This is an article that was printed in several newsletters for Tonkinese and Siamese. It gives similar information to the Bowel Problems page, but perhaps in a more ‘digestible’ form, and I have put it here in case it can be of help.

Yes, I admit it, I'm a poo-watcher.

I caught myself the other day chortling with glee as I cleaned out the litter trays in the kitten room. The object(s) of my mirth (or rather gloating satisfaction) were the hard little lumps of healthy poo in the bottom of the tray. I had just suffered through a week of wobbly tummies, and had been mixing slippery elm and probiotics into their food and giving them rehydration salts to drink, and it had finally come right without recourse to any antibiotics.

I'm not alone, I know. Most breeders and owners of large 'colonies' of feline residents find themselves checking for the health of their friends at the bottom of the smelliest box in the house. Oh, and incidentally, the smell and quantity of what is in there, is down to what you put in the front end! I had a friend who couldn't stand the pong made by his two indoor Siamese, until he put them onto Burns food, and he said the smell almost disappeared. With my own cats, I notice that the kittens poo for England on commercial sachets (at least 3 times a day each kitten), but the moment I put them on white fish or raw rabbit their output decreases dramatically, and the smell almost disappears. It really makes you wonder how much rubbish is put into the commercial food, if so much of it has to be ejected at the other end, and it makes such a stink.

Paracelsus was a 16th-century Swiss physician (and alchemist, astrologer and occultist) who - in my humble opinion - had exceptional insight into the workings of the intestines, particularly for his times. He believed that every and any ill manifested in man could be diagnosed through a close examination of what man eliminated from his body (he was one of the first poo-watchers). Given that cats can't tell us when they feel a bit dodgy, we rely on things like their eyes, coat, behaviour, body language and so on to tell us when they're ill. But they still can't tell us what is wrong. Poo-watching is a time-honoured way of spotting problems when they are in their infancy. Even if the cat hasn't got a tummy bug, a change in colour or consistency, or even frequency and quantity, can tell you a lot about what is going on with your cat.

Obviously tummy upsets are the first thing you notice, and you usually don't need to look in the litter tray to find out about those: you can smell them a mile off! But there are more complicated things going on in the body that you might not think are worth noting: pale or white-ish poo (for instance) can indicate an excess of fat in the faeces, which could be due to the liver or gall bladder not functioning correctly (since both organs produce chemicals that should break down fats and allow them to be absorbed).

However, I'm not just being gratuitously gross here. One of the commonest chronic problems with cats is a disfunctional gut, and most vets will only deal with these things with drugs or surgery, ignoring the wealth of non-invasive and non-drug solutions available.

I had a cat who suffered from chronic constipation. I didn't realise she had this problem at first, but she kept getting abscesses on her behind, which must have been very painful and unpleasant for her. We worked out in the end that she was biting herself because she was so uncomfortable with being unable to defecate. We put her onto some capsules that contained Peridale, an inorganic silica that swells up and absorbs moisture, and cannot be absorbed, so it goes all the way through and out the back end. It's also used in treating diarrhoea as it absorbs excess liquid and helps to slow down the transit of food through the gut. In my cat's case it was used to maintain a certain level of water content in the bowel right the way through from stomach to colon. Amazing. She started to use the tray once a day like clockwork, and her 'output' was a much healthier colour and consistency. No more abscesses either.

This same cat eventually developed mega-colon, and it's probable that the original constipation was due to the early slowing down of her gut. Megacolon is a condition where the gut is no longer able to push things along the intestines, and eventually the cat becomes completely blocked up. There are drugs which help - Peridale is often used, and there are other things which improve muscle tone, but in many cases if you want to keep your cat alive you will be told that the vet will have to remove a section of its long intestine. This is a surprisingly successful solution, but in my opinion is often completely unnecessary. Why? Rhubarb is why. For centuries, rhubarb has been a remedy to aid with constipation. Rhubarb encourages the muscles of the intestines to contract correctly, pushing the food down through the system and eventually out the back.

My cat was given a poor life-expectancy without surgery, but I found some tablets called 'Aloe-Vera Colon Cleanse', which had a high rhubarb content. I liked the idea of Aloe Vera as well, since it has excellent tissue regeneration and healing effects, speeding up healing by up to 40% in some recorded cases. The most importan thing though was the rhubarb - I had had great difficulty in finding rhubarb on its own, and this was the best source I could get. The tablets were huge, but fortunately Pumpkin was easy to pill. (The preparation also comes as a liquid, but as you might imagine is quite bitter, and often flavoured with cranberry for the benefit of humans. I don't think I would have got the liquid form down her). However, we went on to one-a-day with the tablets, and Pumpkin lived happily for a further four years, without the need for any surgery, enemas, or any under-anaesthetic unblocking procedures. So if you have this problem, remember the old remedies. Your vet probably won't suggest it, and won't be able to obtain anything containing rhubarb for you, but most health food shops stock it, and of course you can find it on the internet.

The other end of the scale (but not the other end of the cat) is the poor animal who has suffered with chronic irritable bowel problems, and ends up with permanent diarrhoea. This is distressing for everyone, to say nothing of the cat. Vets seem to throw in the towel with cats like this, once they have assured themselves that there is nothing viral or bacterial causing the problem. I know there are quite a few people in the Tonkinese world who have cats with this problem, and you may not know that there are lots of things you can do to help your cat, without resorting to expensive and usually ineffective drug treatments.

