Pet Vet: Catís regular vomiting is symptom of a bigger problem

October 17, 2016

Todayís presentation is titled "The Tail of the Vomiting Cat" and it comes to us courtesy of Marie.

Marie takes care of Callie, an 8-year-old female calico cat that she has known for all of the catís life. For the past six months or so, Callie has been vomiting on a somewhat regular basis, about two to three times per week. Sometimes she finds hairballs in the vomit but other times there is food and/or liquid.

Callie seems happy and healthy otherwise and Marie is wondering if she should be concerned. She has been told in the past that it is normal for cats to vomit on occasion. She has changed nothing in Callieís diet or her surroundings.

Right at the start, I want to clear up something I hear too often: It is not normal for cats to vomit. Vomiting causes loss of important fluids from the stomach that contains electrolytes, which are necessary for normal body function. Loss of these fluids can be detrimental.

Having said this, I do realize that vomiting is common in cats and I think this commonality, if you will, leads to the notion that occasional vomiting is normal.

Vomiting is not, by itself, a disease. It is a symptom. It is the result of irritation to the stomach and/or small intestine or less commonly a problem in the area of the brain dealing with balance. So the first assumption that needs to be made when Callie vomits is that there could be an underlying cause.

Letís address the hairball scenario first. It is entirely normal for a healthy feline to have hair in the digestive tract. It is there because grooming using their tongue carries hair into their mouths, which is then swallowed. Normally this hair is passed down the digestive tract and out in the stool.

When a cat vomits, there are often wads of hair in the vomit but it is not a cause-and-effect situation. The hair did not cause the vomiting.

There are cases of excess grooming when too much hair gets into the stomach and can cause partial obstruction, which leads to vomiting. But even in these situations, it is not the hair that is the ultimate cause of the vomiting, it is the overgrooming. These cats usually have a flea problem.

In Callieís case, vomiting is likely a symptom of an underlying disease. The list of diseases that can cause vomiting in cats is long. Anything that might upset the digestive tract can lead to vomiting. The fact that Callie began her regular vomiting six months ago tells us something is amiss.

I would recommend radiographs of Callieís abdomen to help visualize what Callieís stomach and small intestine look like. I would suggest blood testing to determine how things might be working inside. There are parasite problems that can cause vomiting in cats, so it would be pertinent to check a stool sample.

These initial diagnostic steps can be very revealing and at times provide a definitive diagnosis. However, there are cases in which these tests can be normal, requiring further steps. This might include biopsy of the stomach wall or small intestine, as cats are known to commonly be affected by inflammatory bowel disease, which often causes vomiting and is definitively diagnosed by biopsy.

Whatever the case, this vomiting problem of Callieís is indeed a symptom of an underlying disease process that needs to be diagnosed to allow a treatment that cures the disease and in turn stops the vomiting.




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