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The Guardian - UK

Littered with information: what does your cat’s poo say about its health?

Illustration of man tending to cat in litter tray

More than a quarter of British households own a cat but, despite being the second most popular pet in the UK, their behaviour still mystifies us.

This is because, compared with dogs, cats are asocial creatures programmed to be in constant survival mode, so they rarely show pain or discomfort – making it tricky for owners to spot any health issues.

Keeping your kitten fit and well doesn’t just start with what they eat, but how they poo. Yep, gross, we know, but as with all living creatures, you are what you eat – and you are also what comes out of you, to a certain extent.

Stool colour, frequency and smell are all factors to consider when looking at your cat’s overall wellbeing, but in particular their digestive health.

Illustration of woman feeding cat with Royal Canin

“The right balance of high-quality nutrients is crucial for the healthy development of your kitten and the ongoing good health of your adult cat,” says Clare Hemmings, scientific communications manager at Royal Canin. The brand offers a wide range of cat food tailored to age, breed, size, in both wet and dry formulations, to help your kitten get exactly what it needs for better digestion and overall health.

“Kittens eat little and often and go to the toilet more frequently when young because their digestive tract is immature – they’re not as efficient at digesting their food as a mature cat is,” says Hemmings.

Adult cats also prefer the little and often style of eating and thrive on a diet of easily digestible, high-quality meat and vegetable proteins that provide essential amino acids. “It’s much better for their digestive health to graze throughout 24 hours. It also helps them keep to an ideal weight, provided you don’t allow them to exceed their daily ration,” says Hemmings.

There is a direct correlation between what you feed your cat and their health – poor nutrition causes digestive issues and can result in health problems, such as pancreatitis and constipation. Changes in bowel movements can be a sign something is wrong.

“Faeces should be easy to scoop up, not sloppy or crumbly. It’s just the right size, not too much, not too little. Also watch out if it looks like your cat or kitten is straining to go to the toilet, perhaps sitting but not passing anything, or when they do it is lumpy/crumbly – this may be a sign of constipation,” says Hemmings.

Constipation is often triggered by a lack of water and can cause major health issues. “Cats prefer running water, that’s a genetic throwback because sitting water could be tainted, so they won’t drink it,” says Hemmings.

“Water bowls should be at least half a metre away from cat food, or better still get a water fountain. Constipation is serious for cats; it can be painful and may need veterinary intervention.”

Illustration of cat drinking from fountain

Stress can also trigger changes to a cat’s toilet habits, says animal behaviourist Debbie Connolly. “Any change should be noted. If they start to defecate next to the tray or in another place entirely, consider stress factors: have you moved? Introduced another animal or new human to the household? These small things can be triggers – seek specialist help if you are worried.”

Although nobody is expecting you to be a feline faecal expert, there are a few different poo properties that even the untrained eye can look out for. But remember, if any changes concern you, always check with a vet.

Usually determined by the food they eat, dark, meat-based food produces darker faeces, whereas food with a high chicken content will be paler. A change to the protein source in their food can result in a change in colour.

Warning: Stools that are black or tinged with blood suggest serious digestive health issues, so make sure you consult your vet if you notice this.

A healthy bowel movement should be firm, not runny or sticky. Loose stools suggest diarrhoea, which needs veterinary treatment. Kittens are more prone to diarrhoea – their digestive tract is developing, and their immunity is low. They also dehydrate quickly, so always consult your vet if your kitten has diarrhoea. Chalky or lumpy poo suggests a lack of water, so speak with your vet, and change how you provide water for your cat.

Cat poo should not have an overly strong smell associated with it. If the cat’s diet is too high in protein, or the protein isn’t easily digestible, it can result in heightened aromas.

Tip: “Avoid highly scented litter,” says Hemmings. “Cats don’t like it, they also like litter to be deep enough to bury their faeces and soft on their paws.”

Your cat shouldn’t go to the toilet more than a couple of times a day. If you’re guilty of overfeeding your cat, improving the quality of its food to a more scientifically formulated option it can graze on throughout the day will ensure your cat isn’t eating more than it should. Make sure you seek veterinary advice if frequency increases.

Long-haired breeds such as persians can be at risk of furballs. Passing hair through their digestive system is natural and normal for cats and the best way to eliminate ingested hair. If your cat frequently vomits hairballs, you should consider a specialist hairball diet to help drag hair through the digestive system.

Roundworms look like small grains of rice; tapeworms live in the gut, and both are detrimental to your cat’s health.

Tip: Cats can get worms from ingesting fleas in their coat when grooming – ask your vet for a dual treatment programme.

If you are at all worried about your cat’s health, you should always consult your vet. For nutritional advice, visit