Weaning Diarrhoea in Kittens and Puppies

01 Sep 2023


Written by Dr. Julie Summerfield
BVSc, Royal Canin Scientific Services Veterinarian


Among your youngest patients, diarrhoea and gastrointestinal disease will be a very common reason to present to your clinic — alongside the usual check ups vaccinations and other preventative visits.

Gastrointestinal disorders are more common in puppies and kittens due to the nature of their immature gastrointestinal tracts and immune systems. They are also particularly vulnerable because they are weaning from their mothers and the maternally derived antibody protection is dwindling while their own antibodies are still forming, leading to an immunity gap.

At the same time, they are beginning to socialise more widely with people and animals and encountering further potential sources of infection. They are also being exposed to different diets, other immune challenges and stresses.

This can lead to gastrointestinal disturbances such as diarrhoea, vomiting, constipation and maldigestion. Specific causes can vary from parasitic, infectious (including bacterial, viral and protozoal), as well as other environmental stresses including change in diet. Lots of variables determine the severity including innate immunity, pathogen virulence, co-infections, environmental support, or lack of, and of course nutrition plays an enormous role.

Because of limited energy and metabolic reserves in these puppies and kittens, dehydration and hypoglycemia can occur rapidly and have a severe impact on  health and prognosis. There can also be long lasting effects on the structure of the gut lining from inflammation and functional loss.

Starving for any time to rest the gut is no longer recommended. Studies have demonstrated the benefits of feeding during acute episodes of diarrhoea as it helps to maintain the integrity of the digestive tract, limits destruction of the intestinal villi, intestinal permeability, and bacterial translocation. Puppies suffering from parvovirus that are given early enteral feeding show quicker weight gain and better recovery of normal appetite and stool quality, compared to puppies fasted until vomiting ceases.[1]

Highly digestible foods should be offered to ensure transition between milk and solid food, and rationing to avoid diarrhoea from overconsumption is important — the daily ration should be divided typically into four small meals to aid digestion. Appropriate caloric intake is key for young patients to prevent hypoglycaemia and hypothermia, as they have a high metabolic rate and limited reserves.

Diet needs to be formulated for growth with adequate nutrients such as calcium and protein, as well as antioxidants to support immunity. Apart from high energy from protein and fat, prebiotics and balanced fibres support digestion and gut transit. This helps maintain a healthy microbiome, which is key to strengthening immunity, barrier defence and functional absorptive health of the gut.

While medications may be required for specific disease, an multifaceted approach is important. This should involve nutritional intervention, including high digestibility to help prevent inflammation, maldigestion and malnutrition, while prebiotic fibre promotes the “good” gut bacterial population. Managing gastrointestinal dysbiosis and restoring balance is the goal for good digestive health and this of course, must include nourishing the gut itself.


[1] Mohr AJ, Leisewitz AL, Jacobson LS, Steiner JM, Ruaux CG, Williams DA. Effect of early enteral nutrition on intestinal permeability, intestinal protein loss, and outcome in dogs with severe parvoviral enteritis. J Vet Intern Med. 2003 Nov-Dec;17(6):791