What Does It Mean and What To Do If There’s Blood in Your Cat’s Stool
Blood in a cat’s stool is never a good thing but the causes range from minor to life-threatening. We spoke to vets and cat behavior experts to learn what it means when there’s blood in a cat’s stool and how cat owners should respond to the situation.
With all the time you spend digging around in your cat’s litter box, you’re pretty familiar with his bathroom habits by now. At least you should be. No one likes scooping poop, but you should be aware of what’s going on in your cat’s litter box because changes in bathroom habits are often an early indicator of potentially serious issues like stress, food allergies, or disease.
More than simply monitoring how often your cat uses the litter box, you should be able to identify changes in the consistency of your cat’s stool. Occasional diarrhea is normal but if you notice blood in your cat’s stool you should take a closer look.
We consulted veterinarian Dr. Megan Teiber and cat behaviorist Nicole Van Andel on the subject of blood in a cat’s stool to learn what causes it and what you should do about it. Here’s what we learned.
What Does Bloody Stool Look Like?
Blood is a pretty clear indicator that something is off with your cat, whether it’s in his stool, in his urine, or somewhere on his body. The tricky thing is that blood won’t always appear as the bright red liquid you’re used to seeing when it flows from a physical wound – especially in stool.
When it comes to blood in stool, the color may range from bright red to near-black. If the blood is still bright red, that means it’s fresh but blood that is black has already been partially or fully digested. Red blood typically originates in the lower intestinal tract or rectal region while black or brown blood originates from higher up in the digestive tract, often the small intestine. Black, tarry stools are generally related to much more serious issues than fresh red blood.
Bloody stool is sometimes accompanied by mucus, a natural secretion of the intestinal tract which helps lubricate the colon to facilitate the passage of stool. It’s normal to see a little mucus with your cat’s stool, but large volumes could be cause for concern.
What Causes It?
Causes for bloody stool in cats range from stress to chronic disease. Dr. Megan Teiber notes that colitis – a general term for inflammation in the large intestine – is a common cause of bloody stool. She suggests that in cases of colitis, bloody stool may be accompanied by mucus, diarrhea, or straining to defecate.
Intestinal inflammation can be caused by intestinal parasites, sudden dietary changes, food allergies or intolerances, inflammatory bowel disease, or infections in the gastrointestinal tract. It can also result from acute or chronic stress.
Cats are just as prone to stress as humans with many of the same causes. Significant changes to your cat’s environment or daily routine can cause stress and anxiety, as can seemingly minor things like a dog barking constantly next door or construction going on across the street. Aside from physical symptoms like bloody stool, stress often manifests with behavioral changes like hiding more often, eating or drinking less, increased aggression or agitation, and excessive vocalization (for tips on decoding these signs, check out our definitive guide to cat behavior).
Other potential causes of blood stool may include:
- Blood clotting disorders
- Chronic constipation
- Poisoning or dietary indiscretion
- Intestinal blockage
- Anal gland infection or impaction
- Rectal polyps
- Kidney or liver disease
- Reactions to medication
Sudden dietary changes are a common cause of digestive issues in cats, though they’re more likely to trigger diarrhea or vomiting than bloody stool. When it comes to dietary causes for bloody stool, the ingestion of foreign objects or poisonous substances may be more probable culprits. It’s a good idea to examine bloody stool a little more closely for signs of foreign object ingestion or to bring a sample with you to the vet’s office.
Should You Be Alarmed by Blood in Your Cat’s Stool?
The short answer is yes, but bloody stool isn’t always an indication of a medical emergency. Neither is it something you should ignore.
Dr. Teiber comments, “Blood in the stool is not normal and warrants a consultation with your veterinarian,” but unless your cat is also very lethargic, not eating, or vomiting frequently, it can most likely wait until the next day. A trip to the emergency vet may be necessary, however, if there are large amounts of liquid blood in the stool or if the stool is dark black with a coffee ground-like consistency.
