What Is Your Cat’s Poo Telling You?
If you’re like most cat parents, taking care of the litter box probably isn't your favorite chore. Cats typically have at least one bowel movement a day but this varies depending on age, diet and health. Normal cat stool should have a long, round shape and a chocolate-brown color.
(We’ll just leave that right there.)
There are four common characteristics cat parents should keep an eye on that might indicate a health problem: color, consistency, contents and smell.
While normal stools are a deep brown, the appearance of different colors can be symptoms of various health issues.
- Yellow stool - While normal for some diets, yellow stool can suggest liver or gallbladder disease.
- Red stool - Red stools generally signify that blood is coming from the lower gastrointestinal tract, or the colon. Inflammatory bowel disease or blood clotting disorders often result in red stool.
- Black stool - A black, tarry color (melena) is usually seen when blood has been digested, meaning it likely comes from the upper digestive tract, such as a stomach ulcer or a sharp foreign object causing damage.
Normal cat poop should feel firm — but not too hard — and should be shaped like a sausage. For those who also own dogs, cat stools are generally firmer. Stools that resemble rock hard pebbles or are difficult for your cat to pass are likely caused by dehydration or not enough fiber in the diet. Anything that does not have a defined shape or firmness is abnormal.
Inflammatory bowel disease is common in cats and has been linked to an imbalance in their gastrointestinal microbiome. Diarrhea can also come from a sudden change in diet, hairballs, microbial infection or kidney/liver disease. Symptoms that last longer than 24-48 hours should be evaluated by a veterinarian, as your cat could become dehydrated.
While occasional undigested food may appear in your cat’s stool, unusual patterns can raise red flags.
The most common element found in cat feces is hair. Since cats are well-known groomers, seeing hair is completely normal. If you begin to notice large chunks, however, it could be a sign that your cat is over-grooming. Excessive grooming can be associated with anxiety, itchy skin or other diseases linked to excessive shedding.
Cats also love to play with string, so finding dental floss in your cat’s poop might be a sign that you need to hide the bathroom trash can. Bits of toys or plastic may sometimes appear in stools. If you notice this and your cat is acting strange, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss ways to protect or treat your cat from an obstruction.
Tapeworm infection can also be diagnosed in cat stool. These parasites appear as white flecks in an otherwise brown background. Any treatment should be administered by your vet.
Cat poop has a distinctive smell and any changes could indicate that your cat might have a health problem. Microbial infections, such as bacteria or parasites, can also be the root cause of a stinky litter box. Monitoring whether your cat is behaving normally or has other symptoms, such as lack of appetite or vomiting, may help you gauge whether a trip to the vet for treatment is necessary.
Handling cat stool is not without its risks. Cat feces have gotten a bad reputation over the last decade due to their association with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Previous research found links to a range of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia from this parasite. Pregnant women were also usually urged to stay away from litter boxes to prevent infection, as the parasite can cause health defects in infants.
However, more recent research has found no evidence of any psychiatric problems. In any case, the parasite is not infectious for a few days, so cleaning the litter box daily will keep T. gondii from being a problem regardless. You’re all clear to check in on your cat’s poop and ensure they’re healthy and well.