What to feed a cat with diarrhea

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What to feed a cat with diarrhea   - an orange cat standing beside an empty pet food bowl, looking up

Cat diarrhea is a stinky, messy problem that many cat owners occasionally face. It is important for pet owners to learn when to see a veterinarian for their cat’s loose stools. Read on if you have ever wondered:

  • What is diarrhea in cats?
  • Why does my cat have soft stools?
  • What food should my cat experiencing diarrhea have?
  • Do I need to see a vet for my cat’s diarrhea?
  • Are at-home treatments for cat diarrhea effective?

Like humans, cats can occasionally experience bouts of diarrhea and stomach upset that resolve on their own. However, it is important to consult with your veterinarian in cases of recurring diarrhea, when other symptoms are also present, or if the soft stools last longer than a couple of days.

What is feline diarrhea?

Diarrhea in cats appears as loose, watery stools that can be more smelly than usual or accompanied by mucus or small amounts of blood in the stool. Cats with diarrhea often strain unproductively as their digestive tract is irritated. It is not uncommon for a cat with diarrhea to have accidents outside the litter tray due to increased urgency to defecate and reduced bowel control. Diarrhea in cats can be acute or chronic. Acute diarrhea appears suddenly and lasts for less than 24 hours. Chronic diarrhea recurs over at least a two-week period of time. Both acute and chronic diarrhea can be caused by an underlying medical condition that needs attention.

What causes diarrhea in cats?

A change in a cat’s bowel movements is frequently a symptom of another problem occurring in the intestinal tract, but sometimes it’s due to a condition affecting a different part of the body. Causes of bouts of diarrhea in cats can include:

Diarrhea in cats often appears suddenly, and it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause. Sudden food changes and nibbling on house plants are common causes of acute diarrhea in cats. Table scraps and human foods can cause sudden soft stools. Cats do best on a consistent and balanced diet of nutritionally complete cat food without adding too many treats or changing the food.

In addition, be careful about feeding raw diets to cats. Raw diets have a much shorter shelf life than commercially available cat foods, and spoiled food can cause diarrhea. Finally, cats can develop food intolerances or sensitivities that can be fixed with a change in diet. Since changing the diet makes some types of diarrhea worse, this should only be done under the supervision of a veterinarian.

What should I feed my cat with diarrhea?

In many cases, it is unnecessary to change a cat’s food when dealing with a bout of diarrhea. Most of the time, feline diarrhea is caused by ingesting something outside their normal food, causing an upset stomach. Remove all houseplants and other items a cat may nibble on from their reach.

Sometimes, a veterinarian may recommend fasting your cat for 12-24 hours to help rest the gut. Veterinary guidance is important because fasting may be unsafe for some cats. If normal stools return after fasting, reintroduce a cat’s regular food a little bit at a time. A vet may also recommend feeding a bland diet at first. Always discuss a diet change with a vet, as this can worsen diarrhea. Always provide plenty of water, as diarrhea can cause a cat to become dehydrated quickly. Consider placing several water bowls strategically throughout your home to encourage your cat to drink more water. Finally, probiotics may be beneficial, but should be used only under the guidance of a veterinarian.

When should I see a vet about my cat’s loose stools?

“For otherwise healthy adult cats, it’s time to see a vet if diarrhea does not resolve within 24-48 hours,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “In cases of severe diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, or if the diarrhea is accompanied by other symptoms, such as vomiting, weight loss, lethargy, or a lack of appetite, see a veterinarian right away. A vet can also utilize diagnostic tests to pinpoint the cause of a cat’s diarrhea and prescribe appropriate treatment.”

A graphic of the quote above

If diarrhea occurs in a senior cat or young kitten, it may be best to seek veterinary care immediately. There are a variety of medical conditions that can cause diarrhea that are more likely to occur in senior cats or kittens. Diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration in all cats, so it’s best to see a vet sooner rather than later for assessment if symptoms are persisting.

What diagnostics and treatments do vets use for feline diarrhea?

Diarrhea is easily recognized by the presence of loose stools. However, the underlying cause of the diarrhea needs to be identified to determine the best course of treatment. Veterinarians utilize physical exams and diagnostic tests such as blood work, fecal exams, and imaging to help identify the cause of diarrhea and create a recommended treatment plan. Symptomatic treatment is offered for diarrhea along with treatment for the underlying health issue.

Can I treat my cat’s diarrhea at home?

Consult a veterinarian before treating your cat at home for diarrhea. Home remedies, anti-diarrheal medications, probiotics, and food changes can cause more harm than good if the underlying cause of diarrhea is not understood. Anti-diarrheal medications have limited benefits as they do not address the underlying cause. Symptomatic medication may offer temporary relief, but if the diarrhea is related to an underlying condition, a treatment plan for the root cause is required for a full resolution.

Most cases of diarrhea are caused by a cat eating something they shouldn’t have, and go away on their own. A vet may recommend fasting from food for 12-24 hours. Always provide access to plenty of clean, fresh water, as diarrhea can quickly dehydrate cats. Fasting may not be safe for all cats or all situations, so talk to a veterinarian before attempting. Contact a veterinarian for testing and proper treatment if your cat’s diarrhea does not resolve within 24-48 hours. If you have questions about your cat’s acute or chronic diarrhea, you can discuss them with an online vet through Vetster from the comfort of your home.

FAQ - What to feed a cat with diarrhea

Should I feed a bland diet to my cat with diarrhea?

Only change a cat’s diet if directed to do so by a veterinarian. A slow introduction of a bland diet after fasting may benefit some cats during a bout of diarrhea. However, suddenly changing a cat’s normal diet may also make diarrhea worse. Pet parents should always discuss home treatment of diarrhea with a veterinarian before fasting or changing their cat’s diet. Always make water available to cats with diarrhea, as they can quickly dehydrate.

Can I give my cat Pepto-Bismol® for an upset stomach?

Pepto-Bismol® and other human medications might not be safe for your cat. Using anti-diarrheal medications masks the symptom of diarrhea without addressing the underlying problem. Never administer medications without approval from a vet, and seek veterinary care if your cat has diarrhea for more than 24-48 hours, if it’s severe, or accompanied by other symptoms.

How long does cat diarrhea last?

Many cats develop minor diarrhea from time to time. Acute diarrhea in cats caused by a food change or getting into something that causes stomach upset often resolves on its own within 24-48 hours. However, if diarrhea persists longer than 24-48 hours, is severe, or is accompanied by other symptoms, your cat should be seen by a veterinarian.

What home remedy can I give my cat for diarrhea?

Common at-home remedies for cats with diarrhea include temporarily withholding food, probiotics to reintroduce beneficial gut bacteria, or feeding a bland food diet. However, seeing a vet in person or speaking to an online vet before administering home remedies is always best. Cats who do not have normal stools for longer than 24-48 hours, have severe symptoms, or who show other signs like vomiting and appetite loss need to see a veterinarian. Do not use anti-diarrheal meds without the instruction of a vet, as they mask the symptom without addressing the underlying cause and are not safe for all cats with diarrhea.