It isn’t the most pleasant topic but it is one we would like to spend a few minutes on. We find a lot of cat owners aren’t totally sure whether loose stools, or diarrhoea, are to be considered ‘normal’ or something to worry about. So we’d like to demystify the topic.
What are Loose Stools?
‘Stool’ is another term used to refer to faeces, and loose stool is another term for diarrhoea.
A healthy cat typically passes stools that are brown and well formed. A well-formed stool will typically hold its shape and will be easy to pick up, without being excessively hard. If the stool is soft (and difficult to pick up), loose, or even watery, it is usually a sign that there is a digestive issue. The stool can often be lighter in colour than usual, and sometimes there may be some mucus or blood present either on or within it.
‘Loose stools’ may be soft and fall apart when picked up. They may be the texture of thick yoghurt, or may even be completely liquid. Each of these are considered abnormal. Stool that doesn’t hold it’s shape, or that is difficult to pick up is generally classed as ‘diarrhoea’.
What Does Cat Diarrhoea Mean?
Essentially, it's the body's way of telling you that there is an issue with digestion somewhere along the gastrointestinal tract. Humans and animals alike suffer from diarrhoea, and there are a wide range of causes including anything from bacteria and parasites, to dietary allergies and potentially even more worrying issues like cancer. If you see signs of loose stool or diarrhoea in your cat, it is best to play it safe and take him or her to your veterinarian, along with a fresh stool sample.
What Causes Loose Stools?
Here are just a few of the more common causes of loose stools and diarrhoea in cats:
- Diet: If you change your cat's food suddenly, their digestive system may take time to adjust. The diarrhoea will typically be fairly mild, and will generally disappear once the cat gets used to the food. It is also important to consider that your cat may have an intolerance to an ingredient in the food.
- Dietary Allergies: Some cats are hypersensitive to certain nutrients in their food. For example, cats may develop allergies to certain proteins. If your cat has been eating the same food for a long time, he or she may have recently developed a sensitivity to specific nutrients.
- Pathogens and Parasites: There are many types of bacteria and viruses, that can cause gastrointestinal infections, which could lead to diarrhoea. For example, Salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria, or intestinal worms can often lead to diarrhoea. Some infections (such as the feline leukaemia virus) can cause diarrhoea, but can also eventually be life-threatening, so it's a good idea to get your cat checked in order to rule out an infectious or parasitic cause. Also make sure you keep up to date with your cats de-worming regime as instructed by your veterinarian.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease: There are a number of disorders that can cause chronic swelling and irritation in your cat's bowels. This can be a serious, but manageable, problem.
- Tumours: Older cats seem to be more prone to developing intestinal tumours, which can interfere with nutrient absorption and lead to diarrhoea, vomiting and weight loss. Benign tumours and polyps, while uncommon, can also form and have similar effects.
- Vitamin B12 deficiency: Cats who lack vitamin B12 will often develop chronic diarrhoea, and the only way to eliminate the problem is to supplement their diet with the vitamin. Feeding a complete and balanced, commercially produced diet will usually prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
- Systemic diseases: Hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and liver disease can all contribute to serious health problems, and one of the common symptoms is diarrhoea.
- Pancreatic insufficiency: When the pancreas is unable to produce the proper digestive enzymes, the food going through your cat's digestive system isn't digested and absorbed properly. While it is more common in dogs, cats have been known to suffer from this problem.
Remember, diarrhoea can occur for a range of reasons including a simple dietary indiscretion to more serious conditions like cancer. Your cat may have diarrhoea for a day or two and then resolve without any treatment, or your cat could have intermittent diarrhoea for many months.
If the diarrhoea has only been present for a day or so and your cat doesn’t show any signs of lethargy, vomiting or other health problems, continue feeding as per normal. However, if the diarrhoea continues for more than 24–48 hours, if you see a lot of blood or mucus in the stool or if you notice other symptoms such as a decreased appetite, vomiting or weight loss, it's time to get your cat checked by your veterinarian.
Taking a fresh stool sample from your cat in a clean container can often help your vet to make a diagnosis of the cause of the loose stool or diarrhoea, so do try to take this with you if you can. With any feline health problem, it is always better to seek veterinary advice and intervention sooner rather than later.