Kitty stool can help ID diseases

Published 8:00 am Saturday, September 5, 2020

Stinky butt!

I think the starter of the childhood taunt must have been around kittens.

Fall brings an abundance of kittens. Because of the increase in kittens, we have seen a rash of kittens with diarrhea lately. Note: diarrhea is a symptom, not a disease. You don’t catch diarrhea. You catch something that causes diarrhea.

Email newsletter signup

Diarrhea can be caused by the small intestines or in the colon. The type of diarrhea has clues to the cause.

This is so important that we recently had a twenty-minute staff meeting discussing how to characterize diarrhea.

Diarrhea needs several descriptors to be adequately categorized. Is it frequent? Is there an urgency?

Does it run out, leak out or is it projectile? Is it black, brown, green, red, bloody or yellow? Does it have mucous or fresh blood? Is it watery, pasty, chunky or thick? Is part of it normal and then more lose as it comes out?

What does it smell like? Can you smell it from over there or just up close? Is there vomiting or other sickness with the diarrhea?

Kitten diarrhea is often caused by simple things like diet.

Kittens are lactose intolerant, so cow’s milk is a great way to cause diarrhea. This is usually self-limiting.

Some foods are not balanced and can cause diarrhea. Diet is not only too much of something, it can be an allergy.

A bacterial cause of diarrhea, Salmonella, can be transferred in raw food diets. Actually, Salmonella is quite common in the raw diets and can be fatal.

Another form of bacterial diarrhea is campylobacter. It is transferred with contaminated soil or food and can be fatal.

Bleu Skye probably has a bacterial diarrhea. Her white blood cell count is high and she has a concurrent pneumonia. She is spending a few days in the respiratory isolation ward of the hospital on injectable antibiotics.

I picked up a bacterial diarrhea from my time volunteering with sled dogs in Alaska. The temperatures were too cold to have adequate sanitation and a mainstay of a sled dog diet is raw foods. Somehow some of the human food became contaminated and I was very sick. Within two hours of my MD prescribing the appropriate antibiotic, I started to feel better. I wish I hadn’t waited a week to get in to see him.

Parasites are common in kittens and can cause diarrhea. Hookworms and roundworms are present at birth or in the mother’s milk while the kittens are nursing.

Hookworms are tiny (virtually microscopic) worms. They cause a problem because they don’t come in dozens or hundreds, but in thousands or more.

Each hookworm bites a place on the inside of the intestine. The hookworm then secretes an anticoagulant to keep the blood flowing. After a while, it doesn’t flow fast enough and the hookworm will move and bite a new spot to lap up blood.

Each of the thousands of worms can have up to six spots bleeding at any one time.

Roundworms are the larger pasta like worms that can fill up the intestines with their numbers. Either way, the damaged intestines cannot process well and the kitten has diarrhea. This is so common, that we automatically treat all kittens (and puppies) for this when we see them.

Kittens can have protozoal diarrhea also. Protozoa are microscopic, one-celled organisms that can be free-living or parasitic in nature. They are usually transmitted by dirty drinking water. Amebiasis is usually a large intestine infection, but it can affect the liver and pancreas. Coccidia can be self-limiting in cats, but can hit kittens fairly hard.

The yellow pasty diarrhea may be a coccidia, but a stool sample microscopic exam will help your vet diagnosis it. Giardia and other like protozoa affects the small intestine. It is hard to diagnose and can be difficult to treat and/or clear up.

We are currently treating a litter of six kittens. While all of them have a protozoal diarrhea, only one is really sick. Luckily, his new mom (who found them abandoned) is caring for him and getting his medicine in him.

Stella is an adorable Blue Russian who is also in the hospital in the gastrointestinal isolation room.

Stella probably has a viral diarrhea. Viral diarrhea in kittens can be frustrating. Often the poop just leaks out. They walk, it leaks. They sleep, it leaks. And it waxes and wanes, meaning it gets better and then it is back to square one.

The most common viruses that cause kitten diarrhea are pan leukopenia (a parvo virus), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukemia (FeLV) and rotavirus.

We tested Stella for the first three of these viruses and she was negative. Unfortunately, a negative test is not that accurate. If they are positive, that is highly accurate, but just as we are seeing with

COVID-19, a negative test doesn’t mean that you are really negative.

Meanwhile Stella has tested negative for the other types of diarrheas or did not respond to those treatments. Viral diarrhea is common enough that I saw six cases during an ER shift last weekend.

That means it is reasonable to assume that she had a viral diarrhea.

Although there is not a specific treatment, most kittens recover from viral diarrheas, if you keep them alive long enough. That means we are giving supportive care in the means of fluids and highly digestible foods.

In the past two weeks I have seen about a dozen cases of kitten diarrhea. All of them had their own reasons for diarrhea, but they all had stinky butts and litter boxes!

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. 606-928-6566