Symptoms and Causes of Nausea in Cats

Nausea in cats is a very common condition. It can occur on its own or just prior to the act of vomiting. In humans, nausea is also referred to as “feeling sick to your stomach” or “queasy” and is associated with a feeling of discomfort and unease in the stomach. In cats, nausea is harder to define, as animals can’t tell you they feel unwell. In many occasions, it is unclear that there is an issue until the cat vomits. The most common symptoms of nausea in cats are lack of appetite, licking, excessive chewing, hypervocalization (excessive meowing), restlessness, and drooling. Nausea can make cats feel uncomfortable and restless. Some cats will pace around while meowing while others will lie in the same spot drooling.

Overview of Feline Nausea

Nausea is a nonspecific symptom, which means there are many different possible causes. These causes can include an upset stomach, changes in diet, eating something indigestible, eating too fast, overeating, eating something that is spoiled or unpleasant, licking something with an unpleasant taste (such as cleaning chemicals or topical flea prevention products), motion sickness, and certain medications.

A number of diseases or conditions can also cause nausea in cats, especially disorders of the gastrointestinal system (stomach and/or intestines). Nausea can be secondary to a disease from a different system such as cancer, kidney failure, diabetes, or various infectious diseases. This can make the diagnosis of the cause of the nausea a challenge.

At one time or another, your cat may have a bout of vomiting before which he probably had a period of nausea. Vomiting may be a sign of a very minor problem or it may be a sign of something very serious.

An occasional, infrequent, isolated episode of nausea with or without vomiting is usually normal and not a reason for major concern.

The severity or concurrence of other signs will determine the specific diagnostic tests your vet will recommend. Important considerations include the duration and frequency of the nausea. If your cat vomits once then eats normally with no further vomiting, has a normal bowel movement, and acts playful, the problem may resolve on its own. If nausea and vomiting continue after your cat eats your cat acts lethargic or doesn’t want to eat, then medical attention is warranted.

Nausea in Cats – What to Watch For:

Signs of nausea in cats often include:

Nausea may also be associated with:

  •  Vomiting
  •  Dry heaving
  •  Dehydration due to persistent vomiting
  •  Abnormal behavior or physical abnormalities associated with prolonged vomiting including lethargy (reluctance to move), abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, blood in the vomit, or other unexpected physical changes

Diagnosis of Nausea in Cats

Administering the optimal therapy for any serious or persistent medical condition depends on establishing the correct diagnosis. There are numerous potential causes of nausea and subsequent vomiting and before any treatment can be recommended, it is important to identify the underlying cause and direct the initial therapy towards resolving it.

Diagnostic measures and tests may include:

  • A review of your cat’s complete medical history and a physical examination, including abdominal palpation. The medical history assessment will most likely include questions regarding vaccination history, diet, appetite, general health, presence and 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 vomiting and/or diarrhea.
  • Your veterinarian may recommend a variety of laboratory tests including a complete blood count (CBC), a serum biochemical panel, and a urinalysis.
  • Fecal examination (to determine the presence of parasites or blood).
  • Plain radiography (X-rays) or contrast X-rays (X-rays performed after your cat is given a contrast material such as barium or aqueous iodine), which can help determine the cause of the vomiting.
  • Ultrasonography is an imaging technique that allows visualization of abdominal structures by recording reflection (echoes) of inaudible sound waves to determine the size and shape of abdominal organs, it can also detect changes in the consistency or texture of organs.
  • Endoscopy may be useful for diagnosis or to remove foreign bodies in the stomach. Endoscopy can also be used for examination of the stomach and a portion of the intestine and to potentially obtain biopsies of abnormal areas noted during the exam.

Treatment of Nausea in Cats

Common treatments for feline nausea may include one or more of the following:

  • A primary strategy is eliminating the predisposing cause (such as a change in diet), eating plants, overeating, eating too fast, ingesting chemicals including flea prevention medications, etc.). Patients who eat too quickly or overeat can be treated by feeding small portions at a time, sometimes with the use of feeders designed to slow eating.
  • An acute episode of nausea with or without vomiting in a playful cat, in the absence of other physical abnormalities, may be treated symptomatically without hospitalization (outpatient treatment). This treatment may consist of subcutaneous fluids, injectable drugs used to control nausea and vomiting (anti-emetics), and a follow-up appointment if the symptoms are not resolved immediately. A drug commonly used to treat nausea is Maropitant (commonly known by the brand name Cerenia).  This drug comes in both injectable and oral forms. Many times a cat is given an injection and sent home with the oral pills.
  • Cats that have abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, or have any other unusual symptoms or behaviors may be treated with hospitalization. This therapy may include intravenous fluid administration, 24-hour monitoring, and drug therapy. It 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.

Learn more about what you can do at home for the vomiting cat.