Cat Got the Runs? When Diarrhea Isn’t a Cause for Concern


It’s not unusual for cat owners to notice their feline friend experiencing a bout of diarrhea, even when the cat otherwise seems perfectly healthy and active. Diarrhea, which is characterized by loose, watery stools, is actually quite common in cats.

Seeing your cat have diarrhea can naturally be concerning, even if they are acting normal otherwise. As a cat owner, you likely have questions about what may be causing it, if it’s serious, and what can be done to treat it.

This article provides an overview of potential causes of diarrhea when a cat seems fine otherwise. It covers how to assess the severity, diagnosis, treatment, and home care options. You’ll also learn when it’s necessary to see the vet, how to prevent diarrhea, and what the prognosis is for cats experiencing this symptom.

Potential Causes

Diarrhea in cats can be triggered by many different causes. Some of the most common include:

[Parasites] Infections from parasites like roundworms, hookworms, whipworms or giardia can irritate the gastrointestinal tract and lead to diarrhea.

[Diet] Sudden changes in diet, eating spoiled food, or irritants in food can cause diarrhea. Make sure any diet changes are gradual and stick to high-quality cat food.

[Viral/Bacterial Infections] Viruses like feline panleukopenia or bacteria like salmonella can infect the intestinal tract and cause diarrhea.

[Stress/Anxiety] Stressful events like changes in environment, travel, or schedule can trigger diarrhea in sensitive cats.

[Allergies] Allergies to ingredients in food or litter may lead to inflammation and diarrhea.

[Chronic Conditions] Diseases like IBD, cancer, or organ failure can also cause chronic diarrhea.

Assessing Severity

It’s important to assess the severity of your cat’s diarrhea to determine appropriate treatment. Look for signs of lethargy, vomiting, blood in the stool, and weight loss, which can indicate a more serious health issue (VCA Hospitals). Mild diarrhea may resolve on its own, while severe diarrhea with dehydration requires urgent veterinary care.

Diarrhea is considered mild if your cat is still active and alert, with no other symptoms. There may be a loose stool or two over a day or so. Severe diarrhea involves frequent liquid stools, sometimes with blood or mucus. Your cat may seem lethargic, vomit, lose their appetite, and lose weight rapidly. Dehydration from fluid loss is a major concern.

Contact your veterinarian right away if you notice any signs of severe diarrhea, dehydration, or additional symptoms like vomiting or lethargy. Urgent veterinary assessment is crucial to determine the cause and start proper treatment (PetMD). Mild cases of diarrhea can wait for a regular vet visit. Your vet will ask about your cat’s symptoms, medical history, and may run tests to diagnose the issue.


To diagnose the cause of diarrhea in a cat, the veterinarian will start by asking questions about potential diet changes, stressors, or changes in litter that could be causing the issue. They will also take a full medical history and perform a thorough physical exam. Diagnostic tests the vet may recommend include:

– Fecal exam to check for parasites like giardia or infections

– Bloodwork to look for issues like hyperthyroidism or pancreatitis

– Imaging like x-rays or ultrasound to check for foreign objects, masses, or inflammation

The vet will analyze the results of the exam, history, and any diagnostic tests to pinpoint the underlying cause of the cat’s diarrhea.


There are several treatment options for diarrhea in cats:

  • Withholding food briefly – Vets often recommend withholding food for 12-24 hours to give the GI tract a rest. Water should still be provided during this time. After the fast, a bland diet can be slowly reintroduced.
  • Bland diet – Feeding a bland, highly digestible diet like boiled chicken and rice for a few days can help firm up stools. The diet should be gradually transitioned back to normal.
  • Probiotics – Probiotic supplements can help restore good bacteria to the gut and normalize stools. Lactobacillus, Enterococcus, and Bifidobacterium strains are commonly used.
  • Anti-diarrheals – Medications like kaolin-pectin help absorb excess fluid in the colon to firm up loose stools. They provide symptomatic relief but don’t treat the underlying cause.
  • Underlying condition treatment – If there’s an infection, inflammation, or other condition causing the diarrhea, targeted medication will be prescribed. For example, antibiotics for bacteria, anti-inflammatories for IBD.

It’s important to identify and treat any underlying illness to fully resolve diarrhea. Symptomatic treatment alone may not be adequate.

