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I’m sure we’ve all had to deal with our cats having an upset stomach from time to time. Gastrointestinal issues are common in cats and can be caused by all kinds of things. However, most bouts of diarrhea are short-lived and will correct themselves quickly.
But my cat has runny poop all the time! Known as chronic diarrhea, this is much more serious than the occasional runny stool. Long-term diarrhea poses a serious risk of dehydration and malnourishment. Besides, it usually indicates some other underlying disease or medical condition.
In this article, I talk more about diarrhea and what causes it. Then, I delve more specifically into why your cat might have runny poop all the time. This could be caused by anything from resistant infections to hyperthyroidism, cancers, or chronic stress.
It’s important to be aware of these conditions and get your cat to the vet if necessary. Plus, there are ways to improve the consistency of your cat’s poop which I share here, so try some of these at home. Your cat will be pooping healthily in no time at all.
What is Diarrhea?
Most of us are already aware of what diarrhea is. It is where stools have a loose and runny consistency. More often than not, the frequency of defecation is also increased. This is because the fecal matter is passed through the intestines quicker than it should be. Less water has time to be removed in the process, so stools are softer.
It is usually pretty easy to notice diarrhea in cats. You’ll spot piles of runny poop in the litter box instead of hard-formed stools. Many well-trained cats with diarrhea will also have toilet accidents around your home. The frequent need to poop means they might not make it to their litter box in time!
With cats that mostly poop outside, it can be harder to notice diarrhea. However, you might notice staining in the region around their butt. This is especially true for long-haired breeds whose fur might get covered in poop accidentally. Although they’ll try to clean this away, some staining is still possible.
What Causes Diarrhea in Cats?
All diarrhea happens because something is disrupting your cat’s normal digestive function. Usually, this disrupted function causes one of two things to happen:
- Your cat’s intestines push the fecal matter through them too quickly, meaning there is not enough time for water to be absorbed from the stools as they form. As a result, stools are runny and lack a solid consistency.
- Your cat’s intestines cannot absorb water as they usually would do, often as a result of inflammation of the cells lining the intestine. This means the water content of the stool is increased, causing them to be runny and fluid.
This disrupted digestive function can result from all kinds of things. Indeed, diarrhea is a clinical sign rather than a disease itself. Some of the possible causes include bacterial and viral infections, parasitic infections, eating something toxic, or even food allergies and intolerances.
Why Does My Cat Have Runny Poop All the Time?
If your cat has diarrhea but seems fine, you might find that their stools return to a normal consistency within 24 hours. However, if your cat has runny poop all the time there is likely a bigger problem at hand. This is known as chronic diarrhea and you must get your cat checked.
Long-lasting diarrhea can lead to life-threatening situations. Your cat could get severely dehydrated or malnourished, making a cat suddenly lethargic and weak as their bodies start to shut down. Diarrhea and dehydration are particularly problematic in vulnerable kittens. Whenever my kitten is weak and sleepy, making sure it’s well-nourished is a must!
Moreover, runny poop all the time is usually an indication of an underlying medical condition that needs to be treated. Leaving this unchecked could have severe negative consequences. Here is a look at all the possible causes for your cat’s permanently upset stomach.
1. Resistant Infections
Diarrhea is one of the most common clinical signs of infections of all kinds. This includes bacterial, viral, and intestinal parasitic infections. Most infections won’t cause your cat’s poop to be runny all the time. As soon as the infection has been treated and fought off, your cat’s poop returns to normal.
For example, my cat’s poop smells so bad whenever she has worms and is nearly always runny. Yet after deworming a cat successfully and eliminating the pesky parasites, her stools return to normal. The same is true for bacterial infections treated with antibiotics, and viral infections treated with antiviral medications.
However, some infections – specifically bacterial infections – are resistant to treatment. Resistance to antibiotics occurs naturally through natural selection but becomes more common when antibiotics aren’t used as prescribed. The bacteria that survive treatment can survive and multiply until they become the majority.
Cats that have resistant infections won’t make a recovery when prescribed the usual treatment. If the infection is severe, a riskier course of antibiotics might be prescribed. In other cases, probiotic supplements and supportive care might be a better option.
2. Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Cats with runny poop all the time could suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This is where your cat’s gastrointestinal tract becomes chronically inflamed. These inflamed cells become thicker and thicker, with this added thickness impairing their ability to absorb nutrients and water.
IBD can affect cats of any age. However, older cats are more at risk. The reason for this and the cause of the disease is still unknown. Scientists believe that it must be a combination of genetic abnormalities of the immune system combined with environmental factors, such as diet and the type of bacteria in the intestines.
If your cat has IBD, chronic diarrhea is likely. However, this largest depends on which part of the gastrointestinal tract is inflamed. For example, inflammation in the colon is more likely to lead to runny stools. In contrast, you’re much more likely to see your cat throwing up hairballs daily when the stomach is inflamed.
Feline inflammatory bowel disease is usually treated by diet management. Many things found in the diet can exacerbate the condition, so eliminating these can be effective. Medication with anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties can also be prescribed.
3. Metabolic Diseases
Metabolic diseases are another reason why your cat’s poop is always runny. One of the most common metabolic disorders in cats is hyperthyroidism. Cats with this disease have an overactive thyroid gland that produces excess amounts of the hormone thyroid.
The thyroid hormone plays a crucial role in regulating metabolism. High levels cause metabolism to increase, which impacts digestive function. The colon will pass all fecal matter through much more quickly than usual so there is not enough time for water to be properly absorbed. As a result, diarrhea is one of the prominent clinical signs.
To compensate for the amount of water lost in their poop, you might see your cat drinking a lot of water. Other clinical signs of hyperthyroidism include:
- Weight loss due to an increased metabolism
- Increased thirst and urination
- Hyperactivity and increased energy levels
- Vomiting and nausea
Hyperthyroidism is a progressive disease, so these symptoms will develop gradually. This can mean it is pretty hard to spot initially. Thankfully, it is curable once the disease has been diagnosed. Anti-thyroid medications, iodine therapy, or surgery are all options you can discuss with your vet.
4. Cancer or Tumors
Constant runny stools are a common symptom in cats with tumors or cancer in the GI tract. The tumors don’t have to be cancerous to cause diarrhea, and benign tumors are just as likely to impair digestive function. As the cells grow, they become unable to absorb water and nutrients from the diet.
Of all the cancers in cats, lymphoma is the most common. This refers to cancer of the lymphocytes – a particular type of cell that is involved in the immune system. As such, lymphoma is considered to be systemic rather than localized. However, 50% to 70% of all feline lymphoma affects the GI tract.
In most cases, lymphoma will only affect cats age 9+ and often goes undiagnosed for a while. This is because its symptoms are similar to many other intestinal diseases. Alongside diarrhea, you can expect to see vomiting, weight loss, and changes in appetite.
If your cat does have lymphoma or another type of cancer, chemotherapy is the most common treatment. Thankfully, cats respond to chemo much better than humans do. It is unlikely for your cat to lose its fur or fall badly sick. In some cases, surgery is also recommended.
5. Chronic Stress
Stress can manifest in many ways, one of them being impaired digestive function. As such, cats that are suffering from chronic stress can also suffer from chronic diarrhea. Their bodies are a reflection of their current psychological state.
Cats are sensitive creates and can become stressed very easily. Something as small as changing your cat’s feeding schedule or returning home from working later than usual could be all it takes for your cat to feel on edge. Other stressors include new people or animals in the home, loud noises nearby or other cats in the neighborhood.
However, your cat should overcome these small stressors relatively quickly. Give them some time to cool down and they’ll be okay. Indeed, for cats to have runny poop all the time, the stress must be long-lasting.
Common examples of such situations could include:
- Moving to an entirely new home or neighborhood
- Adopting a new pet that causes conflict
- A new baby or new person moving into your house
- Separation anxiety and the fear of being abandoned
- Previous trauma causing PTSD
If your cat is suffering from chronic stress, diarrhea won’t be the only sign. You might notice overgrooming to the point of hair loss, increased hiding behaviors, and potential aggression towards other people and animals. Some cats will overindulge in food and gain weight, whereas others will lose their appetite completely. If you notice your cat not eating or drinking for 3 days, take them to the vet immediately.