Prolonged diarrhoea can be self-perpetuating, and con continue long after a cat actually has no viral or bacterial infection present, because the gut has become habituated to behaving the wrong way, or has been so damaged that it cannot normalise. The intestines are lined with little hairy protrusions called cilia - these increase the surface area of the gut to improve its capability for absorption. If the gut is misbehaving, the cilia can get rubbed off, which means the lining can no longer do its job. The food that should move slowly through the gut rushes through, rubbing off any new cilia that are trying to grow, so the gut cannot repair itself. One of the keys in managing intestinal problems is to present the cat with tiny quantities of food - only a couple of spoonsful - at frequent intervals. Large meals only make things worse. You also need to cut down on things that have a bulky waste product - the usual suspects are those tins and sachets. However, don't go onto something like raw meat, as that is relatively indigestible. The best thing is cooked white fish - NOT oily fish, like tuna or sardines - but coley or cod, and make sure there is no chance of bones. White fish has a very low residue, and tends to be absorbed much higher up in the gut than meat (mostly in the stomach). It's not all that good for your cat if fed permanently, but for a couple of months it won't do any harm.

Secondly, you need to support the gut lining in repairing itself. I would wholeheartedly recommend Aloe Vera. Many people take it themselves for irritable bowel syndrome, but for some reason never consider that it might also help their cat! It really helps the healing process, and it is very soothing. Secondly, give the cat Slippery Elm. This is one of the real 'grandmother's remedies' preparations, but there is a scientific background to it. General Grant's troops survived for a week on nothing but slippery elm bark (though it didn't do the trees much good), as it has excellent nutritional properties. Slippery Elm is composed of long-chain molecules. For the non-scientific among us, that means SLIME. And slime will coat and protect the stomach and intestines while more lumpy and possibly irritating foods are going down. These two things will discourage the gut from spasming automatically as soon as it receives food. Beyond that, you need to concentrate on slowing everything down. Back to the Peridale. Because this is a non-drug 'drug', you can give as much of it as you need without side-effects. There is a preferred dose, but there is no possible overdose. If the food your cat eats is rushing through the gut, you can slow it down by making it less liquid. Peridale will absorb the moisture that the gut is failing to absorb, thereby slowing down its transit through the system. By doing this you are calming the gut, and reminding it how to behave normally, as well as stopping the activity that is preventing the gut lining from healing.

Rehydration salts are more easily absorbed than water, and most cats if offered two bowls, will drain the one with the rehydration salts in before the normal water. DON'T use human rehydration preparations: cats have a different electrolyte balance from humans, and I saw one dreadfully ill litter of kittens who were being killed simply because the owner was giving them Dioralyte instead of Lectade, thinking to save money. Aloe Vera and Slippery Elm can be mixed with the fish, and most cats also seem to like this. If you are brave enough to move back onto meat, then you can continue to mix the SE and AV with the food.

Kaolin is also useful in slowing things down. Again, this isn't a drug, it's actually clay. it absorbs moisture and encourages the gut contents to harden. Usually the vet will give it to you in liquid form, which is a recipe for washing down the walls, but you can get it in tablet form from Denes, who do a good range of natural and herbal remedies. Dorwest also do natural veterinary products, including 'Tree Barks Powder', which is mostly Slippery Elm, but also includes White Poplar Bark - even better than SE, but more expensive, so it's used sparingly. Cats who vomit a lot (without being ill) benefit from SE and Aloe Vera, as they are usually vomiting because of chronic irritable bowel problems.

So you've helped the thing to calm down, but you also need to support the gut flora, as that is probably completely out of whack as well. I would avoid yogurt, natural or otherwise. Our cats are lactose intolerant, and anything milk-based will give them the wobblies again. Incidentally - did you know that they are lactose intolerant? You aboslutely MUSTN'T let your Tonkinese (or Burmese or Siamese) drink milk! they shouldn't get cheese either, no matter what they say. I had a cat who nearly died from Whiskas cat milk. It was the only thing she was eating, and I was too stupid to see that it was the cause of her horrendous liquid diarrhoea. Fortunately I did work it out in time. But back to gut flora - get probiotics from your vet, and visit the health-food shop for vegetarian-based food supplements.

All this takes time to show results. Sometimes you will see an instant improvement, but sometimes it takes months. Don't give up. None of these things are harming your cat (something that can't be said for most conventional drugs), and the longer your cat has been experiencing difficulties, the longer it will take to recover. I had a rescue cat come to me after 2 years of constant diarrhoea (which is why I've found out so much about this). It took about 5 months to get her completely well, but only about 3 months to get her stabilised, mainly with Peridale, after various treatments to make sure that there was no nasty bug lurking. I also had to limit her diet very fiercely - something that was very hard for me, especially as she began to feel better and wanted more food. Often you can stop using these things when the cat is well, but sometimes, particularly if you have a cat with genetically-linked IBS, you may need to give some sort of supplement permanently to keep the cat well. It's not so hard, and just think how much relief it is giving the cat you love.

So, as I sit back and enjoy the smell of healthy poo that tells me it's time to do the trays again, I hope that my reputation isn't in tatters, and that maybe I have converted some of you to being poo-watchers as well.