It’s wise to put in a call with your vet as soon as you notice the problem but, as long as your cat is otherwise comfortable and still eating normally, Dr. Teiber suggests that a next-day appointment is usually sufficient.
What Should You Do About It?
There are no home remedies for bloody stool in cats; it is a concern that should always be addressed by a veterinarian. The causative factor could be minor but it’s not worth taking the risk of assuming as much. Bloody stool can be a symptom of a serious problem that is likely to get worse and may become life-threatening.
If you notice blood in your cat’s stool, feline behaviorist Nicole van Andel recommends looking for behavioral changes that might help you determine the underlying cause.
According to van Andel, “Knowing your cat is essential in recognizing whether or not their behavior has changed in any way.” She suggests that the most important behavioral signs to look for include symptoms of stress, loss of appetite, excessive self-grooming, and increased vocalization. You should make a phone call to your vet any time your cat experiences bloody stool but being able to report on additional symptoms or changes in behavior will help your vet determine the severity of the issue.
In order to diagnose the cause of blood in your cat’s stool, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam. Other diagnostics will generally be determined by your cat’s current health status, age, and the findings of the physical exam.
Dr. Teiber comments, “For a young cat who is otherwise healthy and experiencing the first episode of blood in the stool, your vet may start with a fecal test to rule out intestinal parasites.” In cases like this where the underlying cause cannot be easily determined, making a diagnosis may involve ruling out as many causes as possible and observing the cat’s response to treatment.
According to Dr. Teiber, more extensive diagnostics may be recommended for older cats and cats with other symptoms or underlying health issues. These diagnostics may include blood panels, x-rays, abdominal ultrasounds, colonoscopy, or intestinal biopsy.
Simple Tips for Reducing Stress
Even if your veterinarian doesn’t think stress is the underlying cause for the blood in your cat’s stool, keeping your cat calm is imperative for his recovery and long-term wellness.
Van Andel comments, “cats who are stressed, for whatever the reason, deserve a little extra TLC.” The first step is to remove the source of stress, if it is known. If it’s unknown, take steps to identify the source. Watch your cat’s behavior for clues and consider whether anything in the cat’s environment has changed recently. Removing the source of stress is the ideal solution but in cases where that isn’t possible, there are other steps you can take to mitigate and minimize your cat’s stress.
According to van Andel, some of the best ways to reduce stress in cats include:
- Keep noise to a minimum. Cats tend to startle easily, and a noisy, chaotic household can be a source of constant stress. Try to keep household noise at a comfortable level by encouraging family members to move slowly and steadily around your cat.
- Maintain a consistent daily routine. Because cats are creatures of habit, sticking to a daily routine for things like mealtime and play can help relieve stress and anxiety. Your cat will naturally work naps and grooming time into their routine.
- Provide 15 minutes of play a day. Daily playtime is essential to provide mental stimulation and to give your cat a chance to expel nervous energy in a healthy way. Choose interactive options like wand toys or give your cat puzzle toys for active solo play.
- Buy a scratching post. Scratching is an instinctive behavior for cats and having an opportunity to express it is important. Provide cardboard scratchers and vertical scratching posts or scratching pads so your cat can get in a nice stretch as he scratches.
- Give plenty of praise and encouragement. Whether it’s during cuddle time or when your cat is performing a desired behavior, shower your cat with verbal praise and encouragement. Positive reinforcement helps prevent your cat from forming negative associations that can contribute to stress. Plus, giving your cat praise will help you form a closer, more trusting bond.
- Keep the litter box clean. Cats are fastidious creatures, and they prefer to do their business in a tidy environment. A dirty litter box that isn’t scooped or cleaned often enough can be off-putting to your cat and may contribute to problems with stress or litter box avoidance—more on that here.
Every cat is unique, so some of these tactics may be more effective than others for your furry friend. If the steps above aren’t enough to resolve your cat’s stress, you may want to talk to your veterinarian about alternative solutions. In some cases, chronic stress and anxiety is best managed with medication.
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