6. Food Allergies
Finally, your cat’s long-term tummy trouble could be down to food allergies and intolerances. Cats can be sensitive to all kinds of substances found in food. Interestingly, it is usually the protein in their diets that is responsible. Despite being carnivores, it is foods such as beef and chicken that are most often found to cause food allergies.
If your cat does have a sensitivity to something in its food, this impairs its ability to digest it. As such, they will often suffer from long-term sickness and diarrhea. Other clinical signs include flatulence, frequent scratching, and inflamed or sore skin.
Unfortunately, food intolerances can be extremely hard to pin down and take a lot of patience. It usually involves putting your cat on an elimination diet for 4 to 12 weeks and seeing if their symptoms improve. Then, you’ll put your cat back on their olf diet and see if their poops turn runny again. If so, you know you’ve found the cause of their upset stomach.
The good news is that once the cause of the allergy has been determined, treatment is easy. You simply stop feeding your cat the food they’re having issues with. Feeding them a nutritionally balanced diet that their bodies can handle will remove all negative symptoms entirely.
How to Stop Long-Term Diarrhea in Cats?
As we’ve just learned, there are many causes of chronic diarrhea in cats. The reason my cat has runny poop all the time might be entirely different from the reason your cat has diarrhea. Therefore, you should always take your cat to the vet to receive specific therapy for the underlying condition.
With that being said, there are also things you can do at home to help:
- Don’t Stop Feeding: It wasn’t that long ago when vets recommended a period of fasting for cats with diarrhea. They believed this gave the bowels time to rest and recover. However, it’s best to continue feeding your cat’s usual diet. They will already be losing more nutrients than usual through their loose stools, so it is important to not take any more away from them.
- Multiple Small Meals: While it is important to not withhold food entirely, you might want to reconsider your cat’s feeding schedule. Multiple smaller meals per day will be much easier for their bodies to digest than one or two large meals. I recommend 4-5 small meals of something full of fiber and easily digestible.
- Avoid OTC Medication: When humans suffer from bouts of diarrhea, we might take over-the-counter (OTC) medication to help alleviate symptoms. Some sites recommend the same for cats, suggesting that Imodium or Peptobismal should be given to cats with diarrhea. I wouldn’t recommend this though – speak to your vet and always follow their advice.
Should I Worry That My Cat Has Runny Poop All The Time?
I always suggest talking to your vet if your cat suffers from chronic diarrhea. As I said earlier, diarrhea can lead to severe dehydration and malnourishment. This can be life-threatening, besides your cat suffering from potentially dangerous underlying conditions that also need treating promptly.
However, you know your cat best of all. If your cat’s poop is only somewhat soft and she isn’t pooping at a much higher frequency than usual, you might not need to go to the vet. However, if you are seeing large volumes of extremely watery poop you should definitely speak to a professional.
Other warnings that your cat’s diarrhea is something to be concerned about include:
- There is blood in your cat’s stools
- Your cat’s diarrhea is green or yellow
- You have a kitten or a senior cat
- Your cat is already battling another medical problem
- They are also suffering from a loss of appetite
- Your cat appears lethargic and depressed
If any of these apply, call your vet for advice. It might be nothing to worry about, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Besides, chronic diarrhea is not nice for your cat to be dealing with. Even if all they need is some supplemental fluid until the diarrhea has passed, it’s best to give them this.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Occasional diarrhea is usually nothing serious for you to worry about. Likewise, stools that are somewhat soft aren’t going to lead to severe dehydration or any other major issues. However, if your cat has runny poop all the time it is best to take them to the vet.
Several underlying conditions can cause chronic diarrhea. Once diagnosed, treating these conditions can help rid your cat of diarrhea for good! In the meantime, help your cat by feeding them an easily digestible diet split between several small portions. This can all help with the successful management of diarrhea, and your cat will be pooping like normal again before you know it.