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Symptoms of Colitis in Cats

Source: PetWave, Updated on December 22, 2015

Effects of Colitis – From the Cat’s Point of View

The most common symptoms of feline colitis involve changes in the consistency of the cat’s stool and increasingly frequent trips to the litter box. Affected cats typically have diarrhea, often tinged with fresh blood, and an upset tummy. The symptoms appear suddenly if the colitis is acute, wax and wane if the colitis is episodic, and come on slowly then worsen with time if the condition is chronic. Cats can be quite stoic and may show no outward signs of abdominal pain, even when it is severe.

Symptoms of Colitis – What the Owner Sees

Owners of cats with colitis may notice some combination of the following signs:

  • Diarrhea with traces of fresh (red) blood (hematochezia)
  • Diarrhea with traces of mucus or undigested fat (slimy, greasy loose stools)
  • Straining to defecate, with or without success (tenesmus)
  • Difficult or painful evacuation of stool (dyschezia)
  • Increased frequency of defecation or attempts to defecate
  • Passage of small amounts of fecal matter
  • Increased urgency to reach the litter box

These are commonly referred to as signs of “large bowel diarrhea.” However, they also can be associated with disorders of the small intestine.

Cats with acute colitis, sometimes called “stress colitis,” usually have large bowel diarrhea and tenesmus without other signs of illness. Their stool is small in volume, semi-formed to liquid and contains mucus and bright red blood. The first portion of stool may look fairly normal, but it becomes cloudy and jelly-like at the end. Cats with moderate to severe chronic or episodic colitis have similar symptoms, but they last for weeks to months rather than days. In chronic cases, the cat may develop signs of malnutrition, although this is uncommon. Chronic colitis can cause one or more of the following symptoms, in addition to the signs of large bowel diarrhea:

  • Shying away from being touched
  • Hiding from people or other pets
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Loss of appetite (inappetance, anorexia)
  • Weight loss
  • Poor hair coat
  • Poor body condition
  • Lethargy

If the small intestine, the upper part of the intestinal tract, is also inflamed, the cat may have black tarry stools, in addition to or instead of diarrhea with red blood and mucus.

Cats at Increased Risk

Acute colitis can occur in any cat but mainly is seen in young cats with internal parasites, intestinal bacterial overgrowth or dietary indiscretion. Free-roaming outdoor cats are predisposed to acute colitis. Chronic colitis is more common in middle-aged and older cats and tends to be caused by cancer (neoplasia) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Purebred cats have an increased incidence of lymphocytic-plasmacytic inflammatory bowel disease.

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