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Vomiting and diarrhea are the most common symptoms seen in cats. They can occur alone or together. It can be a very minor self-limiting problem or a very significant major problem.
Below are some common questions pet owners ask when their cat has vomiting and diarrhea. The focus of this article will be on how you can care for these problems at home.
What is vomiting and diarrhea in cats?
Vomiting is the act of expelling contents from the stomach through the mouth. Diarrhea is the act of having abnormally loose or liquid stools. This can also be associated with an increased frequency of bowel movements. Some cats will have a large amount of liquid or abnormally loose stools once and others will have semi-formed stools frequently with straining.
What causes vomiting and diarrhea in cats?
Vomiting and diarrhea can be caused by a variety of problems including eating too much, eating something that is not digestible, changes in the cat’s food, eating spoiled food or garbage, infectious agents (including bacterial, viruses or parasites), as well as systemic problems such as cancer, diabetes, pancreatitis, kidney disease or liver disease. For a full list of possible causes – go to: Gastroenteritis in Cats
Vomiting and diarrhea can affect your cat by causing extreme fluid loss, which leads to dehydration, electrolyte disturbances and/or acid-base imbalances.
A common question that pet owners often ask is, “What can I do at home?”
Home treatment of vomiting and diarrhea in cats
Specific treatments of vomiting and diarrhea are dependent on the cause. Here is the general approach to treating vomiting and diarrhea:
- Administer only prescribed medications. Please check with your veterinarian before giving ANY medications. Some medications are dangerous to cats.
- Dealing with both vomiting and diarrhea can be difficult. Often with Vomiting we hold food for 2 to 4 hours – with Diarrhea sometimes is it longer. These are general guidelines. If your cat is acting sick, lethargic or the Vomiting and/or diarrhea continues – PLEASE see your veterinarian.
- Withhold food and water for two hours. Oftentimes the stomach lining may be very irritated. Some cats will want to eat even though their stomach is irritated, and they will continue to vomit. Give the stomach time to rest for a few hours.
- After waiting for two hours, if your cat has not vomited, offer small amounts of water (a few tablespoons at a time). Continue to offer small amounts of water ever 20 minutes or so until your pet is hydrated. Some cats won’t drink water. You can offer fresh water, water in a different bowl, top off the water bowl with fresh water, or adding ice cubes to the water can encourage some cats to drink. Sometimes offering tuna juice can stimulate cats to drink.
- If there has been no vomiting after the small increments of water are offered, then you may gradually offer a bland diet.
- Small frequent feedings of a bland digestible diet such as: Hill’s Prescription Diet Feline i/d. You can make a homemade diet of boiled chicken. Don’t over feed as your cat as they may eat the entire bowl and vomit again. Feed an approximately inch square piece of meat – cut up into smaller pieces. If there is no vomiting, offer a small amount more about one hour later. Give small amounts frequently – every three to four hours for the first day. You can gradually increase the amount and decrease the frequency as your cat tolerates.
- Many veterinarians recommend Pepcid AC® (generic name is Famotidine) to decrease stomach acid. This helps many pets. The dosage most commonly used is 0.25 to 0.5 mg per pound (0.5 to 1.0 mg/kg) every 12 to 24 hours. A 10-pound cat should get about 2.5 to 5 mg (total dose) once to twice daily. This is an oral medication, which can be found at most pharmacies in the antacid section. Pepcid (Famotidine) does not require a prescription. It is often used for three to five days.
- Feed the bland diet for two days.
- Then gradually return to regular cat food over the next one to two days. At first, mix a little of your cat’s regular food into the bland diet. Feed that for one meal. Then feed a 50/50 mix for one meal. Then feed ¾ cat food and ¼ bland diet for a meal. Then, return to feeding your cat’s regular food.
- If your cat goes out – keep your cat in until you know his problems has resolved. Observe your cat’s general activity and appetite. Watch closely for the presence of blood in the stool, worsening of signs or the onset of vomiting.
- Have your cat examined by your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns.
- Medication should never be administered without first consulting your veterinarian. Please do not administer to cats without first consulting with a veterinarian to avoid toxicity.
- This is important! If the vomiting and/or diarrhea continue or worsen, if you note blood in the vomit or feces, or if other symptoms appear, call your veterinarian promptly. If your pet is not eating, if he acts lethargic, if the vomiting continues or if any other physical abnormalities mentioned above begin, it is important to see your veterinarian. Your pet needs the professional care your veterinarian can provide. If your pet is having the clinical signs mentioned above expect your veterinarian to perform some diagnostic tests and to make treatment recommendations dependent upon the severity and the nature of the clinical signs.
When are vomiting and diarrhea an emergency in cats?
If the vomiting and/or diarrhea continue after your pet eats, if your pet doesn’t want to eat or if your pet acts lethargic, medical attention is warranted. Please see your veterinarian.
If your cat is losing weight, if you see blood in the vomit or feces, or if your cat has ineffective vomiting (he is retching but unable to product vomit), this is an important medical emergency.
Great links for more information on vomiting and diarrhea in cats
Disclaimer: Advice given in the Home Care series of articles is not meant to replace veterinary care. When your pet has a problem, it is always best to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. But in some cases, it is not always possible to seek veterinary care. You could be traveling, it could be after hours and there are no 24-hour clinics near you, or maybe you simply can’t afford it. Whatever the reason, when your pet has a problem, you need answers. Most vets will not give you any information over the phone – they will tell you to bring your pet in for an office visit. So, when these difficult situations arise, many pet owners don’t know what to do – and they end up doing the wrong thing because they don’t have sound veterinary advice. When your pet has a problem and you can’t see your vet, the information in this series of articles can help guide you so that you will not inadvertently cause harm to your pet. However, this information is not a replacement for veterinary care.