Diarrhea is an extremely common problem in both cats and dogs. Mild, transient diarrhea rarely is a cause for concern. Severe or chronic diarrhea is often caused by major medical conditions, and can be damaging to a pet’s health in its own right.
More common causes are listed first. Less common causes are listed later.
- Dietary indiscretion is by far the most common cause of diarrhea both dogs and cats. Dietary indiscretion occurs when a pet consumes inappropriate food, such as garbage or food that has spoiled.
- A rapid diet change, or an inability to tolerate a specific type of food, can cause diarrhea in some pets.
- Parasites such as intestinal worms, coccidia, or Giardia may cause diarrhea. This is especially common in puppies and kittens.
- Stress, such as that caused by re-housing (moving), adding another pet to the house, grooming, or boarding may trigger diarrhea.
- Viral infections commonly cause diarrhea.
- Metabolic diseases, such as liver disease or kidney disease, may trigger diarrhea.
- Exposure to toxic compounds may lead to diarrhea.
- Diarrhea is a side effect of many medicines, such as antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications.
- Intestinal diseases such as IBD (infiltrative or inflammatory bowel disease), and pancreatic diseases such as pancreatitis may cause diarrhea.
- In older animals, cancers of the intestines, liver, or pancreas may cause chronic diarrhea.
Recommended Course of Action
Mild diarrhea in the absence of other clinical symptoms often is self-limiting. Pets with mild diarrhea that are active, alert, feel well, and experience normal appetite and thirst may recover over a period of several days with monitoring only.
Animals suffering from severe diarrhea, chronic diarrhea, or diarrhea accompanied by lethargy, vomiting, or depressed appetite should receive veterinary attention.
Stool tests for parasites should be considered whenever an animal has diarrhea. Some intestinal parasites can spread to human beings and pose a significant health threat.
A small amount of blood in diarrhea usually is indicative of straining and cramping. This situation usually does not represent a veterinary emergency.
Large amounts of blood in the diarrhea or frank hemorrhage from the rectum usually have serious causes and require immediate veterinary attention.
When in doubt, seeking veterinary care is always the safest course of action for any pet with diarrhea.
Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.