Acute Diarrhea in Cats

Cats

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Acute diarrhea is a common clinical problem in veterinary practice. It is characterized by a sudden onset and short duration (three weeks or less) of watery or watery-mucoid diarrhea. Occasionally the fecal material is also overtly bloody.

Diarrhea results from excessive water content in the feces and is an important sign of intestinal diseases in the cat. Diarrhea can affect your cat by causing extreme fluid loss, which leads to dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, and/or acid-base imbalances.

Please note: If the diarrhea has gone on for more than three weeks, it is considered "chronic diarrhea". For more information on this problem, please read Chronic Diarrhea in Cats. If diarrhea is accompanied by vomiting, please read Gastroenteritis in Cats.

General Causes

  • Dietary indiscretion (eating inappropriate food/material)
  • Infectious agents - bacterial, viral, fungal, protozoal, parasitic infections
  • Drugs and toxins
  • Intussusception (telescoping of the bowel on itself)
  • Intolerance of materials in the normal diet
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Metabolic disorders, such as liver and kidney disease

    What to Watch For

  • Passage of loose, watery stools that persist for more than one day
  • A change in the color of the stool
  • Blood in stool
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy, Depression,
  • Fever

    Acute diarrhea is often alarming, but may not be an emergency if your cat is still active, drinking and eating, and is not vomiting. However, acute diarrhea associated with vomiting, lack of water intake, fever, depression, or other symptoms should prompt a visit to your veterinarian.

    • Ingestion of atypical, spoiled, or inappropriate food is a common cause of acute diarrhea in cats.

    Diagnosis

    Although most cases of acute diarrhea are short-lived and self-limiting, there are some cases that require diagnostic testing to confirm an underlying cause. Such tests include:

  • Complete history and physical examination
  • Fecal studies- flotation, smear, and zinc sulfate for Giardia, Pentatrichomonas
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Biochemical profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Abdominal radiographs (X-ray)

    Treatment

    Diarrhea is a symptom that can be caused by many different diseases or conditions. Specific treatment requires a diagnosis. The diagnostic tests described previously may reveal a diagnosis, however, in the interim symptomatic therapy may be helpful to reduce the severity of signs and offer relief to your pet:

  • Placing the intestinal tract in a state of physiologic rest by withholding food for 12 – 24 hours

  • Subsequent change to a bland, easily digestible diet
  • Fluid therapy
  • Antibiotic therapy
  • Intestinal protectants and adsorbents

    If Your Cat Has Diarrhea

  • Administer only prescribed medications.

  • Provide fresh water or oral rehydrating solutions to help prevent dehydration.

  • Temporarily change the diet to something bland. Bland diets can be made at home or prescription type diets can be obtained from your veterinarian.

  • Observe your cat's general activity and appetite, watch closely for the presence of blood in the stool, worsening of signs, or the onset of vomiting.

  • Have your pet examined by your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.

  • Diarrhea results from excessive water content in the feces and is an important sign of intestinal diseases in the cat. Diarrhea can affect your cat by causing extreme fluid loss, which leads to dehydration, electrolyte disturbances, and/or acid-base imbalances.
    Acute diarrhea associated with vomiting, lack of water intake, fever, depression, or other symptoms should prompt a visit to your veterinarian.

    Causes

    Many disorders and diseases can lead to acute diarrhea. These include:

  • Dietary indiscretion can include the ingestion of spoiled food, unusual foodstuff or foreign material, and sudden changes in the diet. Acute diarrhea may also follow ingestion of a food that contains substances that are poorly tolerated by the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Intestinal parasites (e.g. roundworms, hookworms) are a common cause of acute diarrhea, especially in young cats. These parasites are not seen grossly in the feces, but their eggs may be discovered on fecal floatation tests.

  • Bacteria and bacterial toxins (Salmonellas, Clostridium, Escherichia coli, Yersinia, Campylobacter) may cause acute diarrhea and may be contracted from contaminated food and water, or exposure to the fecal material of other infected animals.

  • Viral infections such as parvovirus (panleukopenia), feline enteric coronavirus, Feline infectious peritonitis virus (FIP), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and torovirus may all induce acute diarrhea.

  • Protozoal infections with coccidia, toxoplasmosis, Giardia, trichomonads, etc. may also be a cause.

  • Fungal and algal infections (e.g. histoplasmosis, candidiasis, etc.) are more likely to cause chronic diarrhea than acute diarrhea, but occasionally acute diarrhea may occur.

  • Drugs and toxins cause acute diarrhea by either directly irritating the lining of the intestinal tract, or by disturbing the normal population of bacteria. Examples include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, corticosteroids, antibiotics, and anti-cancer drugs. Offending toxins include insecticides, lawn and garden products, and heavy metals.

  • Dietary intolerance may result in acute diarrhea when the animal is exposed to something in the diet that the intestines react to, such as certain proteins, lactose, high fat content, and certain food additives.

  • Many metabolic diseases (kidney and liver diseases) produce clinical signs of gastrointestinal disease, including diarrhea.

  • of the intestines Obstructions usually present with vomiting, but acute diarrhea may also be noted.

  • Intussusception, which is the telescoping of the bowel on itself, may arise with bouts of acute diarrhea, and be present when the cat is examined.

  • Tumors of the intestinal tract Gastrointestinal or other abdominal organs may induce diarrhea. Although the diarrhea may begin acutely, it does not usually resolve on its own.

  • Diagnosis

    Although most cases of acute diarrhea are short-lived and self-limiting, there are some cases that require diagnostic testing to confirm an underlying cause. Such tests include:

  • A complete history and physical examination

  • Fecal studies- (flotation, smear, and zinc sulfate for Giardia and trichomonads) to test for intestinal parasitism. It is not uncommon to run multiple fecal exams, as some parasites are difficult to diagnose.

  • Complete blood count (CBC) to evaluate for infection, inflammation, anemia and dehydration.

  • Biochemical profile to help evaluate kidney and liver function, and electrolyte status.

  • A Urinalysis to evaluate kidney function and the hydration status of the animal.

  • Abdominal radiographs (X-ray) to evaluate the abdominal organs, and to check for the presence of fluid, gas or foreign bodies within the intestines.

    Depending upon the clinical signs and results of the above tests, your veterinarian may recommend additional tests to ensure optimal medical care. These ancillary tests are selected on a case-by-case basis:

  • Serologic tests for infectious diseases

  • Bacterial cultures of the feces

  • Fecal cytology to identify the type of inflammation present and to search for parasites, protozoa and bacteria

  • Abdominal Ultrasounography, especially if the previous diagnostics tests have been inconclusive

  • An upper gastrointestinal (GI) barium series to search for intestinal ulcers, masses, obstructions, intussusceptions and foreign bodies

  • Endoscopy or colonoscopy to evaluate a portion of the small intestine or colon with a viewing scope, especially if acute diarrhea progresses to chronic diarrhea

  • Specialized assays for toxins that can cause diarrhea


    Treatment In-depth

    Diarrhea is a symptom that can be caused by many different diseases or conditions, and specific treatment requires a diagnosis. Symptomatic therapy may be tried in mild cases of short duration, or may be instituted while diagnostic testing is underway. These treatments may reduce the severity of signs and offer relief to your pet:

  • Withholding food and placing the intestinal tract in a state of physiologic rest is an important aspect of therapy for acute diarrhea. Completely restricting food intake for 12- 24 hours allows the intestinal tract lining to start to heal.

  • Food is then gradually reintroduced, starting with a bland, easily digestible, low-fat diet. Initially small amounts of this food are given as frequent meals. Examples of such a bland diet include boiled chicken or beef, mixed with boiled rice or potato. Prescription diets that may be administered for acute diarrhea include Hill's Feline i/d. In some cats, semi-moist foods such as Tender Vittles are also fairly bland. In other cats strained lamb or beef baby food may be tried. The bland diet is fed for several days, and then the original diet may be gradually reintroduced over a 2- to 3-day period.
  • Fluid therapy may be necessary in some patients with acute diarrhea to correct dehydration and acid-base derangements, to replace electrolytes that are deficient, and to provide for ongoing losses.

  • Antibiotic therapy for acute diarrhea is not required in most cases; however, it may be of benefit in animals that have diarrhea containing fresh blood, or if a bacterial infection is suspected.

  • Empirical deworming is often recommended even if the stool sample is negative for intestinal parasites, because parasites do not always show up in the fecal examination.

  • If your cat does not respond to conventional therapy within 48 hours, if fresh blood is seen in the diarrhea, if the animal is vomiting or showing other signs of systemic illness, then a veterinary examination is warranted.

    The best treatment for your cat requires a combination of home and professional veterinary care. For optimal follow-up success in the treatment of your pet, please do the following:

  • Precisely administer prescribed medications and follow any dietary recommendations. Contact your veterinarian if you are having difficulty treating your cat.

  • Watch your cat for worsening of the disease. Signs of worsening may include the onset of bloody diarrhea, persistence of signs for more than two days, or any signs to suggest a systemic illness (vomiting, weakness, anorexia, collapse).

  • If the signs resolve in a couple of days, no additional veterinary evaluation may be necessary.

  • Once the diarrhea has resolved, keep your cat on a consistent, balanced diet and restrict access to garbage and other things that can cause diarrhea.

  • Have your cat's stool checked at least yearly for intestinal parasites.

  • The prognosis for cure of self-limiting diarrhea is excellent. Affected animals are often successfully managed with dietary restriction, replacement of fluid deficits, and correction of the underlying cause.

  • If your cat's diarrhea has failed to respond to the management outlined, it may require more extensive diagnostics. You should have your cat reevaluated by your veterinarian.

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