The Scoop on Cat Poop

From diarrhea to constipation, get the facts about common cat digestive problems.

Whether you've just adopted your first kitten or you've shared your home with cats for years, your cat's litter box habits might be a mystery to you.  But if you know what to look for, your cat's poop can contain lots of clues about her health.

Cat Poop: What's Normal?

Although cats' bowel habits can and do vary, there are certain characteristics of “normal” cat poop that indicate digestive health.

Most cats will have bowel movements at least once a day. These poops should be deep brown in color and well formed -- not too hard, not too soft or mushy.  Normal cat poop should not smell too foul (some odor is normal, of course).

Cat Poop Problem: Diarrhea

Diarrhea is not uncommon among cats, and there are many reasons why your cat might develop frequent loose, runny bowel movements. Sometimes, cat diarrhea develops quickly and the condition resolves as quickly as it arose. Other times, it can last for days, weeks, or months, or recur on a regular basis. 

Although diarrhea that lasts for 24 to 48 hours is not likely to cause a problem, episodes of watery stools that continue may cause dehydration.

Some common causes of cat diarrhea include:

  • Dietary changes and/or food allergies or intolerances
  • Hairballs
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Colitis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Worms (intestinal parasites)
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer

If your cat has diarrhea that lasts more than a day or two, be sure to see your veterinarian to determine the cause of the problem. You should also consult your vet immediately if the diarrhea is black or bloody, or if it is accompanied by fever, vomiting, lethargy, or a loss of appetite.

When you first notice your cat has diarrhea, it may be helpful to hold off on feeding her for 12 to 24 hours, making sure that she has ample amounts of fresh water available to drink.

Depending on the cause of your cat's diarrhea, your veterinarian may suggest you try a variety of different remedies. Some cats will benefit from the use of prescription medications, such as metronidazole or prednisone, which are used to control the inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease. Low-fat, high-fiber, hypoallergenic diets may also benefit animals suffering from IBD or colitis.

You can help prevent diarrhea by refraining from giving your cat dairy products like milk or yogurt, because many cats are unable to digest them properly.  Also, when switching the brand or type of food you feed your cat, be sure to introduce any new food over time by mixing it with smaller and smaller amounts of the old food until your cat has transitioned to eating only the new food.

Cat Poop Problem: Constipation

As is the case with diarrhea, you don't need to worry if your cat has a bout or two of constipation from time to time.  But if your cat frequently strains excessively to poop or is unproductive in her attempt to have a bowel movement, you should contact your veterinarian.

There are a number of things that can cause cats to become constipated, including:

  • Over-grooming, which leads to extra hair in the digestive tract
  • Kidney problems
  • Feline megacolon
  • Some type of obstruction, including string or bones
  • Diets that are low in fiber
  • Enlarged prostate gland, in male cats
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Colon abnormalities

To help ease your cat's constipation, your veterinarian may suggest increasing the fiber in the diet, such as by adding canned pumpkin or bran to your cat's regular food. Or your veterinarian might recommend switching to a diet that is very easily digested, thereby lessening the amount of poop in your cat's digestive tract.

Encouraging your cat to get more exercise and drink more water may also help poop move through her system more readily.

The chart below may help you to identify the cause of your cat's poop problems:




Possible causes


Small, hard, dry stools

Less than once a day

Low-fiber diet, dehydration, lack of exercise, illness


Small, hard, dry stools containing large amounts of hair

Less than once a day

Hairballs, over-grooming


Thin, ribbon-like poop

Less than once a day

Enlarged prostate or lymph nodes  


Bloody or black, loose stools

Multiple times daily

Stomach or intestinal bleeding. Seek immediate veterinary attention.


May be bloody or appear to contain squirming grains of rice

Multiple times daily

Intestinal parasites.  A rice-like appearance indicates the presence of tapeworms.


Gooey poop filled with mucous

Associated with stress

Irritable bowel syndrome


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ASPCA web site: “Diarrhea.”

Veterinary Information Network web site, “ Constipation and Megacolon.”

ASPCA Web site: “Constipation.”

Veterinary Information Network Web site, “ Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”

American Animal Hospital Association Web site, “Intestinal parasites.”

Veterinary Information Network Web site, “ Tapeworms.”

Veterinary Information Network Web site, “ Irritable bowel syndrome.”

Merck Veterinary Manual: “Constipation and Obstipation.”