Caitlin UltimoHealth / Symptoms & Solutions

Does Your Cat Have an Upset Stomach or Is It Something More?

Contributed by Dr. Alison Birken, owner and DVM of Victoria Park Animal Hospital.

Working as a small animal veterinarian, one of the most common ailments I see in cats is upset stomach. About 50% of the appointments I see in a day are cases of vomiting or diarrhea. Most of these cat digestive health stomach issues are caused by a simple problem with a simple solution. The most common causes of non-complicated vomiting and diarrhea are:

  • Food Indiscretion (eating something they don’t normally eat)
  • Stress
  • Parasites

I generally prescribe some medications, and within a few days, the cats are back to being themselves. On occasion, however, it’s not so simple. So as pet parents, when should we be concerned that an upset stomach may actually be caused by cat digestive problems? The best way to answer this question is to start by asking how often your cat is experiencing an upset stomach. An occasional episode of vomiting or diarrhea is usually not anything more serious. If your cat is having an episode every few months that resolves quickly or with medication, I am not too concerned, especially if these episodes are associated with eating something unusual, or a situation that may have caused stress (such as their owners leaving on a vacation, or a new pet in the home).

It’s important to distinguish vomiting from hairballs in cats, which is a common mistake. Coughing up hairballs is a normal behavior in cats and should not be regarded as a concern. However, on occasion cats may have a difficult time coughing up a hairball or may get excessive hairballs (cats that over-groom or are long-haired). These cats can be prescribed supplements to help, and you should talk with your veterinarian if you are concerned.

The next question to answer is, are there other clinical signs associated with the vomiting and diarrhea that may indicate cat digestive problems? And finally, how severe is the vomiting and/or diarrhea?  Clinical signs you should look for that require more advanced testing include:

  • Multiple episodes of vomiting and diarrhea in a month
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite and refusing food
  • Chronic soft stool
  • Inability to keep food down due to vomiting
  • Lethargy and sickness
  • Showing signs of pain and discomfort
  • Multiple episodes of vomiting throughout the day despite having no food or water in their stomach

When my patients are showing any of the above-mentioned signs, I always perform more tests, such as bloodwork, radiographs and possible ultrasounds to test for more serious diseases. These clinical signs can be associated with more serious cat digestive health conditions such as foreign bodies, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease or even cancer. If you have any concerns whatsoever, please have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian.

Since cat digestive health is crucial to their overall well-being and a happy life, how can we help our pets with general vomiting or diarrhea?

Tips to Prevent Diarrhea:

  • Do not feed your pet foods that they do not eat regularly (even new treats purchased over the counter can cause diarrhea in cats).
  • When switching foods, do it slowly over two weeks.
  • Make sure your pet is on a monthly heartworm prevention that protects against gastrointestinal parasites.
  • Have your pet tested every six months to a year for parasites.

Home Remedies to Give Your Pet for Diarrhea:

Most of the time, diarrhea and vomiting are resolved in a few days. However, beware of more serious cat digestive problems that need to be addressed and treated by your veterinarian. If your pet is having severe diarrhea for longer than a few days, or there is vomiting associated with it, or you feel your pet is acting sick, please contact your veterinarian immediately!

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