By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 December 2011)
A single episode of diarrhea is usually nothing to worry about, but multiple episodes can signal a medical problem, as well as putting a pet at risk for dangerous dehydration.
Causes of Diarrhea in Cats and Dogs
Cats and dogs may develop diarrhea in response to a number of causes, with food issues and internal parasites being common triggers. A broader list of possible causes includes:
- Addison’s disease
- Consumption of dairy products (most cats and dogs are lactose intolerant)
- Consumption of spoiled food, garbage, plants, toxic substances, etc.
- Consumption of sharp or gritty objects, such as bones, foil, glass, etc.
- Cancer or non-cancerous tumour in the digestive tract
- Dietary changes
- Feeding only once a day (this can cause pets to gorge when fed, leading to digestive troubles)
- Food allergy or sensitivity (pets are often allergic to artificial ingredients and dyes in pet foods, though some pets also react to primary ingredients such as wheat, corn, and certain meats)
- Hairballs (common in cats – especially longhaired – less common in dogs)
- Infection (bacterial or viral)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)/colitis and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)/spastic colon (low-quality pet foods may contribute to these problems)
- Intestinal obstruction
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Parasites (such as worms or Giardia)
- Poor-quality, bargain-brand food
- Reaction to certain medications
- Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (in response to gastrointestinal disease or, less commonly, as a reaction to antibiotics)
- Stress or excitement
- Too much fat in the diet (dogs only – cats are obligate carnivores and require more fat than omnivorous dogs)
- Various additional malabsorption and maldigestion diseases
When to Call Your Veterinarian
Call a veterinarian if you believe that your pet may have consumed something sharp or toxic, or your pet suffers any of the following secondary symptoms:
- Appetite loss
- Black or bloody stools
- Dull coat
- Mucous in the stool
- Red or rust-coloured flecks in the stool
- Weight loss
If there are no secondary symptoms but the diarrhea persists for more than 24 hours, consult a veterinarian. If your pet is elderly, very young, or suffers from another illness, seeking veterinary care sooner is a good idea, as diarrhea-induced dehydration can be particularly deadly for vulnerable pets. When a pet becomes severely dehydrated, the situation is life-threatening, and the provision of intravenous fluids can mean the difference between life and death. You can check for dehydration by gently pinching a fold of skin at the back of the neck – if it doesn’t spring back immediately when you let go, the animal is dehydrated.
Bringing in a stool sample can help your veterinarian make a diagnosis more quickly and easily, as can being prepared to answer certain questions, such as:
- What has your pet eaten lately? Has his diet changed recently?
- Which medications, if any, is your pet taking?
- Has your pet been into the garbage or chewed up anything around the house today?
- Has your pet been anywhere he might have picked up an infection (cattery, kennel, dog park, grooming salon, etc.)?
- What illnesses has your pet suffered in the past?
- How long has your pet had diarrhea, and has this happened before?
When bringing in a stool sample, keep it in a sealed baggie or clean container, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap after collecting the sample, as some infectious agents can be transmitted from animals to people.
Home Care for Cats and Dogs with Diarrhea
It’s important to consult a veterinarian who is aware of your pet’s particular medical profile before implementing home care. A veterinarian may recommend providing fresh water but withholding food for 12-24 hours. There may also be medications to give at home, such as dewormers or antibiotics in the case of parasite infestation or bacterial infection respectively. In some cases, depending on the underlying cause of the diarrhea, a specialized diet, supplements, corticosteroids, and/or hydration with electrolyte solutions may be prescribed.
Home care also requires monitoring your pet’s energy levels, appetite, weight, and fecal output, and consulting a veterinarian when there is cause for concern.
Don’t administer medications at home without a veterinarian’s consent. Many medications and home remedies recommended online can be harmful. Furthermore, giving the wrong dose of a normally helpful medication can be dangerous. In addition, medicating your pet at home may simply mask a more serious problem that requires immediate veterinary care.
Pumpkin for Diarrhea in Cats and Dogs
Assuming that there are no secondary symptoms such as fever, lethargy, bloody stools, etc., adding a little pumpkin to the diet can be highly effective in treating both diarrhea and constipation. However, checking with a veterinarian first is recommended, as clearing up the diarrhea with pumpkin may mask an underlying infection or parasite infestation that requires treatment, or an allergy that necessitates dietary changes. Pumpkin should be considered a supplement to veterinary care, not a substitute for it.
I’ve used pumpkin to effectively treat diarrhea in foster kittens that suffered from intestinal worms, in conjunction with deworming medication, and to cure constipation and diarrhea in elderly cats with kidney disease. It worked very well in both cases, but I made sure that these cats received the veterinarian-prescribed treatments they required as well, because pumpkin simply treats an unpleasant symptom in such cases, not the underlying disorder.
Most cats and dogs like the taste of pumpkin and will accept it mixed in with their food (some even view it as a treat). Keep in mind that cats are obligate carnivores, so they get little if any nutritional value from the pumpkin. Because the pumpkin displaces some protein-rich food, they may need a little more high-protein food each day to replace it. Dogs are omnivores, so they should be able to get some nutritional value from the pumpkin supplement (though they shouldn’t be fed pumpkin exclusively, as it doesn’t meet all of their dietary needs).
As for dosing, recommendations range from half a teaspoon to several tablespoons per day. I usually give an adult cat about a tablespoon per day mixed in with her food, and kittens about half as much. Small dogs can have a similar amount to adult cats, but larger dogs will probably need at least a couple of tablespoons of pumpkin in their food to achieve the desired effect. Veterinarian recommendations I’ve found online suggest around 1-2 tablespoons per day for adult cats and 1-4 tablespoons per day for adult dogs, depending on the size of the dog (see reference list below for links to expert sources).
If using pumpkin to treat diarrhea or constipation, make sure you are purchasing plain, pureed pumpkin and not pumpkin pie filling. Pie filling contains ingredients that can make pets ill.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation and care.
- ASPCA. (2009). “Diarrhea Causes and Treatments for Cats.” MedicineNet.com.
- Drouin, A., DVM. (n.d.). “Why Are So Many Animals Getting IBD and What’s the Best Way to Treat It?” The Holistic Vet, holistic-vet.ca. (originally published in Animal Wellness Magazine, Volume 6, Issue 4.)
- Eldredge, D.M., DVM; Carlson, L.D., DVM; Carlson, D.G., DVM; & Giffin, J.M., MD. (2007). “Diarrhea Causes and Treatments for Dogs.” Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, 4th Edition, Wiley Publishing Inc., Excerpted on MedicineNet.com.
- Hines, R., DVM, PhD. (2011). “Why Does My Dog Have Diarrhea? Why Does My Cat Have Diarrhea?” 2ndChance.info.
- Lauridia, D., DVM. (n.d.). “Ask the Vet: Constipation.” www.doggedhealth.com.
- Spielman, B., Dr. (2011). “Chronic Diarrhea in Dogs” and “Chronic Diarrhea in Cats.” PetPlace.com.
- VetInfo. (2010). “Pumpkin Treatment for Canine Constipation,” “Diarrhea and Loose Stool,” and “Cat Constipation Home Remedies.” VetInfo.com.