Cat Diarrhea: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

cat looking at camera

Any time your cat isn’t feeling well, it’s natural to want to know why and what you can do to make them feel better.  

If your cat has diarrhea, you may be concerned. There are many potential causes of diarrhea, ranging from the simple to the complex. Your veterinarian can help you determine the cause of your cat’s diarrhea and recommend changes and potential treatments to help your cat feel better. This can range from changing your cat’s food to taking supplements or medication, depending on the cause.  

Why Does My Cat Have Diarrhea?

There are many potential causes for diarrhea in cats. Diarrhea itself is not a disease or illness. Rather it’s simply a description for more frequent bowel movements that are unusually soft or fluid. It is, however, a sign something isn’t right.  

The cause of your cat's diarrhea dilemma could be a reaction to something your cat ate.   

Trying a new food or eating people food can cause diarrhea. Ingesting rodents, birds, foreign objects or toxic substances can also give cats diarrhea.  

Some cats can have sensitive stomachs and discerning palates. They may become ill or stop eating if their food changes abruptly. This can happen when a new food alters the intestinal environment, which may lead to diarrhea, vomiting and a refusal to eat. They can also be sensitive to the texture of the food.  If they don’t like the way it feels in their mouths, they will often avoid eating it—no matter how good it smells or tastes.  

This is why Purina Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Kurt Venator, recommends it’s best to gradually wean your cat off the current food and onto the new one. 

"I recommend transitioning your cat's food over a seven-to ten-day period, gradually increasing the amount of their new food and reducing the amount of their old food each day."  

It’s also a good idea to expose your cat to a variety of textures and forms of cat food, such as dry kibble, paté, chunks and gravy. This can be particularly helpful later in life if they need to be on a specific food. 

Other potential cat diarrhea causes include:  

  • Environmental changes or stress 
  • Antibiotics or other medications 
  • Bacterial or viral infections 
  • Parasites 
  • Food allergies and sensitivities 
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) 
  • Liver disease 
  • Pancreatitis 
  • Hyperthyroidism 
  • Cancer 

When Should You Call Your Veterinarian About Cat Diarrhea?

If you changed your cat’s diet in any way and they’re experiencing diarrhea, consider extending the transition to the new food over several more days.  

Monitor your cat for changes in behavior and demeanor. If there are other symptoms or your cat’s diarrhea does not resolve, there may be other issues your veterinarian will want to examine.  

If there have been no dietary changes, again, monitor your cat’s behavior and demeanor. If they’re lethargic, not eating well, not drinking well, have vomiting or any other unusual symptoms, call your veterinarian.  

Even with no other symptoms, if the diarrhea lasts several days, check with your veterinarian. In addition to tracking your cat’s symptoms for their appointment, also note the frequency of their bowel movements and appearance.  

How to Stop Diarrhea in Cats

The treatment for the diarrhea depends on the cause. For a bacterial infection, for example, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics. If parasites are to blame, they’ll prescribe a medication to eliminate the parasite.  

In some cases, such as with IBD, they may recommend a therapeutic diet to address your cat’s digestive upset. Following the advice and recommendations of your veterinarian is the quickest way to help your cat feel better.  

What Should You Give a Cat with Diarrhea?

Diarrhea can cause dehydration, and many cats struggle to drink enough water as it is, so ensure fresh water is readily available. Try a wide and shallow water bowl or even a cat water fountain to help prevent dehydration

Don’t try any new foods, treats, medications or supplements without your veterinarian’s recommendation. Anything new or out of the ordinary could worsen your cat’s symptoms.  

What Is the Best Cat Food for Diarrhea?

For ongoing struggles with digestive upset and diarrhea, many veterinarians recommend therapeutic diets. The best cat food for diarrhea is a food that’s compatible with their specific digestive needs and one they will eat.   

Are There Safe Probiotics for Cats with Diarrhea? 

There are numerous safe probiotics for cats with diarrhea. Your veterinarian may recommend a cat food with probiotics as one of the ingredients. They may also recommend a probiotic supplement. It’s important not to start a probiotic before talking with your veterinarian, however.  

Addressing Diarrhea in Cats 

If your cat has diarrhea, the best course of action is to monitor them for other symptoms and call your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can diagnose the source of the problem and recommend an appropriate treatment to help your cat return to health.  

For more tips on cat health and behavior from our experts at Purina, visit our Pet Expertise page. 

Related articles

Man and cat looking at each other
Cats have adapted to hide their pain or injuries. Learn to spot signs of cat pain, when to consult a veterinarian, and what you can give your cat to help relieve pain.
cat is drinking
Petivity litter monitor - cat in litter box

Unlock Cat Health Insights with Petivity

The Smart Litter Box Monitor tracks your cat’s litter box behavior & weight—and alerts you when changes could require a vet visit.