What Is Your Cat’s Poo Telling You?

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For any cat parent, taking care of the litter box is not the most pleasant chore. Some cats are particular about the specific placement, conditions, and type of litter used in the box, which can be a hassle to handle. Taking the time to peek at your cat’s stool, however, is crucial. Changes and characteristics seen in feces can be a great measure of your cat’s health1–3.

Cats typically have at least one bowel movement a day—but this varies depending on age, diet, and health1. Normal stool should have a long, round shape and a chocolate-brown color. There are four common characteristics cat parents should keep an eye on that might indicate a health problem: color, consistency, contents, and smell.

Color

While normal stools are a deep brown, reminiscent of a chocolate bar, the appearance of different colors can be symptoms of various health issues4,5. Yellow stool, for instance, while normal for some diets, can suggest liver or gallbladder disease, while red or black stool could indicate gastrointestinal bleeds1. A black, tarry color (melena) is usually seen when blood has been digested, meaning that it likely comes from the upper digestive tract, such as a stomach ulcer or a sharp foreign object causing damage1. Red stools generally signify that the damage is coming from the lower gastrointestinal tract, or the colon. Inflammatory bowel disease or blood clotting disorders often result in red stool.

Consistency

Normal cat poop should feel firm but not too hard and be shaped like a sausage. For those who also own dogs, cat stool is generally firmer. While the ancestors of dogs inhabited more temperate climates, cats arose from a desert-dweller6 and consequently their colon is well-adapted to remove most of the moisture from stool. However, 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 is much softer—is abnormal.

Inflammatory bowel disease is common in cats, and has been linked to an imbalance in their gastrointestinal microbiome7. 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.

Researchers hope to better understand this relationship to identify potential targets for treatments. If they discover which bacteria are responsible for the imbalance, they could develop ways to manipulate the microbiome, such as with cat probiotics.

Content

While occasional undigested food may appear in your cat’s stool, unusual patterns that arise can raise red flags.

The most common element found in cat feces is hair1. Since cats are well-known groomers, seeing hair is completely normal. If you begin to notice larger 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 can may sometimes appear in stool. If you notice this and your cat is acting off, make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss ways to protect or treat your cat from an obstruction1.

On the side of infectious disease, tapeworm infection can sometimes be diagnosed in cat stool. These parasites appear as white flecks in an otherwise brown background1. Any treatment should be administered by your vet.

Smell

Cat poop has a distinctive smell and any distinct changes, usually for the worse, could indicate that your cat might have a health problem8. 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 imperative. That being said, smelly stool can be linked to a simple change in diet—such as a switch between food brands or from dry to wet food.

Of course, handling cat stool is not without claimed risks. Cat feces have gotten a bad reputation over the last decade due to its association with the parasite Toxoplasma gondii9. Previous research found links to a range of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia. 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 problems10. 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—it should be just fine to check your cat’s poop to ensure they are healthy and happy.



References 

1. What Should My Cat’s Poop Look Like? | petMD. Available at: https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/what-should-my-cats-poop-look. (Accessed: 5th December 2018)
2. Parker, H. The Scoop on Cat Poop. WebMD (2009). Available at: https://pets.webmd.com/cats/the-scoop-on-cat-poop. (Accessed: 5th December 2018)
3. The Scoop On Poop - What Your Cat’s Stool Is Telling You - Cat World. (2017). Available at: https://www.cat-world.com.au/the-scoop-on-poop.html. (Accessed: 5th December 2018)
4. Notes:, C. Kitten Stool Chart.
5. Heather, M. Inside Scoop on Cat Poop. Available at: https://www.aspcapetinsurance.com/blog/2016/june/27/inside-scoop-on-cat-poop/. (Accessed: 5th December 2018)
6. Handwerk, B. House Cat Origin Traced to Middle Eastern Wildcat Ancestor. National Geographic (2007).
7. Deng, P. & Swanson, K. S. Gut microbiota of humans, dogs and cats: current knowledge and future opportunities and challenges. Br. J. Nutr. 113 Suppl, S6–17 (2015).
8. Why do My Cat’s Stools Smell so Bad? Pet Health Network Available at: http://www.pethealthnetwork.com/cat-health/cat-diseases-conditions-a-z/why-do-my-cat%E2%80%99s-stools-smell-so-bad. (Accessed: 5th December 2018)
9. Rage Disorder Linked with Parasite Found in Cat Feces. Scientific American
10. Solmi, F., Hayes, J. F., Lewis, G. & Kirkbride, J. B. Curiosity killed the cat: no evidence of an association between cat ownership and psychotic symptoms at ages 13 and 18 years in a UK general population cohort. Psychol. Med. 47, 1659–1667 (2017).


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