As gross as it might seem, keeping close tabs on what your kitty’s stool looks like may actually help you catch health problems early.
While most of us try to clean out the litter box as quickly as possible and be done with it, taking just a few seconds to learn what’s normal for your cat and noting when there are changes is actually very important—and extremely helpful for your veterinarian.
Read on to learn what is considered “normal” for most cats and what some of the changes in your cat’s poop might mean.
Monitoring Your Cat’s Poop
There are a number of things to look to when trying to determine if your cat’s poop is normal. The most important factor is getting a feel for what the stool usually looks and smells like when your cat is not having any issues.
The first factors to consider include the color and consistency of the stool. Although a cat’s stool is often covered in cat litter, simply breaking it in half as you scoop it will help you get a good look at the color and a feel for the texture without any extra effort.
A quick look at the surface of the stool will help you to determine what’s a normal amount of mucus (that shiny coating on the surface of the poop) for your kitty. You should also check for any unusual objects (like hair ties or milk jug rings!) in your cat’s poop.
Next, try to determine approximately how often your kitty defecates. Are you finding stool in the box once a day? Twice? More than that? If the frequency changes over time, that’s very important to note.
And perhaps the last factor to take daily note of is the hardest to miss—what is the normal smell for your pet’s stool? This may vary from day to day, but if it suddenly becomes much more pungent, there may be some cause for concern.
Changes in one or more of these parameters, especially if they’re combined with alterations in your cat’s attitude or appetite, can be critical in diagnosing an illness early.
If you are noticing any changes, ask these questions:
Is there a reasonable explanation?
Did you change your cat’s food or treats?
Is there something that could have caused your cat stress (recent move, new people or guests in the house, construction noise, stray cats, or different schedules)?
Is your cat not acting normally? What is “normal” will also be different for each animal and can depend on things like age, exercise level, or diet.
Cat Stool Guide
Use this guide to determine what normal cat poop should look like and when there might be an issue.
Normal Cat Poop
Knowing what’s normal for your kitty’s poop is key and will quickly help you determine when things aren’t right. This is a general guideline for normal stool in cats, but you should also go by what you’ve found to be normal for your cat.
Typical stool will generally be a chocolate brown to a deep brown color.
The most common shape is like a large Tootsie Roll, with some segmentation (lumps) present. It is usually easy to break open and will continue to hold its shape once broken or moved.
The English language is quite deficient in describing smells (how does one describe the smell of popcorn or pizza?), and the same is true for describing the smell of normal cat poop! It certainly does have an odor, as cats use their stool as part of a territory-marking routine, but it shouldn’t stink up the entire house. After a few minutes, the smell associated with normal cat stool should be limited to the immediate area around the litter pan.
Most cats will pass stool at least once per day. Some cats will pass stool more or less frequently, but on average, once a day is to be expected.
Abnormal Cat Poop
If you notice any of the following signs, take a photo of the stool in the box and put the stool into a container in case your veterinarian would like to examine it.
Red, especially if it’s bright red and seemingly on the surface of the stool, may indicate fresh blood coming from the colon or end of the digestive tract. This should be investigated quickly.
Black/Tarry—If the entire stool looks black and tarry when you break it open, this is often a sign of digested blood coming from higher up in the intestinal tract, such as the stomach or small intestine. This should also be investigated quickly.
Light Brown/Tan color often means that the food is not completely digested.
Orange/Yellow coloration often indicates that the liver or gallbladder is not functioning as well as it normally should.
Green color can be caused by eating plants and grass, but it can also indicate the presence of bacterial infection.
Soft/Mushy Stool that is still able to hold its shape often indicates a short-term upset in the digestive tract that should be monitored closely. If it doesn’t resolve within a day or so, or any other signs of illness are present, consult your veterinarian.
Liquid stools or diarrhea means that you should consult your veterinarian right away.
Very smelly stools usually mean that something’s out of balance in the digestive system. This can range from not tolerating the diet well to inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, liver disease, parasites, stress, or other systemic disease.
Metallic smells usually indicate that iron is in the stool, which can be a sign of blood in the stool.
If your cat is defecating more often than once a day (if this is their usual frequency) or the stool does not look normal, there is cause for concern.
Something in the Poop:
Mucus may be normal in small amounts and often indicates that there is some inflammation present in the lower intestinal tract (colon).
Hair often means that your kitty is grooming more than normal, and since it is not digested, hair will pass through the intestinal tract and into the stool. In small amounts, this is considered normal.
Tapeworms are a very common parasite usually transmitted to cats by fleas. They often appear like rice-like grains under the tail or in the poop that might be alive and wiggling.
String/floss may be present either in the stool or hanging from the cat’s rectum after they defecate. If you notice anything coming out of your cat’s rectum, do not pull it out. Call your veterinarian for guidance. Pulling on the item could potentially cause significant damage to your cat’s intestinal tract.
Other objects that your cat eats may also come out in their stool. Some common finds include hair ties, bits of toys, and even plastic milk top twisties. If your cat seems to be acting normally and the item has fully passed, everything should be okay, but it’s always wise to call to your veterinarian to make sure additional treatment isn’t needed.
What to Do if Your Cat’s Poop Isn’t Normal
Call your vet right away if your cat’s poop looks abnormal and you notice any of the following:
Blood in your cat’s stool
Your cat is acting strange or seems unwell
Your cat is lethargic
Stool that is pure liquid
Black or tarry stool
Something hanging out of your cat’s rectum
If you notice that your cat’s stool isn’t normal but your cat doesn’t have other symptoms, monitor the litter box carefully to see if things resolve within a day or two. If the stool is still not normal over the next 24-48 hours, it’s time to call the vet.
It is usually helpful to take a photo of the stool in the litter box and save the poop in a bag or container for your veterinarian to look at as well.
Many say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. This may be true, but it is also very true that your cat’s intestinal tract—particularly the stool—is the window to their overall health. Monitoring your cat’s stool closely is a very effective and easy way to help your vet identify and diagnose problems early.
Featured Image: iStock.com/CasarsaGuru
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