Vomiting and Diarrhea in Cats
Vomiting and diarrhea are two of the most common concerns that cause a cat owner to seek veterinary advice. Causes for your cat’s illness may be as simple as a hairball or an upset stomach from something she ate. These cases of vomiting and diarrhea may easily resolve at home with supportive treatments. However, sometimes your cat may require veterinary care. Read on to learn more about the signs, causes, and treatment of vomiting and diarrhea in cats.
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Symptoms of Vomiting and Diarrhea in Cats
- Nausea: drooling, lip licking, excessive swallowing
- Vomit: strong abdominal contractions and head nodding. Note the color, volume, frequency, and when the last meal was
- Diarrhea: note the frequency, color, consistency, and look for signs of blood
- Pale or cold gums, occasionally their gums or the whites of their eyes might look yellow
- Quiet or lethargic
- Weight loss
- Decreased appetite or refusing to eat
Causes of Vomiting and Diarrhea in Cats
Vomiting and diarrhea occur when the stomach and/or intestines become irritated or inflamed.
There are many causes, including:
- Certain viruses, such as feline parvovirus (feline distemper)
- Dietary indiscretion (when a cat eats something inappropriate)
- Swallowing an object that causes stomach or intestinal obstruction
- Sudden changes in diet
- Intestinal parasites
- Medication side effects
- Chronic disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Stress due to boarding or other change in environment or routine
Preventing Vomiting and Diarrhea
- Avoid feeding fatty, salty, or spicy foods
- Introduce diet changes slowly, over 5-7 days, to allow the intestinal bacteria to adjust.
- During times of stress, it may be helpful to use a soothing pheromone spray or plug-in adapter (Feliway)
- Speak to your vet about calming supplements or anxiety medication if your pet is easily stressed.
- Consider feeding a probiotic supplement if your pet is prescribed antibiotics. Always ask the advice of a vet before giving your pet supplements or medication.
- If your cat catches birds or rodents, your vet may recommend routine fecal exams to see if deworming medication is necessary.
- Roundworms are extremely common in kittens. Your vet will recommend deworming your new kitten with an appropriate dewormer.
- Ask your vet or make an appointment with one of the FirstVet vets to discuss deworming your kitten or cat.
- Vaccinating your cat against feline parvovirus (feline distemper) is extremely important. Kittens should be vaccinated starting at 6-8 weeks, then every 3 weeks until 16-18 weeks of age. Adult boosters will be needed to maintain immunity. Prevention of this disease is VERY important. Feline parvovirus is extremely contagious and can cause fatalities, especially in young kittens.
Treating Your Cat’s Vomiting and Diarrhea at Home
If your cat is bright and happy, and there is no blood in the diarrhea or vomit, then you can often start by providing supportive treatment at home.
- If your cat is vomiting, withhold food for 12-24 hours.
- Very small cats and kittens should NOT be fasted at all due to a high risk of developing severely low blood sugar levels.
- Offer a bland diet in small portions. Examples include boiled rice or potatoes with cooked chicken breast or very lean hamburger, or a prescription intestinal diet.
- Recommended feeding protocol:
- Day 1: give 50% of the recommended daily amount divided into 6-8 portions
- Day 2 and 3: give 75% divided into 4-6 portions
- Day 4 and 5: give 100% divided into 3-4 portions
- Once your cat has been normal for a couple of days you can gradually re-introduce its normal food.
- Your cat should always have access to fresh water.
- On average, a cat should drink about 1 ounce of water (1/8 cup) per pound of body weight each day. This requirement will be significantly increased if your cat is vomiting or has diarrhea.
- Ensure that your cat is allowed quiet time to rest and fully recover.
- In the case of contagious diseases, it’s important to avoid contact with other cats until your cat has completely recovered.
When to Visit Your Veterinarian
If you notice any of the following clinical signs, your cat should be seen by a veterinarian:
- Vomiting several times per hour or continued vomiting despite withholding food for 12-24 hours. Please note: cats should not be fasted for more than 24 hours. This can cause a life-threatening liver condition called hepatic lipidosis.
- Cannot keep water down
- Blood in the vomit or diarrhea
- Increasingly lethargic or weak
- A painful abdomen
- Refusing food for more than 24 hours, or does not want to drink
- Dehydrated (dry sticky gums) and cannot hold down water
- If you know or suspect your cat has swallowed something that could damage the intestine, such as a ribbon or thread. Please note: don’t try to pull the thread out. This can cause damage to the intestinal tract.
- If your cat does not improve despite being given supportive treatment at home for 1-2 days (young kittens and old cats should see a vet sooner).
- If your cat has chronic vomiting or diarrhea (once or twice a month), even if it’s just hairballs.
Veterinary Treatment of Vomiting and Diarrhea
If your cat is very ill or dehydrated, he may need to be hospitalized.
- Your cat may be given intravenous fluids to correct dehydration and replace lost electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride).
- Blood tests may be performed to check red and white blood cell levels, as well as internal organ function.
- Other diagnostics may be performed to determine the cause of your cat’s vomiting or diarrhea. These include x-rays or ultrasound of the abdomen, stool analysis, and tests for diseases like pancreatitis.
- Symptomatic treatments will likely continue when your cat is ready to go home.
- A bland diet that requires minimal digestion will likely be prescribed.
- Your cat may go home with prescriptions for anti-nausea medication, antacids, pain relief, and probiotics to replace normal gut bacteria.
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