Chronic Diarrhea in Cats

Chronic diarrhea in cats is diarrhea that continues for three weeks or longer. It's usually a sign of intestinal illness. The causes of diarrhea in cats are many and the consequences can be serious if left untreated.

Causes and Symptoms of Chronic Diarrhea in Cats

Intestinal irritation or abnormalities of the intestinal lining can lead to chronic diarrhea. Here are some of the many causes of feline chronic diarrhea:

  • Infection by bacteria, parasites, fungus, protozoa or viruses
  • Drugs
  • Toxins
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Gastric cancer
  • Food allergies
  • Systemic illnesses like liver and kidney disease
  • Overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine
  • Malabsorptive disorders that prevent your cat's body from taking in all the nutrients available in his food
  • Maldigestive disorders of the intestine
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Short bowel syndrome

Signs of chronic diarrhea in cats include:

  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Increased number of stools
  • Difficulty eliminating bowels
  • Passage of watery stools for three weeks or longer
  • Mucus or blood in the feces
  • Change in color of feces
  • Lack of appetite
  • Changes in hair coat

Diagnosing Chronic Feline Diarrhea

The source of feline chronic diarrhea may be difficult to pinpoint, since there are so many possible causes. Your vet will need to perform a physical exam and will want to know your cat's complete medical history. He'll also need to perform tests to determine the cause of your cat's chronic diarrhea.

Some of the tests used to diagnose chronic diarrhea in cats include:

  • A complete blood count
  • Fecal examination
  • Urinalysis
  • Biochemical profile
  • Thyroid hormone tests
  • X-rays
  • Fecal cultures
  • Ultrasounds
  • Barium tests of the upper and lower digestive tract
  • Endoscopic examinations
  • Blood lead level tests
  • Exploratory surgery

Treating Chronic Diarrhea in Cats

If tests are inconclusive and your cat appears to be otherwise healthy, your vet may simply treat the diarrhea symptoms. He may also administer treatments for common causes of feline diarrhea, in hopes that one of them might work. Most vets will treat for intestinal parasites such as worms, and some may administer antibiotics in case your cat is suffering from a low grade bacterial infection of the lower digestive tract. Most vets will recommend a change in diet, to either a high fiber or low fiber diet, depending on whether your cat's large intestine or small intestine are affected.

If your cat is very ill, he'll need to be hospitalized for supportive therapy whether or not your vet can determine the cause of his chronic diarrhea. He may need IV fluids, nutritional supplements and even medication.

If your cat is suffering from chronic diarrhea, home care is very important. Pay close attention to your cat's bowel movements. Note the amount of stool he produces as well as its characteristics. Pay attention to how frequently your cat moves his bowels and whether he appears to be struggling to do so. Straining to move the bowels in cases of chronic diarrhea may indicate a bowel obstruction.

Notice if there is any blood or mucous in your cat's feces. Monitor your cat's weight, appetite and level of activity, and administer any medications your vet prescribes according to his instructions.