Q: We have a 14-week-old kitten that seems to be very undersized. She was the runt of the litter and is still much smaller than her litter mates. She seems to be pretty playful and energetic, but has a lot of problems with her bowels as she constantly has gas and diarrhea. What kinds of problems could she have that would be causing these issues, and do you think it could be life threatening since she is so small?
A: With such a young kitten, there are definitely a lot of possibilities. If she hasn’t been seen by a veterinarian yet, that needs to be your first priority. A thorough exam is needed to see if there are any problems that stand out right away. You need to bring a fecal sample in for analysis by your veterinarian as well, because many kittens may have one or more intestinal parasites. Even if the sample shows no specific parasites, it would be a good idea to deworm her as some parasites don’t show up in every stool sample and thus can be missed on the diagnostic test.
Blood tests may be indicated as well. Due to her chronic problems I would recommend getting a blood test for the feline leukemia virus and the FIV virus because these are both viruses that cause immunodeficiency. Other blood tests such as a blood chemistry may be helpful, but are less likely to be a cause of her chronic intestinal disease.
If these steps are taken and everything is checking out normally, you will probably have to start some food trials. Some kittens can have food sensitivities that keep them from properly absorbing nutrients. This creates more stool with larger particles in the stool, which binds to water molecules. That is where the diarrhea comes from. Talk with your veterinarian about what types of food you should try and make sure that you stick with it for the recommended amount of time. Don’t be discouraged if you have to do trials with several foods before you find one that will work.
Eventually you and your veterinarian will be able to come up with a food and treatment plan that will control the diarrhea and hopefully allow her to put on healthy weight in a normal fashion.