Sometimes a headline just writes itself… but seriously, your cat’s feces can tell you a lot about her health. And while it may not be the world’s most pleasant topic to discuss, it is a part of sharing your life with cats. It’s important to know what normal stools look and smell like, and what any deviations from normal might mean.
Healthy bowel habits
Even though bowel habits may vary slightly, a healthy cat will generally defecate once a day. Normal stool will be well formed and easy to scoop. The size will depend on the cat’s diet. Cats who eat a grain-free diet will have a lower volume of stools and stools will generally be less smelly than cats who are fed a diet with lots of fillers. The reason for this difference is that nutrients in better quality diets are better absorbed by the body. Healthy stools are usually dark brown in color, although there will also be some variation depending on the type of diet fed.
It is interesting to note that cats who are fed a raw diet will have very small and hard stools that have virtually no odor – a testament to how well the nutrient content of these diets is absorbed. Raw fed cats may only eliminate stool every other day. Very dry, hard stools in cats who are not eating raw food may be an indicator of constipation.
Diarrhea occurs when indigestible portions of food pass through the intestines too fast, or when excess fluid is added to the stool by the large intestines. It can be the result of a dietary indiscretion, a change in diet, parasites, viruses, exposure to toxins, ingestion of a foreign body, or systemic illness such as kidney or liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal cancers.
It is sadly very common in cats, and comes in various degrees. Stool may be formed, but soft, or it may be shaped like a cow patty. Diarrhea may also be completely liquid and mixed with mucous. If a cat has one or two soft stools, but is otherwise alert and eating and drinking normally, diarrhea of 24-48 hours is most likely not going to be a problem. However, if your cat is lethargic, refuses to eat, and has multiple episodes of diarrhea a day, or if vomiting occurs at the same time, dehydration is a concern, and your cat will need veterinary attention.
Constipation occurs when feces are retained in the colon. Feces become hard and firm, and the longer they stay in the colon, the more water is resorbed out of the colon. Constipated cats may strain while using the litter box, and any stools they produce may be very small, hard and dry. (As mentioned above, small dry stools that are produced without straining are normal for raw fed cats.) Constipation can be life-threatening if not treated.
Defecating outside the litter box
Diarrhea and constipation may both cause cats to defecate outside the litter box, but some healthy cats regularly pass stool outside the box. The first step is to take your cat to the veterinarian to rule out medical issues. If the problem is behavioral, some detective work will be necessary so you can take the necessary steps to correct and prevent the behavior.
Grossly abnormal stools
If your cat’s stool is black, pale white, grey, or green, your cat may require immediate veterinary care. Black stool usually indicates internal bleeding. Pale, white, grey or green stools may be indicators of liver disease or intestinal bacterial infections.