Acute Diarrhea in Cats

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Diagnosis In-depth

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.
  • Follow-up Care for Cats with Diarrhea

    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 cat, 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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