Overview of Feline Vomiting
Vomiting in cats is the most common symptom for which cats present to veterinarians and veterinary emergency clinics. At one time or another, your cat may have a bout of vomiting. Usually, he’ll have eaten something disagreeable, eaten too much or too fast, played too soon after eating or any number of non-serious conditions. Vomiting may be a sign of a very minor problem. Or it may be a sign of something very serious.
This article will provide an overview of vomiting in cats followed by in-depth information including the many possible causes of vomiting and detailed information about diagnostic tests and possible medical therapies.
Vomiting (emesis) is the act of expelling contents from the stomach through the mouth. It’s a reflex act, involving a triggering stimulus (such as inflammation of the stomach), the central nervous system, and abdominal muscles that work together to expel the contents from the stomach. There are multiple causes of vomiting. An occasional, infrequent isolated episode of vomiting is usually normal.
Vomiting is a symptom that can be caused by disorders of the gastrointestinal system (stomach and/or intestines) or it can be secondary to a disease from a different system (such as from cancer, kidney failure, diabetes, or infectious diseases.) This can make the diagnosis of the cause of the vomiting a challenge.
Vomiting can be defined as acute (sudden onset) or chronic (longer duration of one to two weeks). The severity or concurrence of other signs will determine the recommendation of specific diagnostic tests. Important considerations include monitoring the duration and frequency of the vomiting. If your cat vomits once and then eats normally with no further vomiting, has a normal bowel movement, and is acting playful, then the problem may resolve on its own. If the vomiting continues after your cat eats or if your cat acts lethargic, or doesn’t want to eat, then medical attention is warranted.
Learn more about what you can do at home with this article – Home Care for the Vomiting Cat. It is important to know what you can NOT give a cat just as it is what is safe to give.
This is a good article about home care of cats with both vomiting and diarrhea.
What To Watch For with Vomiting in Cats
Besides the vomiting, it is important to look for associated signs that should lead you to seek professional help from your veterinarian. Signs may include:
- Dehydration – persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration. Signs of dehydration may include lethargy, weakness, and hiding.
- Abnormal behavior or physical abnormalities associated with prolonged vomiting – the presence of lethargy (reluctance to move), abdominal pain, lack of appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, blood in the vomit, or other physical abnormalities.
NOTE: Please note that vomiting differs from regurgitation. Regurgitation comes from the esophagus and often looks like undigested food. This is NOT vomiting. Vomiting comes from the stomach and is most often accompanied by nausea and involves forceful abdominal contractions. Regurgitation requires less effort and contains fluid, mucus, or undigested food from the esophagus (often tubular in shape). Unlike vomiting, regurgitation is not accompanied by nausea and does not involve forceful abdominal contractions. It is a symptom of an esophageal disease. Learn more about Regurgitation in Cats.
Diagnosis of Vomiting in Cats
Optimal therapy of any serious or persistent medical condition depends on establishing the correct diagnosis. There are numerous potential causes of vomiting in cats and before any treatment can be recommended, it is important to identify the underlying cause. Initial therapy should be aimed at the underlying cause. Tests may include:
- Complete medical history and physical examination, including abdominal palpation. Medical history will most likely include questions regarding the following: vaccination history; diet; appetite; general health; character of vomitus (frequency, progression, presence of blood duration of vomiting); weight loss; past medical problems; medication history; exposure to toxins; possible exposure or ingestion of trash; ingestion of foreign material such as string, ribbon or toys; and the presence of other gastrointestinal signs (such as lack of appetite and/or diarrhea).
- Your veterinarian may recommend a number of laboratory tests. These can include a complete blood count (CBC), a serum biochemical panel, and a urinalysis.
- A fecal examination may be recommended to determine the presence of parasites or blood.
- Plain radiography (X-rays) or contrast X-rays (X-rays performed with a contrast material such as barium or aqueous iodine), can help to determine the cause of the vomiting.
- Ultrasonography is an imaging technique that allows visualization of abdominal structures by recording reflection (or echoes).
- Endoscopy – may be useful to diagnosis or remove certain foreign bodies that are in the stomach. Endoscopy can also be used for examination of the stomach and a portion of the intestine (and potentially obtain biopsies of abnormal areas).
- Laparotomy – This is an exploratory surgery that involves the looking into the abdomen for evaluation of abnormalities.
Treatment of Vomiting in Cats
Treatments for vomiting may include one or more of the following:
- Eliminate predisposing cause such as any change in diet or eating plants.
- An acute episode of vomiting in a playful cat, in the absence of other physical abnormalities, may be treated symptomatically without hospitalization (outpatient treatment). Outpatient treatment may consist of subcutaneous fluids, injectable antiemetics (drugs used to control nausea and vomiting) and a follow-up appointment if the symptoms are not resolved immediately.
- Cats that have abdominal pain, diarrhea and act lethargic or have any other physical abnormalities, may be treated with hospitalization. Hospital therapy may include intravenous (IV) fluid administration, 24-hour monitoring, and drug therapy to stop the vomiting. This treatment is often combined with diagnostic testing to determine the cause of the vomiting.
- Sick cats may require referral to an emergency or 24-hour hospital that offers around-the-clock care.
Home Care and Prevention
Home care recommendations include following up with your veterinarian for re-examinations of your cat as recommended and administer any veterinary prescribed medications. If your cat experiences an inadequate response to prior measures, a further workup may be indicated to determine the underlying cause of the vomiting.