4 Causes of Kitten DiarrheaLast updated: April 25, 2018
Diarrhea is less of a concern in cats and kittens than upper respiratory infections are. However, diarrhea does still show up at times and there are several different causes.
ParasitesParasites are the number one cause of loose stools in kittens of any age. Always deworm a kitten with diarrhea. Pyrantel, given at two and four weeks of age, usually prevents roundworm and hookworm issues. After weaning, give fenbendazole for three days to control giardia and remove any resistant round and hookworms that were missed.
For rescue kittens, we need to assume they have parasites and therefore deworming is necessary. Be mindful of the stress on them if you are trying to get their vaccines caught up and get them spayed or neutered. It's best to get them healthy and vaccinated and then have them spayed or neutered. For older kittens with diarrhea and no history of deworming, use fenbendazole six days in a row and follow up with pyrantel one week later. This will usually clear the issue.
Taking parasites out of the picture and providing the kitten with support for dehydration often resolves the diarrhea. Keep in mind that coccidia is often a complication in older kittens, over four weeks old. Coccidia may not start diarrhea; however, it will overgrow and keep the diarrhea going. Ponazuril or toltrazuril will control coccidian, as will sulfa drugs. A sulfa drug, such as Albon, for seven to 14 days, is a good choice for bacterial diarrhea as it will control most bacterial overgrowth and get the coccidia. Add an appropriate probiotic, such as Doc Roy's® GI Synbiotics, to shorten the treatment period or recovery time by 30 percent. That is big when you're the one keeping the kittens with diarrhea clean!
OverfeedingFor kittens that are bottle fed, overfeeding formula can become an issue. Overfed kittens get gut upset, which results in diarrhea. Orphans are often afraid they will have nothing to eat, so they overeat easily if we let them. Stop feeding them when their tummy begins to look like a football. If we get to a basketball shaped tummy, you'll want to feed less during the next feeding.
If we feel a kitten is starting to have loose stools from overeating, feeding a bottle or two of balanced electrolytes such as Breeder's Edge® Kitten Lyte followed by a diluted milk replacer, such as Breeder's Edge® Foster Care™ Feline, with 50 percent more water usually resolves this issue.
Orphans must be given a probiotic that bypasses the stomach in order to keep good bacteria in place. Add a probiotic, such as GI Synbiotics, to milk once a day or twice a day if the orphan is experiencing tummy upset. Mom would normally give this good bacteria to them several times a day when she cleans their faces. In addition, Kaolin-Pectin added as a coating agent, helps quiet the gut and is a safe way to make the kitten more comfortable. You don't want to over treat; the goal is to not let the kitten get dehydrated. Generally, backing off milk a bit resolves the issue.
BacteriaE-Coli, Salmonella and Clostridium in kittens are all bacterial causes of diarrhea. Sulfa drugs usually control these bacterial causes, so if you are already using Albon for coccidia, that can also help control bacteria.
Salmonella is often a complication in raw food diets. Be sure to cook meat, especially poultry and don't feed any meat raw. Salmonella can be passed to humans, especially to children in the kitten's next home.
VirusesFor nursing kittens, the number-one virus we worry about is panleukopenia, which is a parvovirus often called distemper. The panleukopenia vaccine works; however, rescue moms are seldom vaccinated and we vaccinate moms to protect their kittens from getting panleukopenia. The parvovirus can attack neonates early if mom didn't give her kittens any maternal antibodies to protect them. It is usually lethal for kittens and rarely responsive to treatment. Treatment involves IV support and an antibiotic for secondary infections. Recovery will involve hand-feeding and getting the kitten's appetite back up.
Rotavirus and coronavirus occasionally cause diarrhea, but they are self-limiting and seldom causes much of an issue.
Nutritional Support for Kittens with DiarrheaLiquid supplements such as Triage are helpful to syringe feed when a kitten is recovering from diarrhea. For older kittens, push high fat and protein food to prevent clostridium overgrowth and sudden death. All meat baby food goes through a syringe and is often a good starting place to get kittens to eat. Move to canned cat food as soon as the kitten is interested.
If you have any questions about treating cats and kittens with diarrhea or any other health issue, give our Pet Care Pros a call at 800.786.4751.
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Former Director of Veterinary Services at Revival Animal Health
Donald Bramlage, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, practiced veterinary medicine for 30+ years and is known for his work in managing parvovirus. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Kansas State University in 1985. He served as Revival's Director of Veterinary Services from 2011 until his retirement in 2019.
The materials, information and answers provided through this website are not intended to replace the medical advice or services of your personal veterinarian or other pet health care professional. Consult your own veterinarian for answers to specific medical questions, including diagnosis, treatment, therapy or medical attention.