The Scoop on Your Cat’s Poop. What’s Normal and What’s Not

Introduction

Knowing what your cat’s poop should look like is an important part of monitoring their health. The color, consistency, and other characteristics of cat feces can provide insight into whether your cat is digesting their food properly or if there is an underlying medical issue that needs veterinary attention.

Paying attention to your cat’s litterbox habits allows you to establish a baseline for what is normal for your individual cat. Changes in stool consistency, such as constipation, diarrhea, or unusually soft/hard feces, are not necessarily normal and may indicate a problem. Understanding the typical features of healthy cat poop enables cat owners to spot potential illnesses early and seek timely treatment.

Monitoring cat poop also provides information about your cat’s diet. Stool that is too hard or dry may indicate a need for more moisture in the diet, while loose stool could mean you need to switch to a different protein or fat source. With knowledge of healthy poop and its various nuances, cat owners can optimize their pet’s diet and digestive health.

Ideal Consistency

The ideal consistency for a healthy cat’s stool is firm, moist, and well-formed. Cat feces should have substance to it and hold its shape, rather than being soft, shapeless, or watery (Dutch, 2021). When squeezed gently, the stool should not be rock hard but should have some give and be malleable, like modeling clay. Healthy cat poop is easy to pick up in the litter box without it crumbling apart. The stool’s surface will often be coated with a thin layer of mucus that gives it a slight shiny or damp appearance (Purina, 2022). The ideal stool has enough moisture to hold its form, but not so much that it is soggy or shapeless.

Impact of Diet

A cat’s diet can significantly impact the consistency of its stool. Cats fed a dry kibble diet tend to produce firmer, bulkier stools compared to cats fed a wet canned food diet. This is because dry food contains more carbohydrates and fiber, while wet food has higher protein and fat content.

The carbohydrates and fiber in dry food add bulk and absorb moisture, resulting in firmer stool. Dry food also requires more chewing which stimulates the intestines and aids digestion. Meanwhile, the high moisture content in wet food produces softer stool with greater volume.

One study found kittens fed exclusively wet food had much softer stools than kittens fed dry or mixed wet and dry diets (1). However, extremely soft or cow patty-like stool can sometimes indicate an underlying health issue in cats fed wet food long-term.

In general, cats on wet food diets will poop less frequently but in larger volumes. The stool will be softer, moister, and smellier. Cats on dry food will poop more often but pass smaller, firmer stools. Consider your cat’s needs and preferences when choosing a food, and monitor stool consistency.

(1) https://www.catster.com/guides/do-cats-poop-less-on-wet-food/

Constipation

Constipation in cats is defined as infrequent or difficulty defecating, often resulting in the passage of hard, dry stools. If a cat hasn’t pooped in over 48 hours this can be a sign of constipation (VCA Animal Hospitals). The normal poop consistency for a cat is soft and well-formed, so constipation results in stool that is hard, dry, and difficult to pass.

Constipation occurs when too much water is absorbed from the colon or when the muscular movement of the colon that propels stool forward is not functioning normally. Possible causes include lack of exercise, stress, foreign objects, certain medications, and diseases like diabetes or kidney disease. Dry food diets can also contribute to constipation because of the lack of moisture (Veterinary Emergency Group).

Constipated cats may strain excessively in the litter box and pass only small amounts of feces or even blood from their excessive straining. Hard, dry poop can be painful and damage the colon if the cat is not treated. Home remedies involve increasing exercise, switching to wet food, and increasing water intake. Seeking veterinary care is recommended if home treatment does not relieve the constipation within 24 hours (PetMD).

Diarrhea

Diarrhea in cats is characterized by loose, watery stool that often has a strong odor. The consistency can range from slightly soft to entirely liquid. Diarrhea is typically a sign of an underlying issue like a food intolerance, infection, or disease (VCA Animal Hospitals).

There are several potential causes of feline diarrhea:

  • Dietary indiscretion from eating table scraps, garbage, or spoiled food
  • Food allergies or intolerances
  • Parasite infections like giardia or worms
  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Medication side effects

Acute diarrhea may last for 24-48 hours. Chronic or recurrent diarrhea persisting for over 3 weeks requires veterinary attention (Animal Biome). Dehydration is a serious risk with diarrhea, so cat owners should provide ample fresh water.

