Stepping on hairballs and cleaning up bathroom accidents are common roles of pet parents. If you frequently find yourself cleaning up your cat’s bodily functions outside of the litter box, though, your cat may be struggling with digestive issues.
Digestive issues, or gastrointestinal issues, refer to any disorder that affects the absorption of movement of food as it is processed through the digestive system. Some digestive issues are more common than others and can clear up on their own within a few days. Others can lead to more serious health problems such as dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, malnutrition, and stunted growth.
A variety of causes can lead to feline digestive issues, such as parasites, consumption of something inedible, or food allergies and sensitivities. In order to ensure that your kitty is living her best life, it’s important to be aware of the causes and symptoms of common cat digestive issues.
Intestinal parasites are incredibly common in both outdoor and indoor cats and can lead to digestive issues. There are several types of intestinal parasites: giardia; coccidia; roundworms; tapeworms; and hookworms, to name a few.
If untreated, intestinal parasites can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and irritation around the rear end, often alleviated with scooting. Some parasites are only recognizable by the symptoms they produce, while others are more obviously visible around the cat’s rear end or in the litter box.
Because they’re so common, treating intestinal parasites with medication is relatively easy. After receiving a diagnosis, follow your vet’s deworming instructions.
If your kitty is allergic to the food she’s eating, she may have digestive issues such as vomiting, diarrhea, or flatulence. Some food allergies also show up on the skin in the form of itchiness, red spots, and hair loss.
If you suspect your cat has a food allergy, talk to your vet. They may prescribe a strict hypoallergenic food trial to determine the problematic ingredient, or they may advise an alternative brand or type of cat food. The vet may also prescribe medication, if appropriate.
Hairballs are a common cat ailment, but they shouldn’t be happening frequently. Because cats groom themselves with their tongues, it’s expected that they would ingest loose hair on occasion. Typically, this hair would be passed through the digestive tract, but excess hair can get stuck and form a hairball.
If your cat has an underlying health issue that causes excessive shedding, she may be more prone to hairballs. She may also be more likely to experience hairballs if she has digestive issues that prevent her from effectively passing the hair through her system.
Bringing up occasional hairballs—once per month or so—is fine. If it is happening more frequently, though, you may want to take some additional steps to ease your kitty’s discomfort. Some options include:
- Adding more fiber to your cat’s diet to help push the hair through the digestive system.
- Giving your cat a treat or gel specifically formulated for reducing hairballs.
- Brushing your cat on a regular basis to get rid of excess hair.
If the hairballs persist after you’ve tried the solutions above, talk to your vet about alternative remedies.
If your cat is dehydrated and/or not getting enough fiber in her diet, she may end up constipated. Other causes of cat constipation include neurological and emotional problems, aging, and ingesting foreign bodies or too much hair.
If it’s been a while since you’ve seen any additions to the litter box, it might be time to contact the vet. If your cat deals with recurring constipation and food allergies/underlying health issues have already been ruled out, be sure she’s eating enough fiber and drinking enough water, and exercising regularly to get her system moving.
Symptoms of Digestive Issues
As the pet owner, you’re not expected to be the expert and diagnose your cat with the correct digestive issue. (That’s what vets are for.) Your job is to recognize the symptoms and contact your vet for the next steps.
Common symptoms to look out for include:
- Soft stools or diarrhea
- Unexplained weight loss
- Vomiting (including hairballs)
- Appetite changes or reluctance to eat
- Blood or mucus in the litter box
Note that diarrhea and vomiting can lead to severe dehydration, so it’s crucial that you contact your vet immediately after noticing the symptoms.
As a general rule, you want to be sure that your cat is eating the appropriate diet for her specific health needs. Talk to your vet about what’s right for her, as well as any treatments or medications as needed. Of course, you’ll also want to rule out any underlying health conditions before simply treating digestive issues.