You hear a familiar retching sound from the kitchen. Striker is vomiting up his dinner again. As you walk downstairs to clean up the mess, you wonder if its just hair balls – or something more serious that requires a trip to the veterinarians office.
Cats vomit for numerous reasons, ranging from benign dietary indiscretion to potentially fatal systemic diseases such as renal failure or hyperthyroidism. The experts say that cat owners should pay close attention to a cat that becomes sick to his or her stomach.
Observe, Observe, Observe
“When it comes to vomiting, the important concept for cat owners is observation,” advises Jim Richards, DVM, editor of CatWatch and director of Cornells Feline Health Center. “Vomiting in association with signs of systemic illness must be addressed rapidly.” Signs include lethargy, fever, loss of appetite or weight loss. Even if the cause of vomiting is transient or self-limiting, loss of fluids and electrolytes – such as potassium, sodium and chloride – can have life-threatening consequences.
There are two major categories of vomiting: acute and chronic. Acute vomiting is sudden onset behavior that appears quickly and can disappear just as fast. If vomiting lasts more than a week or so, it is labeled chronic. Chronic vomiting is often the result of a serious underlying problem. Therefore, you should contact your veterinarian if your feline friend continues to throw up day after day.
Its a Reflex
Still, there are many individual reasons why a cat will vomit. Dr. Richards divides them into eight major categories. The causes can be simple or serious.
Gastric/Intestinal: This is usually caused by irritation or inflammation of the cats stomach (gastritis) or intestines (enteritis). Some common culprits include foreign bodies such as hair balls or undigested portions of a cats prey. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is one of the more common causes of vomiting, and a less common but serious cause may be cancer.
Intra-abdominal (nongastric/nonintestinal): This can be caused by disease of abdominal organs such as the liver, pancreas or peritoneum (the thin membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and covers the internal organs), or by urinary tract obstruction.
Metabolic/Endocrine: This type of vomiting often reflects a serious underlying problem such as liver failure, kidney failure, diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism (overproduction of thyroid hormones) or hypercalcemia (excessive calcium in the bloodstream).
Drug reaction: Vomiting is one of the potential adverse reactions to many types of drugs. Never give your cat drugs unless advised by a veterinarian. If you notice a sudden onset of vomiting after starting a regimen of a medication, alert your veterinarian right away.
Toxins: Vomiting can be an indication that your cat has ingested poisons or toxins, such as a toxic houseplant or ethylene glycol. This is a sweet-tasting, highly toxic ingredient found in most automotive antifreeze. It causes severe and often fatal kidney damage. Cats and dogs sometimes lap up the sweet-tasting antifreeze and are subsequently poisoned. If you are working on your car, be sure to keep your cats, dogs and other pets (or children) away from any leaking antifreeze.
Diet: A change of diet can cause sudden vomiting. Intolerance or hypersensitivity to certain foods can also trigger vomiting.
Neurological: Cats can get motion sickness, just as their human friends can. Other more serious neurological causes of vomiting include encephalitis and neoplasia (tumors).
Infections: Vomiting can be caused by several serious diseases such as panleukopenia (feline parvovirus infection), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection; feline leukemia virus (FeLV) infection, salmonellosis (from eating Salmonella-contaminated food) and heartworm infection.
If you observe your cat vomiting, keep an eye on his subsequent behavior. Be particularly careful to note any other signs that accompany the vomiting. For example, if the cat is depressed, if you notice traces of blood in his vomit or stool, if he cannot keep any food down or if there is weight loss, diarrhea or lethargic behavior, call your veterinarian immediately.
Although chronic vomiting and vomiting accompanied by other signs usually indicate that the cat has a potentially serious health problem, the causes of vomiting arent always serious. If your cat occasionally eats grass and vomits, or brings up a hairball, you probably dont have to worry.