The Scoop on Cat Poop. Are Your Kitty’s Droppings Solid or Liquid?

Introduction

Cat poop can be solid or liquid depending on the cat’s diet and health. Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they require a high-protein diet centered around meat. Their digestive systems are designed to process animal flesh efficiently. When cats eat foods suited for their species-appropriate diet, they will usually produce solid, log-shaped poops. However, many factors can cause a cat’s poop to become loose, liquid, or even constipated instead. These include diet, diseases, infections, parasites, stress, and other issues affecting the digestive tract. While a healthy cat will have solid bowel movements, loose stool or diarrhea can indicate an underlying problem. Likewise, chronic constipation is also abnormal. Understanding what’s normal for your cat’s poop, and noticing any changes, allows early detection of potential health issues.

Anatomy of Cat Digestion

Cats have a relatively simple digestive system compared to humans. It consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and anus [1]. The process starts when the cat chews food in its mouth. Saliva contains no enzymes to start breaking down food. Instead, chewing helps physically break down large pieces to aid digestion. The food travels down the esophagus to the stomach where gastric juices and hydrochloric acid break it down further. The partially digested food then moves into the small intestine, where enzymes from the pancreas continue breaking it down. Nutrients are absorbed through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream. Finally, any undigested material passes into the large intestine. Water and salts are absorbed to form feces, which is then expelled through the anus.

The entire journey takes approximately 10-12 hours. Cats have a faster transit time than humans due to their shorter digestive tract. Key anatomical features like a simple stomach and short small intestine also contribute to this efficient process [2].

Signs of Healthy Cat Poop

Healthy cat stool should be properly formed, with a consistency similar to playdough or toothpaste. Cat poop that is too hard or too soft indicates an issue. Ideal cat stool will hold its shape when picked up and not be loose or runny.

The color of healthy cat poop is brown. A medium brown color is ideal, as very dark brown or black poop can indicate blood in the stool. Conversely, very light brown or grey stool can signify a lack of bile. A normal brown color indicates the food has been properly digested.

Healthy cat stool has a moderate odor. While it should not be extremely foul smelling, some odor is normal. Completely odorless stool may mean your cat is not digesting food properly. However, an extremely strong odor, particularly of ammonia, points to health issues.

According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition[1], the ideal appearance of healthy cat stool is “a long, firm unit that looks like a cigar.” Properly formed poop indicates your cat is absorbing nutrients and staying hydrated.

Mild diarrhea that lasts for 24 hours or less is often caused by dietary indiscretion. Eating new foods or treats, eating table scraps or garbage, or eating spoiled food can all upset a cat’s stomach and lead to loose stools. Stresses like moving to a new home, traveling, or changes in routine can also cause transient diarrhea.

More persistent or severe diarrhea may be caused by:

Causes of Loose Stool

  • Parasitic infections like roundworms, hookworms, giardia or coccidia (VCA Hospitals)
  • Viral infections like panleukopenia or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) (Animal General CT)
  • Bacterial infections like salmonella or campylobacter (Animal Biome)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Food allergies or intolerances
  • Certain medications
  • Cancer in the colon or small intestine

It’s important to identify the cause of diarrhea through diagnostic tests so appropriate treatment can be provided. Mild cases may resolve on their own, but severe or bloody diarrhea warrants an urgent vet visit.

Causes of Constipation

Constipation in cats can occur for several reasons. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Dehydration – Cats who don’t drink enough water are at higher risk for constipation. Dehydration causes the stool to become dry and hard, making it difficult to pass. Conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and fever can lead to dehydration.
  • Diet – A diet low in fiber or high in carbohydrates may not provide enough bulk for healthy bowel movements. Sudden changes in diet can also disrupt normal digestive function.
  • Foreign body obstruction – Objects like string, plastic, or hairballs can get lodged in the intestines and block the passage of stool.
  • Inactivity – Lack of exercise and movement can slow down the muscles that push stool through the colon.
  • Side effects of medication – Some medications like diuretics, anti-seizure drugs, and narcotic pain relievers may cause constipation as a side effect.
  • Diseases – Medical conditions like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and gastrointestinal disorders can impair normal digestive function and motility.
  • Stress – Stress hormones and cortisol can alter digestive patterns and cause constipation in some cats.
  • Neurological disorders – Diseases affecting the nerves and muscles involved in defecation can make it difficult for cats to eliminate stool normally.

If a cat is experiencing chronic constipation, it’s important to identify and address any underlying health issues. A veterinarian can perform diagnostic tests to pinpoint the cause.

