Five Common Cat Digestive Problems: What To Do

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Digestive problems in cats are relatively common and many pet parents think they are normal. But if your cat vomits regularly or has loose stool, then there is something going on under the surface. It might be time to change their food or environment, and it's definitely time to talk to your veterinarian. Here are some tips for solving the most common cat digestive problems.

Ginger cat sitting in a litter box and looking at the camera.

1. Intestinal Worms

Internal parasites are a common problem in cats — even indoor cats. The most challenging aspect of diagnosing and treating them is that a cat could be infested and never show any signs. The most common intestinal parasites in cats include hookworms, roundworms and tapeworms.

The signs of an intestinal parasite invading the cat digestive system can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Worms in faecal matter or vomit
  • Weight loss
  • Pot belly

Intestinal worms in cats are not only gross but some can be contagious to humans. Intestinal worms are particularly common in kittens, so they should be dewormed very frequently. but even adults cats should be dewormed regularly to keep your cat and your family safe. Talk to your vet about the best deworming schedule and medication, and visit International Cat Care for useful information about deworming.

2. Constipation

Constipation is another common woe for the cat digestive system, often caused by dehydration, pain, or diet. In rare cases, constipation can be caused by a condition called idiopathic megacolon, which may be due to a neurological problem or decreased muscle movement of the colon.

Recurring constipation is no laughing matter. Your vet's solutions might include increasing your pet's water intake by supplementing a dry food with canned food, recommending more exercise or helping them to safely lose weight. Your vet might also recommend switching to a cat food that is formulated to help cats with digestive problems. If your cat is ever crouching miserably in the litter box to no avail, get them evaluated by a vet as soon as possible.

3. Hairballs

Hairballs are extremely common, but that doesn't mean your cat has to live with them. Hairballs are formed when a cat swallows loose hair while grooming. This hair normally passes through the cat’s digestive tract and is excreted when your cat has a bowel movement in the litter box. If that hair remains in the stomach, it can bunch together forming a hairball.

Passing a hairball around once a month is considered normal, but any more than that and you should give your vet a call.

For cats who need a food change to control hairballs, Hill's offers a wide variety of hairball control cat foods that can help. They're formulated with a specific amount of fibre to help reduce hairball formation in the stomach. They're also calorie-controlled, which is excellent since, in clinical experience, most indoor cats struggle with excessive weight. If the hairball problem continues, consider having your cat professionally groomed (ask for a lion cut) or see your vet.

White cat in blue collar yawning.

4. Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Chronic Enteropathy

When a cat has problems such as vomiting, diarrhoea and loss of appetite for three or more weeks, they may have chronic enteropathy.

Chronic enteropathy is just a difficult term for chronic disease in the intestines. In many cases of chronic enteropathy, there is a certain degree of inflammation of the intestines (which your vet can only see on biopsies taken during a so-called endoscopy). That's why they also call it 'Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

Luckily, nowadays, many cases of chronic enteropathy can be solved with a special diet or with steroids. So endoscopy is only done in severe or special cases. Treating your cat with chronic enteropathy requires a careful diagnosis by your vet and is often a bit of 'trial & error' before you and your vet find the best treatment for your cat. So please be patient!

5. Food Sensitivities

True food sensitivities are relatively rare in cats, with the BMC Veterinary Research journal listing the most common sensitivities as beef, fish and chicken. When such food sensitivities occur, your cat may experience gastrointestinal signs (vomiting, diarrhoea or gas), skin signs (itchy skin, red patches and hair loss), or both.

If your vet suspects that your cat has sensitivities, they will usually prescribe a 10- to 12-week food trial with a dietetic food. During this period, you must ONLY feed your cat the recommended food to rule out ingredients to which they might be sensitive. If your cat eats anything else during this time, you'll need to start the food trial over. In a truly sensitive patient, gastrointestinal signs should normally resolve in 2-3 weeks, and skin signs should resolve in 8-12 weeks. 

Don't panic if your cat develops a sudden digestive issue. Your veterinarian can help you identify the cause of the problem and come up with a plan to help your cat feel better.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten

Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists, Dr. Wooten divides her professional time between small animal practice in Greeley, Colorado, public speaking on associate issues, leadership, and client communication, and writing. She enjoys camping with her family, skiing, SCUBA, and participating in triathlons.

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