Home Care

If your cat has a mild case of diarrhea but otherwise seems fine, you can provide supportive care at home. Here are some tips:

Ensure plenty of fresh water. Dehydration is a risk with diarrhea, so provide ample clean water and encourage your cat to drink. Use a fountain or flavored waters if needed.

Gentle TLC. Give your cat affection and make sure it has soft, comfortable places to rest. Reduce stressors in the home environment.

Litterbox cleanliness. Scoop waste frequently to keep the litterbox clean. Cats don’t like a dirty box and it can worsen diarrhea.

Monitor closely for worsening symptoms. Keep an eye out for lethargy, vomiting, blood in stool, weight loss or other concerning signs. Call your vet if the diarrhea persists more than 24 hours or gets worse.


There are several steps you can take to help prevent diarrhea in cats:

Transition new foods slowly. When changing your cat’s diet, do so gradually over 5-7 days. Mix a little of the new food in with the old food, slowly adjusting the ratios until your cat is eating just the new food. Sudden changes in diet can upset your cat’s digestive system.

Maintain routine. Try to feed your cat at the same times each day. Cats do best on a predictable, consistent schedule. Disrupting their routine can cause stress that leads to diarrhea.

Limit stress. Exposure to stressful situations like loud noises, new people, or animals can trigger diarrhea in cats. Try to minimize stress by keeping your cat’s environment calm and consistent.

Keep litter clean. Scoop your cat’s litter box at least once a day, removing urine clumps and feces. Clean the entire box with mild soap and water weekly. Dirty litter boxes can harbor bacteria that cause diarrhea.

Ensure proper parasite control. Regular deworming helps rid your cat of intestinal parasites that can cause diarrhea. Talk to your vet about an appropriate deworming schedule.

When to See a Vet

It’s important to check in with your veterinarian if your cat’s diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, you should take your cat to the vet if diarrhea lasts more than 2 days. Other reasons to seek veterinary care include:

  • Lethargy or vomiting along with diarrhea
  • Bloody or black stool
  • Significant weight loss due to diarrhea
  • Diarrhea in kittens or senior cats
  • Known ingestion of toxins or foreign objects

As noted by Tufts Catnip, it’s safe to monitor your cat’s condition for 2-3 days if they have a good appetite and normal energy levels. However, quick veterinary attention is crucial if diarrhea is persistent or accompanied by concerning symptoms. Prompt treatment can help prevent dehydration and other complications.


With prompt veterinary treatment, the prognosis for diarrhea in cats is generally excellent, especially for mild or acute cases. Diarrhea caused by dietary indiscretion, parasites, viruses, or bacterial infections often fully resolves within a few days with appropriate care. However, the prognosis depends on the underlying cause and severity of the diarrhea.

For chronic or severe diarrhea cases, the prognosis may be guarded to poor if the underlying condition cannot be effectively treated. Persistent diarrhea can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, malnutrition, and weight loss. However, even cats with chronic diarrhea often respond well to dietary modification, medications, supplements, hydration therapy, and home care. While lifelong management may be needed in some cases, many cats can enjoy improved quality of life with proper treatment.

The key to the best prognosis is early veterinary intervention. Catching the diarrhea before dehydration sets in gives the cat the greatest chance for a full recovery. Establishing an accurate diagnosis and quickly getting diarrhea under control are essential. With prompt, appropriate treatment guided by a veterinarian, most cats with diarrhea have an excellent long-term outlook.


A brief bout of diarrhea in an otherwise healthy cat is usually not concerning. The diarrhea will often resolve on its own within a day or two. However, severe, persistent, or bloody diarrhea can signal an underlying issue that requires veterinary attention.

It’s important to watch for signs of dehydration or lethargy, which may indicate the diarrhea is more serious. Cats with severe diarrhea may need fluids or other treatment to recover. If the diarrhea lasts more than a couple days or seems to be getting worse, take your cat to the vet.

With a short, mild case of diarrhea, simple home care measures like temporary bland food and increased water intake are usually all that’s needed. Reduce stress, keep the litter box clean, and feed a probiotic to help get your cat’s digestion back to normal.

While diarrhea can be disruptive and unpleasant to deal with, rest assured that with attentive care and veterinary guidance as needed, your cat can make a full recovery and be back to their regular, happy self again.

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