OTC medicine for cat diarrhea

Over the Counter Medicine for Cat Diarrhea (4 Types)

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Diarrhea is a symptom of many different diseases in cats. Some are serious, but a few will get better with a little home treatment.

If over the counter medication is an option, the four main options are:

  1. Anti-bacterial medications
  2. Probiotics
  3. Diet
  4. Hydration Supplements

If your cat has had just a few episodes of diarrhea but seems to feel fine otherwise, you can try some over the counter medicine. However, if your cat is very young, very old, or has a health condition that makes even mild diarrhea risky, home treatment is NOT a good idea.

Cat Diarrhea: When to Call Your Veterinarian

Symptoms that tell you it’s time to call the veterinarian include:

  • Severe diarrhea
  • Diarrhea that has been present for more than a day or two
  • Bloody diarrhea (partially digested blood looks dark and tarry)
  • Diarrhea combined with vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness
  • Changes in a cat’s behavior or level of awareness
  • A poor appetite
  • A loss of interest in drinking water

What Causes Diarrhea in Cats?

Cats can develop diarrhea for many different reasons, including:

  • Eating a new food or something unusual
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Swallowing something that can’t be digested like string or bones
  • Viral, bacterial, or fungal infections
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver failure
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Heart failure
  • Diabetes
  • Food allergies and other adverse food reactions
  • Exposure to some types of toxins
  • Drug side effects
  • Cancer
  • and more

If your cat has severe or chronic diarrhea, your veterinarian will need to determine its underlying cause. They will start the diagnostic work-up by taking a thorough health history and performing a physical examination. This is usually followed by diagnostic testing, which may include fecal examinations, blood work, a urinalysis, x-rays, abdominal ultrasound, specialized laboratory tests, and even exploratory surgery or endoscopy and tissue biopsies.

Over the Counter Medicine for Cat Diarrhea: The 4 Types

But if your cat has just had diarrhea for a day or two and seems to feel fine otherwise, you can try some home treatment. The following over the counter options are safe for cats.

1. Anti-Diarrheal Medications

Kaolin-pectin is the safest over the counter anti-diarrheal medication for cats.  Many others, like loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) can be very dangerous. Some human anti-diarrheal medications that look like they should contain kaolin-pectin (Kaopectate, for example) actually are made with other ingredients that are dangerous for cats. To be safe, only give your cat an anti-diarrheal medication that is specifically labeled for use in cats. One cat-friendly product, Pro-Pectalin, contains both kaolin-pectin and probiotics.

2. Probiotics

A picture of a cat near medications

Probiotics are microorganisms that are normally found in a cat’s digestive tract. Probiotic bacteria and yeast promote gut health and function. Whatever the cause of a cat’s diarrhea, giving a probiotic can help get things back to normal. Look for probiotics that are designed specifically for pets and that are made by companies that have a good reputation for quality control. Fortiflora has been used successfully for years.

3. Diet

Sometimes food is the best medicine. Keep feeding your cat even if they have diarrhea. Food will actually help their gut to heal, but switching to a different diet can be beneficial. Certain changes will work better than others based on the underlying cause of a cat’s diarrhea. If possible, feed canned food only because this will help keep cats hydrated.

  • Highly digestible diets, like Royal Canin Feline Care Nutrition Digest Sensitive, tend to work best when a cat is producing large amounts of poop every time they have diarrhea.
  • Fiber supplementation can be helpful when a cat is producing small amounts of diarrhea frequently. Soluble prebiotic fibers like psyllium, chicory, inulin, fructooligosaccharides, pectins, or beet pulp are food for beneficial intestinal microorganisms, support the health of the cells that line the large intestine, and absorb extra water from within the digestive tract. Unflavored psyllium (Metamucil) is a good source of soluble prebiotic fiber. Some probiotic supplements, like Proviable-DC, also contain prebiotics.
  • Combination diets are available that are made with highly digestible ingredients but are also supplemented with prebiotic fiber. Blue Buffalo True Solutions Blissful Belly Natural Digestive Care Formula is a good example.
  • Limited ingredient foods that are made with novel protein sources can help cats that have food allergies or other adverse food reactions. Some, like Instinct Limited Ingredient Wet Cat Food, are available over the counter but your veterinarian can also prescribe other cat foods that are even more hypoallergenic.

4. Hydration Supplements

Water is even more important than food when cats have diarrhea. Cats with diarrhea can easily become dehydrated, so make sure to keep fresh, clean water available at all times. Feeding canned food mixed with a tablespoon or two of warm water is another good way to prevent dehydration when a cat has diarrhea. Oral hydration supplements, like Purina Hydra Care, have also been shown to increase a cat’s water intake.

If despite your home treatment, your cat’s condition fails to improve in a day or two or gets worse at any time, stop giving over the counter medicines for diarrhea and make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Additional Resources On Cat Diarrhea

If you’re looking for more information about your cat’s diarrhea, this is a good video overview from Dr. Sarah Wooten on diarrhea in cats:

You can also check out these sources:

And finally we’ve created a series of posts here on Pet News Daily related to gastro intestinal issues for cats and cat health in general, including:

Dr. Jennifer Coates
Dr. Jennifer Coates was valedictorian of her graduating class at the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and has practiced in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is also the author of numerous articles and books including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian.