Diarrhea is one of the most common health problems cats suffer. It’s not surprising when you consider just how many different types of illnesses and situations can cause it. Loose stools can be prompted by everything from a gastrointestinal infection to a sudden change in diet, stress, feline immunodeficiency virus, inflammatory bowel disease, and even certain types of cancer.
A cat’s age will often give a clue. Kittens, for instance, will frequently get diarrhea from intestinal parasites such as roundworms. An older cat, on the other hand, might be having diarrhea because of hyperthyroidism or perhaps lymphoma that has spread to the GI tract. But how do you know if it’s something that needs a doctor’s visit or will pass on its own? After all, not every cause of diarrhea requires a veterinarian’s attention.
Your role as home health aid
An occasional bout of diarrhea is no cause for concern. If your cat continues to have a good appetite and is acting like her usual self, it’s generally safe to wait two or three days to see if the problem resolves on its own, says Tufts veterinary internist Michael Stone, DVM. It might simply be that she ate more food than she’s used to, or had an unusually rich treat, or perhaps was infected with bacteria or a virus that her body was able to fight off without medical support. It could also be that she felt stressed. If young children visited your home and chased her (or even ran around quickly) or she just came home from a veterinary visit where she was subjected to the scents of unknown animals and people, her gastrointestinal tract could have gone into temporary overdrive.
If your cat is experiencing persistent diarrhea over the course of an entire day or day and a half, that’s not normal and requires veterinary attention — not just to find the root of the problem and treat it, but to stem the diarrhea itself. Watery stools left untreated can result in serious dehydration and life-threatening electrolyte imbalance.
Even a passing bout should prompt a vet visit if it is accompanied by any of the following:
-Loss of appetite
-Vomiting more than once or twice
-Straining or other signs of discomfort
If you’re on the fence — perhaps your cat seems like herself but not completely — call the doctor’s office and describe what you’re seeing. They may be able to help you figure out whether it’s urgent. Chances are you will be advised to come in because it’s hard to accurately assess a cat’s condition by phone. Heed the advice of the veterinarian and his or her staff. It’s definitely better to have “gone for nothing” and learn that everything’s okay than to take your chances and miss an opportunity to protect your pet from an illness.