Dealing with digestive problems in cats

Diarrhea is common in cats and has a variety of causes. In many cases, digestive enzymes and probiotics can help improve your kitty’s digestion and prevent upsets.

A single bout of diarrhea is generally not a cause for concern in cats, although if it persists longer than a day or two it can lead to dehydration. Lethargy, vomiting, fever, dark-colored or bloody stools, straining to defecate, decreased appetite or unexplained weight loss are all red flags that something serious is going on with his digestive system. When you see any or all of these signs, make an appointment with a veterinarian without delay.

However, many cases of diarrhea are much simpler, with causes that include:

• The quality of food being eaten

• The freshness of the food

• The cat’s ability to digest the food

• Increased stress levels

• Dairy or other food intolerances

• Rapid food changes

• Antibiotic use

Cats prone to hairballs can also experience occasional bouts of diarrhea. One thing that can help is kitty grass, which aids in preventing hairballs, adds vitamins to the diet, and soothes troubled tummies. Cats that spend a lot of unsupervised time outdoors may eat inappropriate foods that could also lead to stomach upsets.

Digestive enzymes

In the wild, cats kill and eat fresh raw food. While good quality raw food diets are available, most domestic cats eat canned or kibbled foods. Cooked food doesn’t contain the naturally-occurring enzymes found in raw food, which means it doesn’t digest as well on its own, stressing the cat’s system and possibly contributing to food allergies. Whatever the cat cannot digest could cause an allergic reaction, prompting his digestive system to eliminate the problem quickly through diarrhea.

If you’re not feeding your cat a raw diet, be sure to choose a high quality premium packaged food. Adding digestive enzymes to the food will enhance his digestion and help eliminate any food allergies while raising the nutritional density of what gets delivered to his system. Make sure to choose a product made from vegetarian sources and containing at least 16 different enzymes to help digest all the various food ingredients.


Supporting your cat’s digestion with enzymes is only half the solution. Probiotics play a huge part in the natural balance of the intestinal tract. Without them, our systems would be overrun with yeasts and disease-causing bacteria, resulting in diarrhea, dehydration or even more serious conditions. Cats are no different. Without a proper balance of “good guy” bacteria (probiotics), the result can be either constipation or diarrhea.

There are hundreds of different species of naturally-occurring probiotics. Each has its own special job or benefit, so it makes sense to implant and colonize as many different species of possible. Look for a product that offers at least 11 different stabilized live species of probiotic. A supplement with only three or four species will not do a good job colonizing the entire intestinal tract. Since each probiotic species gravitates toward a certain pH range, introducing multiple strains that each like a different range will colonize more of the intestinal tract than a supplement offering only one or two species.

I recommend avoiding probiotics that use yeasts instead of lactobacilli and bifi dobacteria strains. Look for a supplement that also includes prebiotics, which act as food for the probiotics and greatly improve their colonization. Add probiotics to every meal you feed your cat. Each day, your cat’s system is assaulted with things that kill off the natural balance of probiotics in his gut:

• Antibiotics, while sometimes necessary, are notorious for killing off the good bacteria along with the bad. Administer probiotics during a course of antibiotics, but don’t give them to your cat at the same time.

• Drinking chlorinated tap water kills probiotics.

• Eating meat, poultry or dairy products containing antibiotics will kill off probiotics.

• Emotional stress can alter the pH range in the intestinal tract and adversely affect probiotic colonies.

• Viruses and disease-causing bacteria can alter the ideal balance.

The idea is to top off the probiotics in the gut at every meal, and to replace those that have been lost. As a maintenance dose, include 250 million CFUs (Colony Forming Units) of live, stable probiotics in each half cup of pet food, every day at every meal. During times of loose stool, this dosage can be easily doubled. Return to the maintenance dose when the bowels are normal again. Coupled with digestive enzymes and a good quality diet, probiotics will help ensure a cat with healthy digestion.


John R. Taylor, ND, has served as the CEO and president of Natural Wellness Centers of America Inc. since 1995. He is also author of the book The Wonder of Probiotics, and the chief science officer and formulator for NWC Natural Pet Products LLC (