Diarrhea in cats and kittens

Diarrhea is one of the most common problems in cats of this age. It is defined as an increase in the water content of the fecal matter associated with an increase in the volume and frequency of defecation.

Depending on the time of evolution of a diarrhea, it can be separated into two categories:

Acute diarrhea in cats

It may occur with or without vomiting. It may also occur with loss of appetite, lethargy or dehydration depending on the intensity and duration of the symptoms. Most are due to viral diseases or sudden changes in diet.

In general, this type of diarrhea is self-limiting, meaning that over the course of hours or days the situation normalizes on its own. This does not mean that it does not need treatment. Sometimes it is necessary to soothe the pain in the abdomen, administer saline solution to keep the patient hydrated, provide glucose or eliminate parasites that may be present.

When there is diarrhea in cats, it is always important to fast and then follow a diet that allows the intestines to rest for 24 to 48 hours and recover. When the walls of the intestines are inflamed or injured, any food that the kitten ingests, even if it is only milk, will only provoke more inflammation and prolong the diarrhea. In a very young kitten the lack of fasting can severely aggravate the original diarrhea. A common medication that can help is bismuth cream, but its taste is often unpleasant and it is difficult to administer. If you can use it, the dosage for treating diarrhea in cats is 1 to 2 ml 3 to 4 times a day for no more than 3 days. If the diarrhea persists you should take your kitten to see a veterinarian. Antibiotics should not be used unless there is evidence of a bacterial infection, as they alter the normal bacterial flora of the intestines.

After fasting, the first meal should be very digestible. We suggest natural tuna, boiled egg, chicken pieces with rice or specific commercial preparations that the veterinarian will tell you. It is best to give small portions several times a day and then progressively return to normal feeding in 2 to 3 days. Milk should be completely discontinued until the stool is of normal consistency.

Chronic diarrhea in cats

This type of diarrhea is more frequent in adult cats associated with chronic intestinal inflammation. In kittens the causes of these diarrheas are not entirely clear. Intestinal parasites are usually found in almost all cases, but may be an incidental finding. Partial obstruction by foreign bodies that the kitten has swallowed may be a cause of chronic diarrhea. Another cause to be studied is food intolerance; for this the veterinarian will indicate as the only treatment a change to a more digestible diet and then try to reintroduce the original diet or another of better quality or different ingredients.

What is likely to happen is that chronic diarrhea in cats occurs as a “sequel” to acute diarrhea that was treated unnecessarily with antibiotics, upsetting the balance of normal bacterial populations in the intestine. Almost all diarrhea syrups sold have a combination of drugs including a non-absorbable antibiotic. As long as the kitten takes it it is fine, but when the medication is stopped the diarrhea reappears. Then antibiotic treatment is given again and a vicious circle is entered that prolongs the problem of diarrhea in cats.

Finally, the kitten has a diarrhea of several weeks of evolution that does not seem to respond to symptomatic treatments. In general, the appetite is preserved and there is no vomiting.

To reach a correct diagnosis it is necessary to do a stool analysis to rule out or treat internal parasites if any. Blood tests are usually normal, except for eosinophilia in the case of Ancylostomas. X-rays are useful only to detect foreign bodies in the gastrointestinal tract. A special test can also be done to rule out giardiasis.

Treatment of diarrhea in cats

Treatment should be aimed at eradicating the hypermultiplication of anaerobic bacteria and restoring normal bacterial flora. All medication is withdrawn, fluids are given if needed, a 24-hour fast is started and metronidazole (controls occult giardiasis and eliminates anaerobic bacteria) is used for 5 to 7 days. Lactobacillus may also be given to help populate the intestine until normal bacteria develop.

If all this does not correct the diarrhea in cats, it is necessary to culture the feces for bacterial infections such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. If the culture is negative, inflammatory bowel pathology may be suspected. A simple way to rule this out is to administer corticosteroids for 2 weeks and then lower the dose as directed by the attending veterinarian. As a last option if the diarrhea continues, tests for feline leukemia and immunodeficiency should be done.

In summary, acute diarrhea can generally be treated without making a specific diagnosis by symptomatic management of the patient. In chronic diarrhea, on the other hand, it is important to investigate to detect the reason for the diarrhea and to make the appropriate treatment. The main causes of diarrhea in cats include parasitosis, food intolerance and possibly bacterial hypermultiplication.

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