We don’t like to talk about it in polite company, yet it makes a big impact on how we feel each day. I’m talking about that four-letter word: poop, or stool for the polite. All living things must take in food, absorb its nutrients and eliminate waste on a daily basis to thrive. Having trouble in that department can either be extremely painful or cause food to go through us so quickly that we don’t absorb enough nutrients. As mammals, both humans and cats absorb nutrients when food is in our intestines.
If stool is too hard, it’s difficult to eliminate from the body or gets trapped in the intestines, both of which can be excruciating. If it’s too soft, we experience the inconvenience of having to run to the bathroom so much that it interferes with our daily lives, or maybe we even have trouble making it to the restroom in time. To be healthy and feel our best, we all need to eliminate properly. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, we want our stool to be just right.
If you’ve ever been constipated, you know it hurts. A constipated cat might cry in the litter box or might even avoid the litter box because he associates it with pain. He might also strain to pass stool or make multiple trips to the litter box attempting to defecate but without results.
Cats poop on average at least once each day, sometimes as much as three times. If your cat hasn’t pooped in a day or two, or if there is blood in his stool, contact your veterinarian.
The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine lists possible causes of constipation, including: diet, injury, infection, an adverse reaction to medication, inadequate water intake, intestinal tumors, neurologic disease and underlying metabolic disorder.
Because cats are carnivores and naturally get little fiber in their diets, they’re prone to constipation. The feline colon, or lower intestine, acts “as a reservoir for undigested food, mucus, bacteria and dead cells prior to evacuation,” Cornell states. In a constipated cat, the colon becomes impacted with feces that will not move.
If left untreated, constipation can progress to a more severe condition called obstipation, when the fecal matter becomes so impacted that it must be manually removed from the cat’s colon. This condition can progress into megacolon, when the colon becomes dilated and unable to function properly, according to Cornell. Megacolon can be fatal without treatment, which could involve removing part of the colon.
Advanced and untreated constipation can render the cat incapable of emptying his bowels. The intestines become so stretched that bacteria can move from your cat’s feces into his bloodstream, causing systemic illness, which can be fatal.
A high-fiber diet along with medication is the first-line treatment. If that doesn’t help, your vet might try enemas until the condition clears. If that doesn’t work, the vet will anesthetize your cat and remove the hardened feces using instruments that can go into the colon. In addition to increasing the fiber in your cat’s diet, offering pumpkin can be a helpful adjunct to veterinary treatment.
Stool that is too soft is less painful, but diarrhea can cause dehydration from losing too much fluid as well as malnutrition because the body doesn’t have time to absorb enough nutrients from the food. Diarrhea produces watery stool that has no clear form, can be gray or yellow and even fouler smelling than usual.
Some common causes of diarrhea include an abrupt change in diet or a stressful situation like a trip to the vet. Kittens are especially prone to diarrhea while they adjust to solid food. Usually, diarrhea resolves itself in a few days.
If diet or stress is not the cause, the cat may have inflammatory bowel disease or an infection or tumor in the gastrointestinal tract. Persistent diarrhea can also indicate an underlying condition that is not related to the cat’s GI tract.
Disorders that can cause persistent diarrhea include: hyperactive thyroid, kidney or liver disease, neurologic abnormality, viral infection, immune system abnormality, feline panleukopenia or lymphoma. Clues that your cat is not just having a typical bout with diarrhea and possibly a more serious condition include abnormal behavior, poor appetite, vomiting and lethargy. If your cat is showing these signs, take him to the vet right away. The sooner your cat sees the vet, the more treatable the condition is.
The feline digestive system consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, small and large intestines, rectum and anus. Digestion begins when your cat starts chewing, and the saliva’s enzymes begin chemically breaking down the food. The stomach breaks down the food further. Nutrients from the food are absorbed in the intestines, and the waste is eliminated.
Cat poop should not be runny; it should be formed and firm but not hard. Normal cat poop looks like a Tootsie Roll — dark brown, tubular and a couple of inches long. That is what you want to see in your cat’s litter box every day.
If you see red blood in your cat’s stool, it is coming from your cat’s rectum or lower GI tract.
If the blood is dark or black, it is coming from the small intestine or upper GI tract. In either scenario, take your cat to the vet.
Thumbnail: Photography by Googlieye/istock.
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The former editor of Cat Fancy magazine, Susan Logan-McCracken has specialized in pet and veterinary topics for nearly 20 years. She and her husband are the proud, adoring parents of two 9-year-old red tabbies.