Top 5 Digestive Disorder Risk Factors for Cats What Causes Digestive Disorders in Cats and How to Prevent Them

Top 5 Digestive Disorder Risk Factors for Cats

From hairballs and allergies to intestinal parasites - various factors increase your catโ€™s risk of developing digestive disorders. Learn more about the risk factors in this article.

Cats are beloved members of many households, but just like humans, they can suffer from a variety of health conditions. One area of concern for cat owners is the digestive system. Cats, like other animals, can develop a number of disorders that affect their ability to digest food properly and absorb nutrients. 

In this article, we will explore the top 5 risk factors for digestive disorders in cats. From diet to genetics, there are many factors that can contribute to the development of these conditions. Understanding the causes and risk factors for digestive disorders can help cat owners take steps to protect their feline friends from developing these conditions.

Intestinal Parasites

Intestinal parasites, also known as worms, are a common cause of digestive disorders in cats. These parasites can live in the intestinal tract of the cat and feed off of the food that the cat eats. Some common types of intestinal parasites in cats include:

  • Roundworms: These are the most common type of intestinal parasite in cats. They are long and round and can grow up to four inches in length. They can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and a pot-bellied appearance in cats.

  • Hookworms: These worms are smaller than roundworms and attach themselves to the lining of the cat's intestines. They can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and anemia.

  • Tapeworms: These worms are flat and segmented, and they attach themselves to the cat's intestines. They can cause weight loss, vomiting, and anal itching.

  • Whipworms: These worms are thin and whip-like and live in the large intestine. They can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and rectal bleeding.

Intestinal parasites can be transmitted through contact with infected feces, eating infected prey, or even through fleas that carry the larvae. Regular deworming and check-ups with a veterinarian are important to prevent and keep these parasites in check.

Symptoms of intestinal parasites in cats can include vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal discomfort, and poor coat condition. In some cases, however, cats may show no visible signs of infection. That is why regular check-ups with a veterinarian and stool testing are important to ensure the cat is not carrying any parasites.



Hairballs, also known as trichobezoars, are a common digestive issue in cats. Cats groom themselves frequently, and in the process, they can swallow a lot of hair. This hair can collect in the stomach and form a hairball, which can cause a blockage in the intestinal tract if not passed out.

Hairballs are most commonly seen in long-haired cats, but any cat can develop them. Symptoms of hairballs can include vomiting, retching, and loss of appetite. In some cases, the cat may bring up a hairball, which is usually cylindrical and can be up to several inches long.

To prevent hairballs, it's important to groom your cat regularly. This will remove loose hair and reduce the amount that your cat ingests during grooming. Special cat grooming tools, like a shedding blade or a grooming rake, can be helpful in removing loose hair from a cat's coat. Some commercial cat foods also have hairball control formulas, which are formulated to reduce hairballs by promoting healthy digestion.

It's also a good idea to monitor your cat's stools to ensure that hairballs are passing through their system and not becoming lodged in their intestinal tract. If your cat is showing signs of a blockage, such as vomiting or constipation, or if you suspect a hairball is causing a problem, it's important to seek veterinary attention. Your vet may be able to remove the hairball through endoscopy or surgery if needed.

While vomiting hairballs is common among cats and not generally serious, if your cat is vomiting frequently or if they have other symptoms such as loss of appetite, weight loss, or lethargy, it's important to consult a veterinarian as it could be an indication of other underlying health issues. You should also consider giving your cat nutritional supplements to minimize the problem of hairballs.


Foreign Bodies

Foreign bodies are another common cause of digestive disorders in cats. Cats are curious animals, and they can accidentally ingest a wide variety of objects, such as toys, strings, ribbons, buttons, rubber bands, or even small pieces of plastic or foil. These foreign bodies can become lodged in the gastrointestinal tract and cause blockages.

Ingestion of foreign bodies can cause a wide range of symptoms, including vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and abdominal discomfort. In some cases, the cat may not show any visible signs of illness, but the foreign body can still cause damage to the digestive tract.

