Cat Diarrhea – Constipation – Intestinal Disorders
- Diarrhea may be trivial or life-threatening
- Bowel problems can originate outside the bowels
- The liver and pancreas are vital for digestion
The intestines are a vital part of the immune system, and some inflammatory bowel diseases and dietary allergies are really manifestations of immune disorders.
Damage to the digestive system may result in diarrhea. It may be painful, be accompanied by vomiting, or contain blood or mucus. It can be associated with an increase or loss of appetite, normal behavior, or severe lethargy. From its characteristics, one can reasonably accurately determine the causes of diarrhea, which include:
- Eating grass
- Dietary allergy or sensitivity;
- Food poisoning;
- Parasites (such as Giardia);
- Viruses (FPV, FeLV, FIV, FCoV);
- Bacteria (such as Campylobacter);
Treatment: Diarrhea is treated symptomatically. The known cause is eliminated. Withhold food for a few hours, but allow your cat to drink. Fluid therapy is essential when acute diarrhea is caused by FIE (feline infectious enteritis) infection (see p.214).
Many experts recommend feeding a cat its regular diet to provide the gut flora with familiar food. Antibiotics are never used unless bacterial infection is suspected.
Consult your vet at once if your cat is lethargic, has a fever, or passes blood.
Ask the vet
Q: Does milk cause diarrhea?
A: Any dietary change may cause diarrhea.
Milk may cause it in cats that no longer produce sufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase, as they did as kittens. If your cat suffers from diarrhea when it drinks milk, feed it lactose-free milk for cats, available in supermarkets.
If your cat is badly dehydrated by persistent diarrhea or vomiting, it may need to be put temporarily on an intravenous drip.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
This is a group of increasingly diagnosed diseases related to the immune system. Affected cats, often middle-aged, usually have chronic vomiting and diarrhea, defecate more frequently, lose weight and litter training, and look malnourished. Treatment: Your vet will start your cat on a hypoallergenic diet and prescribe immune-suppressing drugs, such as corticosteroids.
Cats with IBD respond to dietary supplements. Antioxidants, such as zinc, selenium, and vitamins A and E, may improve the immune system. Bioflavonoids, such as proanthocyanidin, may work with vitamin C to support immune function and scavenge free radicals. N-acetyl glucosamine may reduce inflammation. Vitamins B12 and K and folate are also beneficial.
The most common cause of this is a tumor invading the gastrointestinal system. Affected cats may vomit, have diarrhea, and lose weight. By then, your vet will probably be able to feel a lump in the abdomen. Surgically removing the mass and associated tissue is successful if it has not spread elsewhere.
Although not uncommon, constipation can be serious if the colon dilates into a megacolon and loses its function. In most cases the reason for megacolon is unknown, but it can be caused by diet, trauma, and neuromuscular disease. Affected cats vomit, appear depressed, stop eating, and strain to pass stools.
Constipation is reasonably common in older cats and may have any of several causes. This X-ray clearly shows unexpelled feces in the colon.
Identifying intestinal problems through stool analysis
|Frequency and quantity:
Small amounts very frequently Large amounts 3-4 times daily
|Irritation to colon
Digestion/malabsorption condition in small intestine
Treatment for constipation
- Mild cases are treated with enemas given by the vet. Do not do this at home. Given incorrectly, an enema can cause severe damage.
- Soak dry food in equal parts of water and feed only when it is fully absorbed. This increases fluid consumption.
- In multicat households make sure each cat has its own litter box and clean it regularly.
- A little cow’s milk, bran fiber, or psyllium (ask your pharmacist) added to a cat’s diet may act as a laxative or increase the frequency of defecation.
- Use a mild laxative, such as lactulose, as instructed by your veterinarian.
- In the most serious instances, surgical removal of the colon is an option. Cat owners say their cat’s personality and elimination habits return to normal.
Anal-sac blockage or infection causes a cat to groom its bottom obsessively, so much so that it licks the hair off its hind legs and belly. Irritation from tapeworms causes similar, but less intense, licking. Infection causes a swelling on the affected side, to the left or right of the anus.
Treatment: Uncomplicated blocked anal sacs are emptied by squeezing by your vet. If the sac swells and bursts through the skin, producing a draining abscess, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics.
