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Gastroenteritis in Cats

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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Acute vomiting and diarrhea are characterized by a sudden onset and short duration of less than two to three weeks. Acute vomiting, a reflex act that results in the forceful ejection of gastric (stomach) and/or duodenal (intestinal) contents through the mouth, and diarrhea, an increase in fecal water content with an accompanying increase in the frequency, fluidity, or volume of bowel movements, are both extremely common in the cat.

An occasional bout of vomiting and diarrhea is quite common in cats however, severe, acute vomiting and diarrhea is not normal, and can be associated with life threatening illnesses. It can cause extreme fluid loss, acid-base imbalance, and electrolyte disturbance.

What To Watch For

  • A continuation or worsening of signs (greater than several days)
  • Dehydration
  • Depression
  • Listlessness
  • The presence of blood in the stool or vomit.

    General Causes

  • Dietary indiscretion – eating inappropriate food/material
  • Dietary intolerance
  • Infectious agents – bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic
  • Drugs and toxins
  • Obstruction/blockage – intussusception, which is telescoping of the bowel into itself; masses/tumors; foreign bodies        
  • Metabolic disorders – kidney and liver disease, diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroid-dogs, hypoadrenocorticism
  • Abdominal disorders – pancreatitis, peritonitis, pyometra, prostatitis, sepsis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Miscellaneous – gastroduodenal ulcers, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, stress, gastrointestinal lymphosarcoma (cancer)

    Veterinary Care

    Diagnostic Tests

    Many cases of acute vomiting and diarrhea are short lived, resolve easily and do not require an extensive diagnostic evaluation. Diagnostics should be performed on those pets that are having severe vomiting and diarrhea, are exhibiting other systemic signs of illness, or when the vomitus or stool contains blood. These tests may include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Biochemical profile
  • Resting thyroid (T4) level in cats older than 6
  • Feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus in all cats
  • Urinalysis
  • Abdominal radiographs (X-rays)
  • Multiple fecal examinations


    There are several things your veterinarian might recommend to treat your pet symptomatically. The principal goals of symptomatic therapy are to restore and maintain fluid and electrolyte imbalances and to completely rest the gastrointestinal tract.

  • Fluid and electrolyte therapy
  • Drugs that coat and sooth the GI tract
  • Drugs that symptomatically stop vomiting and diarrhea
  • Nothing orally for several hours, with a gradual introduction of water followed by a bland diet

    Home Care

    Call your veterinarian, and follow all recommendations regarding feeding and medication. This will probably include withholding all food and water. Observe your pet very closely. If clinical signs are not improving over a day or two, and/or your pet is getting worse, have your pet evaluated at once.

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