Suddenly your cat has diarrhea. Now what? Nobody likes to deal with their cat’s diarrhea, but diarrhea in and of itself is not a bad thing. It’s the body’s natural way of getting something bad out of the system and healing itself. Most diarrhea is self-resolving, but sometimes diarrhea is a symptom of a problem that needs to be addressed medically. So if your cat has diarrhea, when should you be worried? And when do you need to take your cat to a feline veterinarian? Let’s first look at what diarrhea is and why it’s not always a bad thing.
Feline diarrhea is a symptom, not a disease, or a diagnosis.
Diarrhea is a common symptom of many feline issues and illnesses. Stress, diet change, gastrointestinal infection, feline immunodeficiency virus, inflammatory bowel disease, and even certain types of cancer can cause a cat to have loose stools. Not all of these situations require immediate attention.
The occasional bout of feline diarrhea may not be a big concern if your cat is still eating normally, is active, and is behaving normally.
Sometimes we can recognize clues to what might be causing the loose stools, such as for instance, situational stresses. You may have just brought your cat home from the vet where she was boarding or being examined, or you just had houseguests that your cat isn’t used to. Any such stressors can result in a bout of feline diarrhea. In the wild, cats experiencing stressful situations send chemical signals to their gut to empty everything out so that they can run away faster. Stressors such as these may have just put your kitty’s gastrointestinal tract into overdrive.
Mild diarrhea is also common in cats with gut disease when their diet is changed. Of course, diet change should not cause diarrhea, any more than you would get diarrhea if you ate chicken tonight and beef tomorrow night. A healthy gut should not be challenged by such variations; however, most cats eating most commercial cat foods do not have healthy intestinal tracts. For those cats, diet change often induces mild diarrhea that usually self-corrects in a few days.
When your cat has diarrhea, when do you call a feline veterinarian?
The occasional bout of feline diarrhea may not be a big concern if your cat is still eating normally, is active, and is behaving normally. In this situation, it is generally safe to wait a couple of days to see if the problem goes away by itself, before calling your feline veterinarian.
However, if your cat is lethargic, vomiting, has a partial or complete loss of appetite, is straining, or showing other signs of discomfort, there is cause for concern. If your cat is displaying any of these symptoms along with a loose stool, you should call your feline veterinarian and have your cat seen right away.
Persistent watery diarrhea for more than a day or two is another indication that your cat needs to be seen. Watery diarrhea can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances which need immediate supportive care and investigation to determine the cause of the diarrhea. Specific treatments may be indicated for some causes of feline diarrhea; in other cases, only supportive care is needed; and sometimes no treatment at all is required.
Your cat has diarrhea, what is the consistency of the loose stools?
When your cat has diarrhea and you’re not sure whether or not your cat needs to be examined, call your feline veterinarian’s office and describe the symptoms. They will want to know how your kitty is behaving, the consistency of the loose stools, how long your cat has had diarrhea, if your kitty is eating normally, and there may be other questions, too. With this information, along with any other clues you can provide, the medical team can help you determine how urgent the situation may be. Depending on the situation, the medical team may advise you to have your kitty seen by your feline veterinarian, to determine what might be causing the problem and to provide supportive care. It’s better to be safe and find out there is nothing to worry about than end up in the emergency room.
Remember, our cats are masters at hiding any signs of illness, so when symptoms do appear and last longer than a short time, it is very common to discover that disease may already have been present for a long time and that your kitty no longer has the energy to hide the problem, and needs to be seen by your feline veterinarian.