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Common Causes of Stomach Upset (Gastritis) in Cats

When people experience stomach upset, it can easily be identified and treated with over-the-counter medicines. Once symptoms start to appear, even mild ones, any person can easily communicate what they feel the problem is, and oftentimes the trigger can easily be determined. Unfortunately, this is not the case in cats. Even simple health problems like an upset stomach can have a very different presentation in cats. When cats start to vomit, it can be very tricky to understand and determine the cause of the problem, making treatment a little complicated. Read on to learn about the common symptoms, causes, treatment options, and even preventative measures you can take if your cat has an upset stomach.

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Common Symptoms of Stomach Upset in Cats

In humans, gastric upset can cause abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. The symptoms are pretty much the same when cats get an upset stomach, but the presentation can be very different.

Cats are very good at masking their illness, and straightforward signs only appear when the condition has become worse. While the most visible sign is vomiting, there are subtle signs that your cat may show when they’re suffering from an upset stomach.

Other typical signs may include excessive licking of the lips, a decrease in appetite or total absence of it, and occasional gagging. More subtle signs seen are reluctance to move around, being less energetic, or the cat hiding in unusual places. These signs, though quite vague, can indicate some sort of abdominal distress which is very common in gastritis.

It’s important to note though that cats expelling hairballs is a normal process and is not indicative of an upset stomach or any medical problems. If you see your cat throw up true hairballs, which look very different from vomit with hair in it, this is usually not something a cat owner should be worried about.

Common Causes of Upset Stomach in Cats

An upset stomach in cats, though quite common, can mean a myriad of things. Stomach upset, or gastritis, technically means an inflammatory response of the lining of the stomach causing vomiting, nausea, and a certain degree of abdominal pain.

The most common cause of gastritis in cats is food intolerance. Cats have a very sensitive gastrointestinal system and can react adversely to any abrupt changes in the diet. Simply changing cat food without proper gradual transition can elicit an inflammatory response causing stomach upset. Eating indigestible materials such as grass, clothing, cotton, etc. is also a common trigger of upset stomach in cats.

There are certain gastrointestinal conditions in cats that can cause an upset stomach as a symptom or clinical sign. Hyperacidity, or excessive production of gastric acid, irritates the lining of the stomach causing gastritis. If left untreated, this can lead to stomach ulcers which cause chronic gastric upset that needs to be managed with long-term medications.

More serious conditions such as kidney or liver disease can cause upset stomach in cats through various pathways. These conditions usually cause nausea or an increased gastric acid production often leading to upset stomach or vomiting.

How is stomach upset in cats treated and managed?

Treating your cat’s upset stomach will depend on the underlying cause. Most uncomplicated gastritis due to food intolerance can easily be controlled by immediately stopping the new diet or food ingredient that could have triggered it. Sometimes, shifting to a highly digestible gastrointestinal diet helps further control gastritis.

Administering anti-emetic (anti-nausea/vomiting) medications are also an effective way of with gastritis symptoms. Traditional anti-emetic medications like metoclopramide can help improve the motility of the gastrointestinal tract and control vomiting and nausea in cats with upset stomachs. Newer medications like maropitant help control vomiting and nausea and manage abdominal pain in cats suffering from gastritis.

Gastritis brought about by excessive gastric acid production can be controlled with different antacid medications. Aluminum hydroxide and calcium carbonate oral medications help neutralize the acidity of the stomach and control the inflammation of its lining. Medications like famotidine and ranitidine act on the acid-producing cells of the stomach and control the amount of acid these cells produce.

For gastritis due to a more systemic underlying cause like kidney or liver disease, signs of upset stomach like nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting can be treated symptomatically with the medications mentioned above. But it’s important to address the underlying condition to completely manage the signs of gastritis.

However, not all medications formulated to control gastritis are safe to give to cats. Some of these can be harmful if given at an incorrect dose or situation. It’s best to consult your vet first if you’re suspecting that your cat is suffering from an upset stomach so that a diagnosis can be made and appropriate treatment can be given.

How do you prevent stomach upset in cats?

As the popular saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Knowing what the common causes of gastritis in cats are will help in preventing the condition altogether.

Keeping your cat on a strict, consistent diet helps prevent any indigestion that can lead to an upset stomach. It’s best to put your cat on high-quality cat food that’s easily digested and has a low chance of triggering an inflammatory response.

Putting them on a home-cooked diet can also help prevent gastritis episodes so long as the recipe is well-formulated to cater to a cat’s daily nutritional needs. It’s best to consult with your vet or a veterinary nutritionist before starting your pet on a home-cooked diet plan.

If you want to transition your cat from one type of diet to another, gradual change is ideal to minimize the risks of gastritis. Some would say that a week-long diet transition is sufficient enough to prevent any adverse food reaction that may lead to an upset stomach, but many experts recommend transitioning for several weeks to one month.

Spreading out meals to small, frequent portions helps control the acid production of the stomach and prevent hyperacidity. Lastly, taking care of vital organs such as the kidneys and liver through proper diet and nutrition will help prevent gastric symptoms associated with different organ insufficiencies.

Read more:

Your Complete Guide to Vomiting in Cats

Diarrhea in Cats 101

Gastrointestinal Diets for Dogs and Cats

Have more questions about stomach upset in cats?

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