Obesity is the most common cause of a distended abdomen. Other reasons are: tumors; accumulation of fluid (ascites), which develops most frequently as a result of feline infectious peritonitis (see right) or liver disease; and a general enlargement of organs as a result of, for example, womb infection (pyometra), immune disorders (enlarged spleen), or an overactive adrenal gland (enlarged liver). See your vet if your cat’s abdomen is distended and you do not know why.
Feline coronavirus (FCoV) and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
Some strains of FCoV cause mild diarrhea. Others cause a serious, often fatal infection called feline infectious peritonitis (FIP). Shared litter boxes an( mutual grooming are the ways these viruses spread in multicat households. FIP occurs in two different forms: dry, usually affecting the lungs, and wet, leading to fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites).
Prevention and treatment: One or two cats living in a home are at little risk. If more cats are introduced, however, they should be blood-tested for FCoV. Limit fecal contamination by cleaning the litter box daily and keeping the cats’ food away from their litter box(es). The nasal vaccine is not recommended for routine use but could, in theory, be useful for vaccinating FCoV-negative cats before they enter FCoV-positive environments. Immune-suppressing drugs, such as corticosteroids, are at the heart of treatment. Unfortunately, once ascites develops, any form of treatment is unlikely to be successful.
A loss of appetite (anorexia) can be caused by a range of problems inside o outside the digestive tract. They include pain, injury, disease, fear, stress, an unpalatable diet, and loss of the sense of smell. You should always contact your vet if your cat stops eating.
Liver and pancreatic disorders
Small-bowel disease can ascend into the bile duct, which goes to the liver, and is also connected to the pancreas. Uniquely in cats, small-bowel disorders can lead to pancreas and liver disease. Also, many conditions cause hepatic lipidosis, the most common liver disorder in cats.
Hepatic lipidosis (HL): HL occurs twice as often in females, especially fat females, as in males. It can be triggered by poor nutrition, obesity, other diseases, or simply not eating. Fat cells accumulate in the liver and affected cats lose their appetite, lose weight, and refuse to eat.
Treatment: HL is life-threatening. Cats must eat, and the most effective way to ensure good hydration and nourishment is by surgically installing a stomach tube (gastrostomy) that remains in place for about a month.
Liver shunt: After damage from chronic liver disease, blood vessels from the intestines may bypass the liver. Blood does not get purified of substances from the intestines, such as ammonia. These circulating substances cause brain inflammation. Affected cats dribble and stagger, act lethargic, experience seizures, or twitch.
Treatment: This condition can be treated by diet management or surgery.
Drug-induced liver disease:
Some drugs, safe to humans and dogs, are toxic to cats, causing hepatitis. They include:
- Diazepam (Valium);
- Iron supplements;
- Glipizide (for diabetics);
- Ketoconazole (for ringworm);
- Methimazole (for hyperthyroidism).
Obesity in cats, especially females, can lead to the
common life-threatening condition hepatic lipidosis.
Chronic (ongoing) inflammation is the most common pancreatic disease in cats. Affected cats have nonspecific signs, like vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and weight loss. Diagnostic blood tests are not reliable in cats. A biopsy is needed for an accurate diagnosis. Chronic pancreatitis usually accompanies other liver and bowel diseases.
Cats rarely suffer acute (sudden) inflammation to the pancreas or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, the most common pancreas disorders in dogs.
Diabetes mellitus: Insulin, produced in the pancreas, helps body cells absorb glucose. A lack of insulin causes blood sugar to increase and leads to diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes), which affects about one in 200-400 cats. High blood sugar alone is not diagnostic for diabetes. Even mild stress increases a cat’s blood-sugar value. Diabetes typically causes increased drinking and urinating, combined with weight loss. The onset is slow and often missed by cat owners.
Treatment: Diabetes is often treated with insulin injections and a high protein, reduced-fat diet. Oral drugs to reduce blood sugar can be effective. Once diabetes-induced cataracts develop, their progress is irreversible.
Excerpted with permission from Cat Owner’s Manual by Dr. Bruce Fogle published by Dorling Kindersley Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. You can purchase the Cat Owner’s Manual at Amazon.ca