Chronic Diarrhea in Cats: Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments


Chronic diarrhea is probably one of the most frustrating conditions, both for the affected cat, and for her guardian. Diarrhea is considered chronic if symptoms persist for longer than three weeks, but any time your cat has diarrhea for more than a day or two, a visit to your veterinarian is indicated, especially if your cat is not eating or drinking water and/or is vomiting as well. Chronic vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration, and, if left untreated, can become life threatening.

Common Causes of Chronic Gastrointestinal Disease in Cats

Causes for chronic intestinal disease can vary, and include

  • Parasites
  • Bacterial infection
  • Viral infection
  • Food allergies or food intolerance
  • Dietary indiscretion
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Cancer


Your veterinarian will run a number of tests to identify the cause of the diarrhea. Tests may include:

  • Fecal test to check for parasites and bacteria
  • Complete blood count
  • Blood chemistry profile
  • Thyroid profile
  • Urinalysis
  • A blood test known as a GI Panel
  • Radiographs, possibly done with a contrast medium such as Barium to identify blockages
  • Ultrasound

Treatment of Chronic Diarrhea in Cats

Depending on test results, treatment may include:

  • Probiotics to restore healthy gut flora
  • Dewormers
  • Antibiotics
  • Adding fiber such as canned pumpkin to the diet
  • B vitamins
  • Food elimination diet
  • Steroids

Severe cases may require referral to a veterinary internist. Internists can perform endoscopy, and take biopsies of the intestinal tract to further refine a diagnosis.

The Role of Diet in Gastrointestinal Disease

There are commercially manufactured diets available for the treatment of IBD, most of them containing so-called “novel proteins,” ie., proteins that the cat may not have been exposed to before such as rabbit, venison, and duck. Some manufacturer also offer diets that contain hydrolized proteins, in which the protein is broken down to minimize an allergic reaction.

However, increasingly, holistically oriented veterinarians are seeing a connection between diet and IBD. These vets believe that commercial pet foods, especially dry foods, are a contributing factor to the large numbers of cats with chronic IBD. They also discovered that many cats improve by simply changing their diets to a balanced grain-free raw meat diet. Similar results may be achieved with a grain-free canned diet, but a raw diet seems to lead to quicker and better results.

Chronic diarrhea is not something you, and your cat, should learn to live with. Take your cat to a veterinarian for a thorough physical exam. After ruling out other conditions or diseases as causes, the solution might just be something as simple as changing your cat’s diet.

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