Foreign bodies can also be ingested due to behavioral issues, such as Pica (the consumption of non-food items), which is relatively common in cats. Cats with underlying psychological conditions like stress or anxiety might start consuming objects around them as a coping mechanism, and it could lead to more serious problems if not addressed.

Preventing foreign body ingestion in cats can be challenging, but it's important to keep small objects, such as toys with small parts or string, out of reach of cats. It's also a good idea to supervise your cat when they are playing to ensure that they do not ingest anything they shouldn't.

If you suspect that your cat has ingested a foreign body, it's important to seek veterinary attention immediately. Your vet may be able to retrieve the foreign body through endoscopy or surgery. In some cases, the foreign body may need to be removed surgically.

In cases of pica-related ingestion, your vet might refer to a behaviorist or recommend behavior modification techniques in order to help the cat change its habits.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder that causes inflammation in the lining of the cat's intestines. It can cause a wide range of symptoms, including diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and abdominal pain. IBD can be caused by a variety of factors, including food allergies, infections, and immune system disorders.

The exact cause of IBD is not well understood, but it is believed to be caused by an abnormal immune response to normal gut bacteria. This leads to chronic inflammation in the gut, which causes the symptoms seen in IBD.

IBD can be a difficult condition to diagnose as the symptoms are often nonspecific and can be caused by other health problems such as worms, infections, and other diseases. Your veterinarian will likely perform a series of tests such as blood tests, fecal examinations, radiographs, and even biopsies to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for IBD typically involves a combination of dietary management, medication, and in some cases, surgery. A veterinarian may recommend a special diet, often a hydrolyzed protein diet, to help manage the condition and reduce inflammation. Medications such as corticosteroids and immunosuppressants may be prescribed to reduce inflammation in the gut. In some severe cases, surgery may be required to remove the affected section of the gut.

IBD is a chronic condition that requires ongoing management. With the right treatment and management, however, many cats with IBD can live long and comfortable lives.

To help prevent IBD, cat owners should be mindful of their cat's diets and avoid giving them table scraps or unfamiliar foods that could cause an allergic reaction. It's also a good idea to have regular check-ups with a veterinarian to monitor their health and detect any problems early on.


Food Allergy/Intolerance

Food allergies and food intolerances are common causes of digestive issues in cats. Cats can develop an allergic reaction to certain proteins or carbohydrates found in their food, which can cause inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and lead to symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort.

Food allergies and food intolerances can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be similar to those of other health conditions, such as worms, infections, and IBD. Food allergies are caused by an abnormal immune response to a specific protein or carbohydrate, whereas food intolerance is a non-immune response to an ingredient, usually lactose.

The most common symptoms of food allergies in cats include vomiting, diarrhea, skin itching, and irritated skin. These symptoms can be caused by a reaction to a specific ingredient, such as chicken, fish, or beef, or to a specific carbohydrate, such as corn or wheat.

To diagnose a food allergy, veterinarians will typically recommend an elimination diet trial. This involves switching the cat to a diet that contains a novel protein source that the cat has never been exposed to, such as duck, or kangaroo, along with a carbohydrate the cat has never been exposed to, such as sweet potato or quinoa. If the symptoms resolve, then the veterinarian will know that the cat is allergic or intolerant to the previous food source and can recommend a food source that the cat can tolerate.

Treatment for food allergies and food intolerances typically involves changing the cat's diet to one that does not contain the offending ingredient. In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend a prescription hypoallergenic diet, which is specially formulated to reduce the chances of an allergic reaction. If your cat is fond of treats, it is a good idea to get hypoallergenic treats for them. Some cats may require a combination of diet changes, medications, and other treatments in order to manage their symptoms.


With the right care and attention, many digestive disorders can be prevented or managed. By being aware of the risk factors and taking steps to protect your cat from them, you can help ensure that your feline friend stays healthy and happy for many years to come.

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