Common Digestive Problems in Cats
It is not uncommon for cats to develop digestive problems at some point in their lives. Symptoms of digestive problems can be quite varied and include the following:
- Changes in appetite along with vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation
- Increased or decreased thirst
- Dull and/or unkempt coat
- Weight loss (in chronic situations)
Cat digestive problems may be acute or chronic. While acute digestive issues are often self-limiting in cats, cats with chronic digestive problems require a comprehensive veterinary examination to assess underlying causes and determine appropriate treatment. A fecal exam for parasites, a complete CBC/blood chemistry profile, feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus tests, X-rays and/or ultrasound (if your cat is vomiting), and a urine analysis and thyroid profile for older cats are recommended. Endoscopic or surgical biopsies may also be needed in chronic digestive cases.
If digestive problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation continue for more than a few days, or if symptoms intensify, always consult your veterinarian. This is crucial to avoid dehydration, infections, and organ complications of the liver or kidneys. Veterinarians will often give symptomatic medications to relieve symptoms, as well as intravenous or subsequent fluids to treat and prevent dehydration.
Cats with inflammation of the stomach, pancreas, or intestines may vomit. Ingestion of excessive amounts of hair in cats who overgroom may also result in an upset stomach in cats. Foreign body ingestion is another possible cause, especially objects that cats find attractive such as rubberbands, tinsel, and dental floss. Dietary/food hypersensitivities may develop in a cat of any age and may also result in vomiting. Cats with acute vomiting often benefit from food restriction for 12-24 hours to allow the digestive tract inflammation to subside. Following this short fast, introducing bland baby food diets for a few days such as turkey or lamb baby food can be helpful. It may also help to give cats Famotidine at a dose of 2.5 to 5 mg once or twice daily to help settle a sour stomach. For cats with suspected hairballs, products such as Hairball Plus and Laxatone are often given. Lubricants including cod liver oil may also be used to soften foreign materials or hair in the stomach. Homeopathic remedies useful in cats with acute upset stomachs include Nux Vomica, Pulsatilla, and Arsenicum Album. If one remedy does not help within 12-24 hours, then change to a different remedy. Cats with worsening signs and/or symptoms that persist for more than 24-48 hours should have a full medical examination before further treatment is tried.
Diarrhea in cats is a common sign of intestinal inflammation. Cat diarrhea may be watery or mucousy in appearance, and may contain blood if intestinal inflammation in the colon occurs. In cases of colitis, common symptoms include straining, urgency, and inappropriate defecation outside of the litterbox. Diarrhea may have many causes in cats including intestinal parasites (roundworms, hookworms, giardia); viruses (feline corona virus (FIP), feline leukemia, and feline panleukopenia (feline distemper), dietary/food allergies and hypersensitivity; metabolic diseases of the liver and pancreas, as well as inflammatory bowel disease and cancer. A recommended product for relief of diarrhea in cats is the soothing herb slippery elm, which can be found in health food stores. Probiotics such as FortiFlora, as well as enzyme preparations such as NaturVet Digestive Enzymes Plus Probiotic may also help in many cases. While baby food may help with acute cases of diarrhea in cats, restricted limited ingredient cat food may help with symptomatic relief.
Constipation in cats can occur when cats don't get enough bulk or fiber in their diet, or when indoor cats don't get enough exercise. In some cases, if cats are not allowed to evacuate when the urge is there, they may develop the habit of holding their stool. This is most common in house cats with a dirty litter box. Constipation may also occur secondary to foreign material present in the digestive tract including excessive hair, as well as from intestinal polyps or growths. Older cats with spinal disease frequently have trouble evacuating their stool. Megacolon is a disorder of the colon, where the colon loses its ability to mechanically expel stool, often resulting in severe constipation, requiring enemas as well as medical and even surgical management.
Adding extra fiber to your cat's food in the form of natural psyllium husks or Vetasyl may often help with constipation. Mineral oil or olive oil may also be temporarily used where there is a large buildup of hard stools. Products such as Hairball Plus also help with excessive buildup of hair in the intestines. Another recommended product is Vetri HBr by Vetri-Science. Increasing the moisture of your cat's food by adding water and/or eliminating dry food ingestion may help constipated cats. A teaspoon or two of canned pumpkin added to your cat's food is often an effective home remedy for cat constipation. It is important to make sure that indoor cats get adequate exercise. This can be achieved through games that involve pouncing. Also make sure that your cat has a clean, dry litterbox in order to encourage regular bowel movements.
Pet guardians can try many home remedies and treatments for cats with digestive problems. In serious or chronic cases, always consult with your veterinarian.