Diets for Helping Cats with Chronic Diarrhea

Published: October 17, 2014
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Chronic diarrhea is an all too common problem for cats and their owners. In a perfect world, veterinarians would always be able to fully work up the case, come to a definitive diagnosis, and prescribe treatment that cures the diarrhea. But as we all know, this is not a perfect world.

Financial considerations or other health problems may prevent a complete work up. Sometimes, a diagnosis remains elusive despite running “every” test, or the diarrhea may not fully resolve even with appropriate treatment. Whatever the reason, it’s not unusual for veterinarians and owners to find themselves searching for “something” that will firm up a cat’s stools.

A study published in 2012 points to what that “something” should often be. It’s not a new drug or miracle supplement but the therapeutic diets that are designed specifically for cats with GI disease. The study was run to compare the effects of a newly designed GI diet made by one manufacturer with another company’s product. Sixteen cats (15 completed the study) with chronic diarrhea of unknown origin were first fed an over the counter canned cat food for two weeks to standardize their initial diets.

For the following month, half the cats were fed one of the therapeutic diets while the other half ate the second therapeutic diet. The two groups were switched to the opposite diet for the final month of the study. Both therapeutic diets were canned formulations.

Trained technicians evaluated the cats for diarrhea during the last week of each dietary trial. They found that both therapeutic diets led to significant improvements. The diarrhea improved in 40 percent (resolving in 13.3 percent) of the cats eating one diet and improved in 67 percent (resolving in 46.7 percent) or those eating the other.

I’m not sure knowing which diet was “best” in this study is all that relevant now since companies are constantly tweaking their recipes as research continues. This study is now two years old and only compared two therapeutic GI diets when several more are readily available. Keep in mind also that GI diets can be quite different from each other and no one formulation is best for every patient, so if you try one and aren’t impressed with the results, it is certainly worth trying a couple more.

I want to make sure we are all on the same page here. I am not recommending that cats with diarrhea be fed a GI diet in lieu of a full work up and treatment aimed at a specific disease. Rather, this study simply serves as a reminder that dietary modification can help many cats with diarrhea, regardless of their specific diagnosis or lack thereof.

Dr. Jennifer Coates


Evaluation of canned therapeutic diets for the management of cats with naturally occurring chronic diarrhea. Laflamme DP, Xu H, Cupp CJ, Kerr WW, Ramadan Z, Long GM. J Feline Med Surg. 2012 Oct;14(10):669-77. Epub 2012 May 10.

Image: Moyan Brenn / Flickr