Sources:

https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/constipation-in-cats

When to See the Vet

Although some variation in stool consistency is normal, certain changes may indicate an underlying health issue that requires veterinary attention. According to PetMD, if your cat has not passed a bowel movement in more than 48-72 hours, it’s best to contact your vet, as prolonged constipation can lead to permanent colon damage (PetMD, 2023). Other warning signs that warrant veterinary care include (Animerge Vets, 2021):

  • Diarrhea lasting more than 24 hours
  • Presence of blood or mucus in the stool
  • Straining or crying out when trying to pass stool
  • Loss of appetite or lethargy
  • Repeated vomiting

Cats experiencing any of these symptoms along with abnormal bowel movements should be evaluated by a veterinarian promptly. The vet will perform diagnostic tests to check for underlying illness and provide appropriate treatment to restore normal bowel function.

Diet Modifications

There are several diet changes you can make to help firm up loose stools or treat constipation in cats:

  • Increase fiber – Adding fiber to your cat’s diet can help add bulk to the stool and regulate digestion. Good sources of fiber include canned pumpkin (not pie filling), oats, barley, peas, and leafy greens. Start with small amounts and gradually increase.
  • Probiotics – Giving probiotic supplements or foods with added probiotics can help populate your cat’s gut with beneficial bacteria to aid digestion. Look for products specifically formulated for cats.
  • Wet food – Feeding only or mostly wet food can help cats stay hydrated, which is important for healthy stools. Wet foods also tend to be lower in carbs and higher in protein.
  • Limited ingredients diet – Some cats do better on diets with fewer ingredients, which reduces the chance of allergies or sensitivities. Try a limited ingredient cat food made with a novel protein source.
  • Low-fat diet – Too much dietary fat can lead to loose stools. Choose lower fat cat foods or reduce portion sizes of high fat foods.
  • More moisture – Adding extra water to dry kibble or feeding broths and canned foods with high moisture content can ease constipation.

It’s best to make diet changes slowly and give your cat time to adjust. Consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns.

Home Remedies

There are several natural home remedies that can help treat diarrhea in cats:

Pumpkin – Adding a teaspoon of plain canned pumpkin to your cat’s food can help firm up loose stools. Pumpkin is a good source of fiber which can absorb excess moisture in the colon. Make sure to use plain pumpkin without any added sugars or spices. (1)

Probiotics – Giving your cat a probiotic supplement can help restore healthy gut flora and improve digestion. Look for a cat-specific probiotic powder or paste that contains strains like Enterococcus faecium or Saccharomyces boulardii. Give as directed on the packaging. (2)

Exercise – Making sure your cat gets regular playtime and exercise can help stimulate the digestive tract and normalize bowel movements. Try engaging your cat in active play for 10-15 minutes 2-3 times per day. (3)

Increased Fluids – Giving your cat extra water, or switching to canned food with higher moisture content, can help prevent dehydration from diarrhea. This also keeps the stool softer and easier to pass. Use cat-safe unflavored electrolytes as needed. (1)

Fiber Supplements – Adding 1-2 teaspoons of psyllium husk or wheat bran to your cat’s food can help firm up loose stools. Consult your vet first, as too much fiber can sometimes make diarrhea worse. (2)

Withhold Food – For acute diarrhea, withholding all food for 12-24 hours may give your cat’s gut a chance to rest and recover. Make sure your cat stays hydrated during this time. (3)

Medical Treatments

In severe or persistent cases of constipation or diarrhea, vets may prescribe medications to get the bowels moving properly again. Some common medications include:

  • Laxatives like lactulose or bisacodyl to soften the stool and stimulate bowel movements for constipation. Vets will recommend dosing and monitor for side effects like cramping or diarrhea (1).
  • Stool softeners or lubricants like docusate sodium to allow stools to pass more easily. These help retain moisture in the colon (2).
  • Prokinetic agents like metoclopramide or cisapride to improve intestinal motility if the bowels have slowed down. These can stimulate contractions (3).
  • Anti-diarrheals like loperamide or bismuth subsalicylate for loose stools. These help slow transit time in the intestines and prevent electrolyte imbalances (4).

Vets will determine the appropriate prescription medication based on the cat’s symptoms, health history, and response to initial treatment. Used judiciously under veterinary supervision, these drugs can provide more intensive relief when home remedies and over-the-counter options fail to produce results.

Conclusion

A cat’s stool consistency can vary greatly depending on their diet, health status, stress levels, and other factors. While cats typically pass well-formed, log-shaped stools, it’s not uncommon to see softer variations or even diarrhea. Likewise, constipation can cause their poop to become small and dry. The key is to monitor your cat’s litter box habits and watch for any drastic changes. While a one-off bout of loose stool generally isn’t a concern, chronic diarrhea or constipation warrants a vet visit to diagnose and treat any underlying issues. Proper nutrition, hydration, exercise and reducing stress can all help promote healthy and consistent bowel movements. With diligent observation and care, cat owners can better understand what’s normal or abnormal when it comes to their feline’s poop.

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