Bowel incontinence in cats

Bowel or faecal incontinence happens when a cat cannot control when their poo comes out or when the process of pooing is not following its normal sequence. This is a common problem for very senior cats.


There are many possible causes for bowel incontinence. Some cats pass stools without knowing and others have some awareness but things no longer flow properly. In older cats there can be a combination of problems and an association with dementia. In younger cats, incontinence is usually due to injury or nerve problems.


What to do

What to do if your cat is incontinent

If your cat becomes incontinent suddenly, speak to a vet right away. This is especially important if they are also showing signs of pain or having trouble moving. They may have suffered nerve or spinal damage.

If the problem is intermittent or has developed slowly over time, a vet check is still important to rule out serious disease.

Check your pet frequently and remove any soiling as soon as possible to avoid skin problems and secondary infections.



Common causes of bowel incontinence in cats

If the anus loses its strength, poo will come out without the cat realising it.

Cats may also attempt to pass stools but the process may be difficult or abnormal, with faeces sometimes coming out after they leave the tray.

Some common causes are:

  • Tail pull injury: the nerves at the end of the spine are stretched and lose function. This may be temporary or permanent.
  • Traumatic spinal injury: damage to the spine from an accident or attack.
  • Sphincter incontinence: the muscles and nerves keeping the anus closed stop working properly.
  • Cognitive dysfunction or Dementia: the brain is no longer monitoring or controlling the passage of poo.
  • Tumour


When to worry

When to worry about bowel incontinence in cats

Sudden incontinence is usually due to a serious injury or disease. See a vet right away.

Progressive incontinence in older cats may be connected to other diseases, such as tumours. A vet check is recommended.

A cat that consciously passes poo in specific places outside their tray has a different type of problem, possibly related to stress or an issue they have with the tray. A vet will be able to provide further advice on this.



How to prevent bowel incontinence in cats

A healthy and balanced diet will keep the gut regular and functioning well, which may help prevent some causes of incontinence.

Regular exercise and play have the same benefits.

Treating and managing mobility problems like arthritis may have a positive impact on gut function as well.

Neutering a cat reduces how far they roam, fighting, and other behaviours that put them at risk for injury.



Things to look out for if your cat has bowel incontinence

  • Passing poo while walking, playing or resting
  • Soiling on back legs or tail
  • Straining in tray without passing anything and poo on the floor


Home treatment

Home remedies for bowel incontinence in cats

  • Treating bowel incontinence is difficult and often not effective. It is important to check if there is a hidden cause.
  • Make litter tray access easier, by providing more trays around the house or choosing ones that are easier to get into.
  • Change diet to reduce the amount of poo produced while still keeping the right amounts of all nutrients.
  • If associated with dementia, treatments for this may help.
  • Check their skin and coat for soiling frequently. Keeping them clean is important to avoid complications.
  • Keep bedding clean and dry.

Bowel incontinence is often associated with other problems that seriously impact the quality of life. If you are struggling to manage this problem or it is causing important complications, euthanasia may be the kindest option. Don’t hesitate to speak to a vet if you have concerns about this.


Vet treatment

Vet treatment for bowel incontinence in cats

A thorough physical and neurological examination (testing reflexes and muscle tone) will provide a lot of information.

  • X-rays are often used to check the amount and type of faeces present in the gut, as well as any bone or joint abnormalities
  • Ultrasound may be used if masses are suspected but is not always useful
  • Complex cases may require MRI or endoscopy.

Treating incontinence caused by spinal or nerve damage is difficult.

Pain relief is crucial, and anti-inflammatories may help.

Bone fractures may need to be stabilised.

Sphincter incontinence has no specific treatment and can only be managed. If advanced or severe, euthanasia may be discussed.



Cats at higher risk of bowel incontinence

Roaming cats are at higher risk for injuries that lead to bowel incontinence.


Other causes of bowel incontinence in cats

  • Infections or masses around the anus
  • Conditions that affect  nerve and muscle function, such as peripheral neuropathies
  • Fibrocartilaginous Thromboembolism: a blood clot, often in the blood vessels going to the spine or back end
  • Parasites in the brain or spinal cord, such as Toxoplasmosis
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