Cat poop is something most pet owners would rather not spend time thinking about let alone studying, but our cat's poop can give us a window into their overall health. Did you know, there is a well-known chart known as the Bristol stool chart which identifies the different types of feces we pass.
There are many words for poop, including stool, feces, poo, stool. I will try to stick with the word stool for this article to avoid confusion.
How often should cats defecate?
Firstly, I am sure most of you are aware that defecating is the fancy word for having a bowel movement (passing a stool).
Most cats should pass at least one stool every day, but there will be some variation on this depending on your cat's age, diet and health status, but at least one bowel movement and up to three are normal. Kittens typically defecate more than adult cats.
What is a normal stool for a cat?
The stool should be firm, but not too dry. It should be a normal chocolate-brown colour and it should be easy for your cat to pass. It should be the shape of a log or sausage.
Abnormal feces in cats
There are a great number reasons why your cat's stool may not be normal, some mild, others serious. The age and health status of your cat can help your veterinarian to narrow down a probable cause. For example, cancer and hyperthyroidism are seen more often in middle-aged to senior cats, whereas kittens are more likely to eat things they shouldn't.
All feces smells, but if it causes you to open up all windows and doors in the house while wearing a mask, that's not normal. I can smell a fresh stool if I'm in the laundry where the litter tray is, but it doesn't waft through the house.
There are a number of causes of smelly stools in cats.
- Dietary - This was a big one for me. I switched the cats to a cheap brand of dry food to graze on between meals (they were still having raw too) and it didn't take long for their stools to become really smelly.
- Sudden change in diet. Kittens, in particular, can develop mild tummy troubles if they are suddenly switched to a new diet.
- Bacterial infection such as salmonella, e-Coli, campylobacter)
- Parasites (coccidia, giardia, trichomonas)
- Malabsorption disorders - Poor absorption of food by the small intestines. This may be due to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, inflammatory bowel disease, protozoal infections (giardia, coccidiosis, trichomoniasis), certain cancers, overgrowth of bacteria, enteritis (inflammation of the small intestine due to infection due to infection or parasites)
Runny stool (diarrhea)
Diarrhea is a common symptom in cats. It may be acute (sudden onset), transient (coming and going) or chronic (long-lasting). Other symptoms may also be present depending on the underlying cause.
Diarrhea may originate from the large or small intestine. Small intestinal diarrhea results in an increased volume of feces, large intestinal diarrhea usually causes a normal or decreased volume of feces with an increased urgency and more frequent passing of stools.
- Dietary indiscretion (eating something he shouldn't have)
- Sudden change in diet
- Colitis (inflammation of the colon)
- Certain medications
- Certain toxins
- Food intolerance
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
- Infection (bacterial or viral)
- Protozoal infection
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Certain cancers
- Heinz body anemia
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
All stools are made up of approximately 75% water, hard, dry stools are due to a decrease in the amount of water in the stool. Stools may be difficult to pass or come out in pebble-sized pieces.
Feces can become impacted if the stool remains in the colon for too long.
- Dehydration this may be caused by fluid loss (such as vomiting or excessive urination) or not drinking enough water
- Dietary, not enough fibre
Blood in stool
Blood may be within the stool making it look dark and tarry (melena), or may be found on the outside of the stool (hematochezia).
Melana is associated with upper gastrointestinal tract bleeding including the oesophagus and stomach, but it may originate even further up such as swallowed blood from the mouth or nose. The blood has been broken down by bacteria in the stomach, before passing out of the cat via the feces.
- Stomach ulcers
- Ingestion of blood from the mouth or nose
- Foreign body which causes damage and bleeding in the upper intestinal tract
- Aspirin poisoning which causes irritation to the gastric mucosa
- Blood clotting disorders which have caused bleeding in the upper intestinal tract
Hematochezia is associated with lower gastrointestinal tract bleeding from the colon or rectum.
- Impacted anal glands
- Dietary indiscretion which leads to damage in the colon as it passes through
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Blood clotting disorders such as thrombocytopenia (low blood platelets), disseminated intravascular coagulation, certain poisons (such as rodenticide)
- Rectal or anal polyps
- Colitis is an inflammation of the colon due to infection, dietary indiscretion, cancer, pancreatitis
We have already discussed melena, which is the presence of digested blood in the stool giving it a black/tarry appearance, but there can be other causes of black stools in cats too.
- Iron supplements
- Activated charcoal
Greasy stool (steatorrhea)
Feces which contain abnormally high amounts of fats or fatty by-products are known as steatorrhea.
- Malabsorption disorders
- Parasites (giardia, cryptosporidium, Trichomonas)
This may either be a protozoal infection or problems with the liver, which makes bile salts, to aid in the digestion of food, the gallbladder, which stores bile salts. These salts are what gives stools their characteristic brown colour. A reduction or absence of bile salts will lead to pale coloured stools.
- Giardia (the feces is often foul smelling and frothy)
- Gallbladder disease
- Liver disease
Parasites in stool
The stool contains a huge number of bacteria and can often carry parasites, infective cysts or eggs, most of which are too small to be seen with the naked eye. When you do see parasites, the most common ones are:
- Roundworm - These parasitic worms are long, white and thin.
- Tapeworm - Rice like segments in the feces or around the anus
Determining which cat has the problem feces
This is a common problem for multi-cat households. Which cat has the runny, smelly etc., feces? One popular tip is to add a small amount of crayon shavings to your cat's food. Now, this obviously means that your cats should each have a separate bowl with a different colour. So, Max has blue, Fluffy has red, Cleo has yellow etc. Make a note of which cat had what colour and keep an eye out for the presence of crayon shavings in the feces the next day.
It is always important to have any chances in stools checked out by a veterinarian. If possible, bring along the stool sample with you.
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. Cats with gastrointestinal problems are often put on a bland diet for a few days to rest the gastrointestinal tract. Supportive care may also be provided including fluids to treat dehydration in cats who have been passing more feces than normal.