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Vomiting in Cats

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Vomiting may be caused by a number of disorders. A single episode of vomiting is seldom cause for concern but prolonged or excessive vomiting may be a sign of a serious underlying problem. Have your pet examined by a veterinarian if he is vomiting before he becomes seriously dehydrated or debilitated.

Different diseases will be considered as potential causes of vomiting by your veterinarian depending on your pet's medical history and physical examination. If the vomiting has been occurring for three months in an 8-year-old cat with a history of weight loss, then laboratory work and radiographs (X-rays) may be the diagnostic tests of choice. Since vomiting can be a symptom of many different diseases, numerous diagnostic tests may be needed to determine the cause of your pet's problem. The extent of the work-up should be discussed with your veterinarian.

Optimal therapy of any serious or persistent medical condition depends on establishing the correct diagnosis. There are numerous potential causes of vomiting and before any treatment can be recommended, it is important to identify the underlying cause. Initial therapy should be aimed at the underlying cause.

Diagnosis In-depth

Certain diagnostic tests must be performed to confirm the causes of vomiting. Your veterinarian may recommend a number of laboratory tests for your pet.

  • A complete blood count (CBC) may be needed to evaluate your pet for infections, inflammation, parasitic infection or anemia. A serum biochemical panel may reveal the cause of vomiting (such as diabetes, liver disease or kidney failure) or demonstrate complications of vomiting (such as abnormal blood potassium).

  • Other tests that may be recommended include: 1) a serum amylase and lipase – to evaluate for evidence of pancreatitis; 2) urinalysis – to evaluate kidney function and look for signs of infection; and/or 3) fecal examination to determine presence of parasites or blood.

  • Radiography – Plain radiography (X-rays) can help to determine if the following are present: some foreign bodies (string, etc); tumors; intussusception (where one piece of intestine prolapses into and becomes trapped in another); gastric or intestinal obstruction; and abnormalities of the kidney and liver. Contrast X-rays (X-rays performed after a contrast material such as barium or aqueous iodine has been ingested by the animal or fed via a stomach tube or given intravenously) can help in the diagnosis of some foreign bodies, show whether food empties from the stomach normally, and determine whether the urinary tract (kidneys, ureter, bladder and urethra) are normal. Aqueous iodine is preferred over barium if perforation of the stomach or intestines is suspected due to the potentially irritating effects of barium when it leaks into the abdomen.

  • Ultrasonography – an imaging technique that allows visualization of abdominal structures by recording reflection (or echos). This is a non-invasive tool that can be used for evaluation of abdominal contents.

  • Endoscopy – may be useful to diagnosis or remove certain foreign bodies that are in the stomach or to perform an examination of the stomach and a portion of the intestine. It can also be used to obtain biopsies of abnormal areas. A specialist may perform this procedure for which general anesthesia is usually required. The benefit of this procedure is that it is less invasive than surgery. Basically a fiberoptic tube is inserted into the mouth and advanced through the esophagus and into the stomach and upper small intestine. A disadvantage of endoscopy over surgery is that endoscopy only allows visualization of a small portion of the gastrointestinal tract and only partial thickness biopsies of the bowel can be taken.

  • Laparotomy – an exploratory surgery that involves opening the abdomen to look for abnormalities such as foreign bodies, tumors, intestinal obstruction or to obtain biopsies of abnormal tissues. The disadvantage of this procedure is that it requires that an abdominal incision be made. The advantage of this procedure is that all of the abdominal organ contents can be visualized and it allows some abnormalities to be repaired (for example, removal of intestinal foreign bodies). It also allows full thickness biopsies of tissues to be taken for microscopic evaluation.

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