of other symptoms, and the cat’s medical history. Simple, acute diarrhea or mild stool changes can sometimes be treated symptomatically before diagnostics are done, though it depends on the situation. Specific treatments depend on the type of change found in the stool as well as what the underlying cause is.

Do I need to take my cat to the vet for abnormal stools?

Most minor changes in a cat’s stool are temporary and caused by something they have eaten. However, if your cat is constipated for the first time, has severe symptoms, has foreign objects in their stool, or has mild changes for more than a few days, a vet visit is warranted. In general:

  • Severe diarrhea with other symptoms is an emergency
  • Severe diarrhea without other symptoms needs urgent care
  • Mild diarrhea with no other symptoms that persists for 48 hours warrants veterinary attention
  • Constipation needs to be treated as an emergency if it is the first bout or is unexpected
  • Black, tarry stools or a lot of blood in the stool is an emergency
  • Other colors or foreign items without other symptoms warrant a chat with a vet

If you have questions about how your feline friend’s stool is supposed to look or if you’ve suddenly found something abnormal in your cat’s litter box, an online vet would be happy to answer your questions quickly in a virtual vet appointment.

FAQ - How to recognize normal and abnormal cat poop

What should normal cat poop look like?

Healthy cat poop should be log-shaped, chocolate brown in color, and soft but hold its form when scooped or picked up. It should not be runny, overly hard, or contain foreign items such as parasites, string, or pieces of toys.

Is it normal for cats to have runny poop?

The occasional bout of diarrhea in cats is usually caused by eating something out of the ordinary and goes away within a couple of days. Prolonged diarrhea needs veterinary attention as it can be caused by disease or other factors that require treatment.

Can cats have inflammatory bowel disease?

Yes. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is one of the most common causes of chronic vomiting and diarrhea in cats. It is not life-threatening, and symptoms can be eased with lifelong care and monitoring. Cats with IBD may also need a restrictive or special diet to prevent recurrence.

How often do cats poop?

Cats, in general, poop once a day. However, it can be normal for cats to poop more or less often as long as it is consistent for them. It is also normal for a cat to go a day or two without pooping if they have recently had a bout of diarrhea or vomiting or undergone anesthesia.