As a cat parent, cleaning out the litter box may not be one of your favorite activities (if it is, we have plenty of litter boxes for you here!) But did you know that checking cat poop to ensure it's a normal color and shape is one of the most important things you can do to keep your feline friend healthy?
Most cats poop at least once a day, and cat stool is a great indicator of your kitty's state of health. It can tell you if she's experiencing a blockage or an underlying illness, or if her cat food isn't agreeing with her.
By familiarizing yourself with what "good poop" looks like, you can ensure that you're equipped to recognize when her stool doesn't seem normal.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Cat Poop: What to Look For
Healthy poop is generally malleable (like modeling clay: not too soft, not too hard) and shaped like a Tootsie Roll. This is considered the gold standard for poop: Your kitty is passing her stool normally. Healthy stool is dark brown in color, but not too dark, as blackish poop can mean blood in the stool. Poop that is too light also may indicate a more serious issue like liver disease as it can be an indication that there is complete obstruction of the bile duct says PetWave.
Small, hard balls of poop are considered abnormal and unhealthy because they can be an indicator of constipation. This is a serious issue for cats because it may indicate problematic health concerns like neurological or metabolic conditions or a colon obstruction, notes International Cat Care. According to Wag!, the fact that your cat is constipated may also indicate that she is dehydrated. You should definitely call your vet if your cat passes small, hard balls of stool.
You should also be on the lookout for soft or liquid-like stool that has no discernible shape. Cat diarrhea is caused by a variety of things, from bacterial infections to intestinal parasites to food intolerance. If you aren't looking closely, you may mistake liquid stool for urine. Make sure you always take a good, close look at what you're scooping or use a pair of disposable gloves to test the texture.
Not all unusual cat poop is cause for panic, but it does require careful observation. Your cat may have diarrhea for a day or two after a change in food or a stressful car trip, notes the Cornell Feline Health Center. But if this type of stool persists for more than two days or is accompanied by "poor appetite, lethargy, or vomiting," take your cat to the vet immediately, says Cornell's Dr. Richard Goldstein. It's better to be on the safe side.
Preparing Cat Stool Samples
At each annual visit, your vet will ask for a stool sample so the lab can perform tests on the fecal matter. Samples are best collected in approved plastic containers, which your vet's office will provide. But you also can pick up a container at the office before your appointment, or purchase one online or at a pet supply store. Just remember: The lab will need a fresh sample, so it's important not to collect your treasure from the litter box until the day that you drop it off at the vet. Once you scoop the fecal matter into the approved plastic sample container, make sure to jot down the date and time of collection so the vet's office has accurate information.
Multiple Cats, Multiple Checks
If you have more than one cat, you do not necessarily have to collect a sample from each individual animal unless your vet specifically asks you to do so. If you find bloody stool, though, you'll probably have to be on litter box patrol to determine which cat may be experiencing a health issue. Of course, if one cat is ill, the others may be, too. If you notice a serious issue with one cat, try to isolate her with her own litter box until you can bring her to the vet.
Believe it or not, your cat's stool can tell you a lot about her well-being. By incorporating a stool check into your daily litter box maintenance routine, you can help to keep her in tip-top shape and provide her with a clean, healthy environment.
Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.