Vomiting in Cats

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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.

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 pet vomits once 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 pet eats or if your pet acts lethargic, or doesn’t want to eat, then medical attention is warranted.

What To Watch For with Vomiting in Cats

  • Dehydration – persistent vomiting can lead to dehydration.
  • 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 comiting. Vomiting comes from the stomach and is most often accompanied by nausea and involves forceful abdominal contractions. Regurgitation is 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 esophageal disease.

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    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 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 and presence of other gastrointestinal signs (such as 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.
  • Fecal examination (to determine 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 echo’s).
  • 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.
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    Treatment of Vomiting in Cats

    Treatments for vomiting may include one or more of the following:

  • Eliminate predisposing cause (change in diet, eating plants, etc).
  • An acute episode of vomiting in a playful pet, 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.
  • Pets that have abdominal pain, diarrhea and act lethargic or have any other physical abnormality, may be treated with hospitalization. Hospital therapy may include intravenous fluid administration, 24-hour monitoring, and drug therapy. This is often combined with diagnostic testing to determine the cause of the vomiting.
  • Sick pets may require referral to an emergency or 24 hour hospital that offers around-the-clock care.
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