Mild cases of diarrhea can often be managed at home by withholding food for 12-24 hours and slowly reintroducing the cat’s normal diet. Canned pumpkin or probiotics may also help resolve minor diarrhea. Any bloody stool, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, or persistence beyond 48 hours warrants a vet visit.

Parasites

Cats can get infected with parasites like Toxoplasma gondii, roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, and giardia from hunting or eating raw meat, feces of other infected cats, or contaminated food or environment. These parasites live in a cat’s intestines and shed eggs in the feces which is how the cycle continues. Some parasites like Toxoplasma gondii do not always cause symptoms in cats. However, intestinal parasites especially roundworms and hookworms can cause digestive upset like vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.

Roundworms are one of the most common feline parasites. The eggs hatch in the intestines, and the larvae migrate and mature in other tissues like the lungs. The larvae get coughed up and swallowed back down to reproduce in the intestines. Roundworms rob nutrients from the cat leading to abnormal feces. Feces may contain visible roundworms that look like long strings/spaghetti. A heavy roundworm infection can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, or blood in the stool.

Diseases

There are several medical conditions that can affect the consistency of a cat’s stool. Some common diseases that may lead to abnormal poop include:

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – This condition causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, leading to diarrhea or soft stools. IBD can be challenging to diagnose and may require imaging tests and intestinal biopsies (Source 1).

Colitis – This inflammation of the colon causes diarrhea containing blood and mucus. It may be caused by infection, parasites, stress, or food allergies (Source 2).

Gastrointestinal lymphoma – A form of cancer affecting the GI tract. It frequently causes vomiting and chronic, uncontrolled diarrhea (Source 3).

Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) – The inability to produce enough digestive enzymes leads to poor absorption of nutrients and loose, greasy stools (Source 3).

When to See a Vet

Any change or abnormality to your cat’s usual pooping habits can indicate an underlying health issue. If you notice any of the following signs, it’s time to get in touch with your veterinarian:

Your cat hasn’t had a bowel movement in over 48-72 hours (PetMD).

Your cat is straining frequently to poop but nothing comes out, or only a small amount is passed.

There are visible signs of discomfort when pooping, like crying out in pain or excessive licking around the anus.

The poop that is passed is small, dry, and hard.

There is blood in the stool or leaking from the anus.

Your cat is vomiting as well as constipated.

Your cat seems lethargic, has lost its appetite, or its abdomen seems tender or distended.

You see a rectal prolapse, where the inner lining of the rectum protrudes from the anus.

Your cat is straining but cannot pass any poop at all (complete obstruction).

Treatments for Abnormal Cat Poop

There are several ways to treat abnormal cat poop consistency and get your cat back to having normal poops.

For constipation, vets may recommend adding more fiber to your cat’s diet or using laxatives like lactulose or MiraLAX to help soften the stool and allow them to pass easier. Prescription high-fiber diets like Hill’s Prescription Diet c/d Multicare Urinary Care with Chicken Dry Cat Food or Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Fiber Response Dry Cat Food may help. Make sure to introduce these slowly mixed with their regular food.

For diarrhea, vets usually recommend a bland diet like boiled chicken and rice to give the GI tract a rest. Prebiotics or probiotics may also help restore normal gut bacteria. Anti-diarrheal medication can provide relief but seek veterinary advice first.

If the abnormal poop persists, further tests for parasites, infections, or other illnesses may be needed. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

For mild cases, try the at-home remedies first. But if the problem lasts over 48 hours or your cat seems in distress, take them to the vet right away.

Conclusion

In summary, the normal consistency of a healthy cat’s poop should be firm and solid, yet still soft enough to be somewhat malleable. Deviations from this ideal consistency can be indicative of medical issues, with diarrhea signaling problems like infections or food intolerances, and constipation suggesting potential obstructions or dehydration. While small variations in consistency are not too concerning, significant or persistent changes should prompt a veterinary visit to identify and treat any underlying condition. Paying attention to your cat’s litterbox habits, including poop consistency, is an important way to monitor their health and wellbeing. If in doubt, consult your vet, as treatment may be required to restore normal gut function and bowel movements.

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