As cats have moved inside to live with their human companions, their litter box habits give great insights into their health. Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases unfortunately are common in cats. If your feline friend leaves telltale signs of a GI issue for you to scoop, it's time to head to the vet.
Symptoms of GI Problems
Fortunately for cat guardians, gastrointestinal illnesses in cats often have obvious symptoms. An occasional bout of vomiting or diarrhea isn't a huge cause for concern, especially if your cat is prone to hairballs. However, if your feline friend has diarrhea or vomiting for more than a few days, it's time to investigate the cause of her GI problems. Watery or bloody diarrhea is a serious symptom and a cause for a visit to the vet. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
The Importance of Diet
What your cat eats has an important role in her gastrointestinal health. Cats are obligate carnivores, which means they must eat meat. They have short intestinal tracts that are designed to digest primarily protein. Cats are not designed to digest efficiently fruits, vegetables, or grains and other carbohydrates. When their diets consist primarily of plant material, cats often suffer gastrointestinal illnesses. Sometimes, a change to a meat-based, raw diet can eliminate or lessen the GI symptoms.
Number One Suspect: Worms
One of the top causes of gastrointestinal illness in cats is intestinal parasites, also known as worms. The most common kinds of worms are tapeworms, roundworms and hookworms. If your cat goes outside or has fleas, there's a really good chance she contract intestinal parasites.
A simple fecal test at the veterinarian's office can determine if your feline friend has some unwelcome guests in her GI tract. While the worms may cause severe symptoms, they are easily treatable. You can treat kitty regularly for intestinal parasites as a preventative measure, especially if your cat is allowed to go outside.
Giardia and Coccidia
Giardia and coccidia are two more serious parasites that cause serious gastrointestinal illnesses in cats and kittens. Both microscopic parasites can survive for long periods as cysts in water in the environment, and in the feces of other infected cats, birds and other animals. Giardia and coccidia cause severe diarrhea, weakness, lethargy, weight loss and anemia. Left untreated, these two parasites can severely compromise your feline friend's health, but both often respond well to medication to eliminate the parasites. If you suspect your kitty might have some in contact with either giardia or coccidia, a trip to the vet is in order.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a common chronic gastrointestinal disease in cats. As the name suggests, IBD occurs when the lining of the digestive tract becomes inflamed. As a result, food isn't digested properly, causing diarrhea and vomiting. Many cats with IBD will lose weight and become lethargic because of the chronic GI upset. Inflammatory bowel disease is almost impossible to cure, but most cases can be managed with diet changes and medication.
Intestinal lymphoma is the most common kind of lymphoma in cats, according to veterinarian Arnold Plotnick. The most common symptoms are weight loss and loss of appetite, although many cats also have diarrhea and vomiting. Depending on the severity of the lymphoma, cats may survive just a few months or more than a year with treatment. If your feline friend is over 8 years old, and stops eating and begins to lose weight, take her to the veterinarian for a thorough examination. Although lymphoma rarely is curable, treatment can extend your kitty's life.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- WebMD: Worms in Cats -- An Infection of Intestinal Parasites
- WebMD: Coccidiosis in Cats and Kittens
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Manhattan Cat Specialists: Gastrointestinal Lymphoma in Cats
- Feline Nutrition Education Society: Feline Inflammatory Bowel Disease -- Nature and Treatment