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Are you obsessed by the contents of your cat’s litter box?
Many seemingly rationale people wait with bated breath to inspect their cat’s latest offering. For some people, finding a nice firm sausage puts a spring in the step, whilst a smelly cowpat is likely to dampen the spirits for hours.
If this seems strange to you then be thankful that your cat has ‘regular’ habits, but for the rest of us let’s shine a light into the dark corners of the litter box with a look at cat poop.
What is a ‘Normal’ Cat Poop?
A normal cat poop should be brown in colour (ranging from pale caramel to dark chocolate) and firm enough to pick up in one piece. How voluminous that stool is depends on your cat’s diet and the moisture content of the food, hence cats on a canned diet produce big bulky poops compared to those on dry kibble and their hard nuggets, and cats who are fed a raw food diet, tend to produce dry, crumbly poops.
Poop doesn’t smell of roses that’s for sure, but some smell worse than others. Again wet food fed cat poop often smells worse than those on dry kibble, because the higher moisture content releases more odours, whereas the poop of a raw feed cat hardly smells at all.
The frequency of defaecation is highly individual, with once or twice a day being normal for ‘ad lib’ fed cats, and shortly after each meal for those with set dining times. It’s not unusual for raw fed cats to only poop once every 1-2 days.
All cats are individuals so your cat may diverge from this pattern once and be perfectly healthy. However, if your cat’s regular habits change then that is something to take note of. For example, the regular-as-clockwork cat who doesn’t produce poop for three days may either have stopped eating or be constipated. Likewise, a truly offensive smelling offering when you haven’t change the food could indicate a gut infection.
So what if your cat’s bowel movements are abnormal? Let’s take a run through the two opposite ends of the toileting spectrum: constipation and diarrhoea.
If the litter tray remains mysteriously empty then your cat could be constipated, not eating, or toileting elsewhere! Signs of constipation include repeated straining in the tray with no faeces passed. But a word of caution here: The signs of constipation can be the same as a blocked bladder – which is an emergency – so always get a straining cat checked by the vet.
Causes of Constipation
- Old injuries: Such as a fractured pelvis that healed badly
- Pain: Arthritic hips which hurt when the cat squats in the tray
- Lack of fibre: The stool isn’t bulky enough to push out
- Poor nerve supply to the bowel: Weak bowel contractions mean poop stays inside for longer
- Megacolon: The colon becomes baggy and flaccid, no longer able to push out poop
- Behavioural: Feeling inhibited about going to the toilet because of bullying or a dirty litter tray
From this list you can appreciate it’s important to find the underlying cause in order to correct the problem.
Treatment of Constipation
Sometimes therapy for constipation is a matter of thinking laterally, such as putting the older arthritic cat onto pain-relieving meds so he can squat in comfort. Other times it about providing multiple litter trays or relocating the box to a place where your cat feels safe to toilet.
For true constipation with very dry faeces, then a change of diet is the long term solution, with short term relief given via an enema or oral lactulose. Some constipated cats respond well to the addition of fibre to food, whilst others need a swap to a bland diet that is low residue once digested, such as chicken and rice.
The signs of diarrhoea are usually obvious from the liquid puddle in the litter box to the putrid smell. Uncomplicated diarrhoea is just faeces with higher water content than usual, whilst mucus can indicate bowel wall inflammation.
Blood in the stool should be taken seriously. At the lower end of the spectrum it indicates bowel wall inflammation and at the top, haemorrhage. Whatever the explanation your cat has belly ache and should see a vet. A cat in pain while toileting will often howl or cry when using the litter box – which is a sure sign that medical attention is required.
Causes of Diarrhoea
The reasons for liquid poop are many and varied, including:
- Infection: Such as with parasites, bacterial, or viral
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Bowel cancer
- Dietary allergy: Such as feeding milk to lactose intolerant cats
- Dietary indiscretion: Eating a mouse that was ‘off’
Treatment of Diarrhoea
For uncomplicated diarrhoea your vet will often recommend you feed your cat a bland diet, such as chicken meat with a small amount of boiled white rice. This is gentle on the stomach and gives your cat a chance to recover. Probiotics can also help as recolonise the bowel with healthy bacteria. Make sure your cat is drinking water and doesn’t become dehydrated, and if she seems unwell or the diarrhoea persists beyond 24 hours then speak to your vet.
Where dietary allergy or intolerance is suspected, then a change of diet is in order. A dietary trial involves feeding a protein your cat hasn’t eaten before (perhaps venison or rabbit) for at least eight weeks to see if the symptoms resolve.
It’s always a good idea to deworm your cat regularly. For prolific hunters this means broad spectrum wormers that includes tapeworms, at least once a month. But don’t think that your house cat doesn’t need deworming because she does; three to four times a year.
When Should I Worry?
Trust your instincts. If a change in your cat’s toileting habits makes you uneasy, pick up the phone and speak to your vet. There may be a simple explanation in which case you can stop worrying, but conversely if your cat needs help then you acted early which is always good news.
As a rule of thumb here are some guidelines for when contacting your vet is a no-brainer.
- Your cat seems well but has diarrhoea which lasts more than 24 hours
- Your cat has diarrhoea and is off colour
- Any change in bowel movement that is associated with vomiting
- Undue straining in the tray
- Blood in the faeces
- Change from what’s normal for your cat
Do you monitor your cat’s litter box and is cat poop a hot topic in your house? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.