Cats Can Have Diarrhoea Too. Know Why It Happens And How To Treat It

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By Dr J. Venkhatesh

Diarrhoea in humans is very common. A few medicines, some home remedies, and certain dietary changes are enough to bring relief to their discomfort. But it’s not the same case when it comes to cats. Although our furry little friends have their own way with cleanliness, there can be unfortunate incidents where they are discharging faecal matter more than usual or vomiting. Along with that, they are suffering from fever, weakness, abdominal pain, dehydration, or loss of appetite. Then it is an alarming sign for a cat parent to take your cat to the vet.

The primary feline behaviour, unlike Dogs, is to suppress the expression of disease until it becomes extremely out of control. Hence it becomes imperative for the feline pet parents to be more vigilant in picking the subtle signs of distress at the earliest.

It commonly occurs by the encounter of any infectious agent like bacteria, viruses, or intestinal worms. However, it may also happen because of some toxin chemicals, poisonous plants, allergens, or diet changes.

The severity of the ailment depends on the longevity and number of symptoms that the cat shows.

Indeed, diarrhoea is often observed around nutritional weaning, when kittens transition from milk to solid food (around 4-8 weeks).

At that time indeed, major changes are occurring at the digestive tract level in kittens (anatomical & enzymatic changes) and on top of that, those individuals are going through a period of immunosuppression (often referred to as the “immunity gap”) while being potentially exposed to digestive pathogens in their environment. 

The most common root cause of diarrhoea in felines are viral infections like Feline Distemper, Feline Infectious Peritonitis and Feline Immunodeficiency. All these diseases except the Feline immune deficiency usually have fatal outcomes.

The most common parasitic infections of the gastrointestinal tract are Giardiasis & Trichomoniasis apart from the regular intestinal worms that can cause chronic refractory diarrhoea in cats – young & old.

Like all our experiences, cats also have dietary intolerances and Food allergies. Common signatures of poisoning from toxins are also often seen in outdoor cats. 

Other life-threatening diseases that require timely surgical intervention include foreign body obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract.

Said and done, cats also suffer from hormonal imbalances especially hyperthyroidism and kidney diseases that can predispose them to diarrhoea. Not common but not rare, adult cats can develop tumours of the gastrointestinal tract where Diarrhoea is the only symptom!

Diarrhoea can be an indicator of a broader illness which is affecting your cat. Vets make the distinction between the large intestine and small intestine diarrhoea, characterised by different symptoms and different causes.  

If your cat has large intestinal diarrhoea, their stools will tend to be of the same volume or less than usual at one time, but more frequent than normal, but often include blood or mucus. You may also notice their stools are softer at the end of the day. Your cat will also exhibit a need to move its bowels urgently and frequently.

Small intestinal diarrhoea in your cat tends to be of a large volume at one time, can have colour variations such as green or orange, and may include undigested food. Your cat may also be suffering from vomiting, weight loss and flatulence.

On top of feeding an appropriate diet for this specific physiological stage, key nutritional recommendations on how to conduct weaning need also to be given to the owners:

  • Weaning must be a progressive and smooth process. It should not be started in kittens before 4-4.5 weeks (the only exception is in the case of orphaned kittens where it can be started at 3 weeks) and then should be conducted over 4 weeks. 
  • It is also important to monitor the number of food kittens is fed at each meal during the weaning process. Indeed, food competition can occur and lead to overconsumption in certain For these individuals when they are fed altogether, leading to the development of osmotic diarrhoea afterwards. 

It is important to keep in mind that nutrition is just one – important – a piece of the puzzle here. Prevention of weaning diarrhoea also requires medical (vaccination, deworming) and sanitary (sanitation) prophylactic measures. Only the combination of all will successfully help prevent weaning diarrhoea in kittens. 

Here are a few tips that a cat parent can consider while their cat is showing symptoms of diarrhoea.

  1. Diet: Dietary intervention can play a beneficial role in the management of diarrhoea and can control its occurrence and severity. Physical characteristics of fibre can both increase or decrease stool passage time; for example, research has shown that beet pulp promotes a shorter intestinal transit time, while cellulose increases it. Dietary fibre, and slowly fermentable fibres such as cellulose, peanut hulls, psyllium husks and wheat bran, have been shown to be an effective means of increasing dietary bulk in the gastrointestinal tract without supplying additional calories. Some fibre absorbs water from the GI tract to form a viscous gel which can reduce free faecal water and aid in the normalization of stool consistency. The viscous gel also prolongs intestinal transit time and may be useful in treating cases of secretory or osmotic diarrhoea as it absorbs luminal toxins. When increased motility is the cause of diarrhoea.
  2. Hydration: Loss of bodily fluid is common while a cat is suffering from diarrhoea. It is critical that you maintain your cat’s hydration. So, try to keep your cat hydrated by filling their bowls with clean and fresh water and encouraging them to drink at regular intervals to prevent dehydration.
  3. Vitamin B12 deficiency: Cats need Vitamin B12 in order to keep their immune system, nervous system, and digestive tract in a healthy shape. For a healthy cat, their body tissues can retain Vitamin B12 for 13 days. But a cat with a gastrointestinal disorder will only be able to hold for 5 days. Thus, if a cat suffers from Vitamin B12 deficiency, it will potentially affect other organs and may cause more health problems. Your vet may prescribe them food rich in Vit. B12 like Royal Canin Gastrointestinal, when your cat is suffering from diarrhoea.
  4. Probiotic and gut medications: As a precautionary step, ask your vet to prescribe probiotics for the healthy gut of your cat. When dealing with diarrhoea, probiotics may be helpful. A cat’s immune system relies on the health of the GI tract. Probiotics help improve the function of the GI tract and, in doing so, help to improve immune system function. It helps to promote a healthy gut by providing beneficial bacteria to your cat’s intestinal microbiome. This also means more solid and natural cat poop. Probiotics help to balance the cat’s gastrointestinal tract, which starts at the mouth. A healthy, balanced mouth and gut make for fresher breath.

Cats are very composed as a pet. They don’t express themselves very easily. Hence, it is important for cat parents to look out for them with more precision.

Cats will always try to hide their poop or pee. Therefore, it is recommended to consider other prominent symptoms first to determine whether your cat is suffering from diarrhoea or not.

The author is MVSc (Surgery & Radiology), MD (ACU), DMT, Chief & Specialist Small Animal Surgeon, Auro Multispeciality Pet Hospital, Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

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