Vomiting in Cats: Causes and Treatments
The most common cause of vomiting is swallowing hair or some other indigestible foreign material, such as grass, that is irritating to the stomach. Most cats experience this at one time or another. Intestinal parasites may also cause stomach irritation. Other common causes are overeating or eating too fast. When kittens gobble their food and exercise immediately thereafter, they are likely to vomit. This kind of vomiting is not serious. It may be the result of feeding several kittens from a single pan, which encourages rapid eating. Separating kittens or feeding smaller meals often eliminates this problem.
If the cat vomits once or twice but appears perfectly normal before and after, the problem is not serious and can be treated at home. Vomiting unrelated to eating is frequently a sign of an infectious disease, kidney or liver disease, or a central nervous system disorder. Diseases frequently associated with vomiting include feline panleukopenia, tonsillitis, sore throat, inflammatory bowel disease, and infected uterus (acute metritis). Other signs of illness will be present. In young cats, sudden vomiting with fever is suspicious of panleukopenia.
It is often possible to understand your cat's problem by noticing how and when he vomits. Note whether it is repeated, and if so, whether it is sporadic or persistent. How soon after eating does it occur? Is it projectile? Inspect the vomitus for blood, fecal material, and foreign objects.
The cat vomits, then continues to retch, bringing up a frothy, clear fluid. This suggests spoiled food, grass, hairballs, other indigestibles, and certain diseases such as infectious enteritis, which irritate the stomach lining.
Sometimes a cat vomits off and on over a period of days or weeks. There is no relationship to meals. The appetite is poor. The cat has a haggard look and appears listless. Suspect liver or kidney disease, or an illness such as chronic gastritis, irritable bowel disease, hairballs, a heavy worm infestation, or diabetes mellitus.
A foreign body in the stomach is another possibility. In an older cat, suspect a gastric or intestinal tumor. A veterinary checkup is in order.
Red blood in the vomitus indicates active bleeding somewhere between the mouth and the upper small bowel. This is most commonly caused by a foreign body. Material that looks like coffee grounds is old, partially digested blood. This also indicates a bleeding point between the mouth and upper small bowel.
Any cat who vomits blood has a serious condition and must be seen right away by a veterinarian.
A cat who vomits foul material that looks and smells like feces is most likely suffering from intestinal obstruction or peritonitis. Blunt or penetrating abdominal trauma is another cause of fecal vomiting. Seek immediate professional treatment.
Projectile vomiting is forceful vomiting in which the stomach contents are ejected suddenly, often a considerable distance. It indicates a complete blockage in the upper gastrointestinal tract. Foreign bodies, hairballs, tumors, and strictures are possible causes. Brain diseases that cause increased intracranial pressure also produce projectile vomiting. They include brain tumor, encephalitis, and blood clots.
Home Treatment of Vomiting
If there is any question about the cause or seriousness of the vomiting, seek veterinary help. Vomiting cats can rapidly become dehydrated as they lose body fluids and electrolytes. If vomiting is combined with diarrhea, the likelihood of dehydration increases dramatically. Consult your veterinarian if vomiting persists for more than 24 hours, if the cat becomes dehydrated, or if vomiting recurs.
Home treatment is appropriate only for normal, healthy adult cats who show no signs other than vomiting. Kittens, cats with preexisting health conditions, and older cats are less able to tolerate dehydration and should be treated by a veterinarian.
When the stomach responds promptly, the foreign material is expelled. Afterward, an important initial step is to rest the stomach by withholding food and water for a minimum of 12 hours. If your cat appears thirsty, allow him to lick ice cubes.
After 12 hours, if the vomiting stops, offer sips of water. A pediatric electrolyte solution can be given in small amounts, in addition to the water.
If the water is well tolerated, advance to a strained meat baby food (low in fat and with no onion powder). Offer four to six small meals a day for the next two days. Then return to a regular diet.
This article is excerpted from “ Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.
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