Acute vomiting is the sudden onset of vomiting. This may occur once only or continue until the contents of the stomach are completely emptied. Acute vomiting is in contrast to chronic vomiting which can intermittently continue for weeks or months.
There are a number of possible causes of acute vomiting in cats, some benign, others life-threatening. It is up to us, as the pet owner to assess the situation and if at all in any doubt, see a veterinarian.
Regurgitation vs vomiting
Cats regurgitate their food when they eat too fast or if they have a condition known as megaesophagus, which the oesophagus, a muscular tube connecting the throat to the stomach, is too wide, which prevents food moving in a downward motion.
Regurgitated food looks the same as it went in, compared to vomited food which is more sausage shaped.
Causes of acute vomiting in
Intestinal blockage – Eating a cooked bone, or a non-food object such as wool (known as pica), hairballs, heavy tapeworm infection, twisting of the intestine, telescoping of the intestines, umbilical hernia resulting in the intestines protruding through the abdominal wall.
Gastroenteritis – Inflammation of the stomach and intestines which may be due to bacterial infection, intestinal worms and dietary indiscretion.
Dietary causes of acute vomiting in cats:
Eating too fast.
Sudden changes in diet – Many cats can be quite sensitive to new foods if you are planning to change your cat’s type of food, do so gradually over a few days.
Poisoning – There are many substances toxic to cats, ingestion may occur due to dietary indiscretion, deliberate poisoning or when a well-meaning pet owner administers medications or supplements not suitable for cats. Toxins can include plants, medications, metals, household cleaners, insecticides, chocolate.
Food poisoning – Which may be due to dietary indiscretion or food which has spoiled or been left out too long.
Infections or parasites:
Feline panleukopenia – A severe and highly infectious viral infection which causes the destruction of white blood cells, which are cells of the immune system responsible for fighting infection.
Intestinal parasites – Roundworm, in particular, can be a cause of acute vomiting, particularly heavy infestations in kittens.
Coccidiosis – A protozoal infection caused by a single-celled parasite. Most adult cats carry coccidia without signs of illness, kittens under 6 months and cats who are immunocompromised are at greatest risk of developing symptoms.
Certain medications – Certain antibiotics and painkillers.
Pancreatitis – Inflammation of the pancreas which has a number of causes including certain viral infections, high fats in the blood, toxoplasmosis, trauma, fatty diet and obesity.
Acute metritis – Inflammation of the lining of the uterus in a female cat who has recently given birth.
Stomach ulcer – These can develop over time or quickly depending on the underlying cause which may include certain medications such as aspirin, ingestions of poisons, corticosteroids, pancreatitis.
Acute kidney failure – Which may be due to shock, poisoning, urinary blockage, infection, certain medications, heatstroke and trauma.
Hepatic lipidosis – A serious and life-threatening disease which can occur if a cat stops eating. The liver breaks down fat to use as an alternate energy source however it is not very efficient at processing fat, which builds up, interfering with the liver’s ability to function.
Other symptoms which may
Obviously, vomiting is the predominant sign, other symptoms may include:
Drooling and/or lip smacking due to nausea
Loss of appetite
Increased or decreased thirst
When to see a veterinarian
Almost all cats have the occasional vomit which comes out of the blue. If it is only once, and your cat appears to be otherwise well, a wait and see approach may be all that is required. Cats who are repeatedly vomiting are at risk of not only the cause of the vomiting but also dehydration. Kittens are especially vulnerable.
You should take your cat to a veterinarian as soon as possible if the following occur:
If your cat has vomited several times
Your cat is under 6 months of age
Your cat also has diarrhoea
If your cat is passing black, tarry stools
If the cat isn’t defecating at all
If you suspect he has ingested something poisonous or medications he should not have had
If there is blood in the vomit
If he has lost his appetite
If you are at all worried, doing something, and getting reassurance is better than worrying
If your cat is in pain
If your cat has a fever
If the abdomen is swollen or painful
If your cat is hunched over
If your cat is dehydrated (signs include sunken eyes, tacky or dry gums, lethargy and increased skin tenting)
How is the cause of
Your veterinarian will perform a complete medical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you including recent food and medications your cat has consumed, if he may have ingested any poisons or household plants, if he has got into anything he shouldn’t have (such as the garbage bin), the onset of symptoms, any recent illness your cat has had, how often the cat has vomited and if you have noticed any accompanying symptoms. If possible, bring along a sample of your cat’s vomit for the veterinarian to have a look at.
He will need to run some baseline tests such as:
Biochemical profile, complete blood count and urinalysis. These can paint a picture of your cat’s overall health, evaluate the organs and look for signs of infection or inflammation, dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
The physical examination, accompanying signs and the history from you may help your veterinarian narrow down a possible cause. Depending on his index of suspicion, he may also want to run the following tests:
X-ray or ultrasound to evaluate the organs, look for signs of blockage, inflammation, retained placenta in female cats who have recently given birth and other abnormalities.
Faecal examination to look for parasites.
Endoscopy – A long plastic tube with a camera is inserted through the mouth and passed down the oesophagus for your veterinarian to evaluate the oesophagus and stomach. Biopsies may be taken during this examination.
Treating vomiting in cats
Treatment depends on the underlying cause which is beyond the scope of this article to cover in full.
Antibiotics to treat bacterial infections.
Surgery to remove foreign objects or blockages.
Activated charcoal to help absorb some toxins.
Anti-parasitic medications to treat intestinal worms.
Treating the underlying cause of pancreatitis and relieving pain with analgesics.
Intensive nutritional support is necessary for cats suffering from hepatic lipidosis as well as supportive care.
Stomach ulcers are treated with medications to reduce stomach acid as well as medications to form a protective coating over the stomach wall, preventing further damage to the ulcer, a bland diet will be given to your cat until his ulcer has healed.
Heatstroke is treated by bringing down the cat’s body temperature, oxygen therapy, cortisone injections to reduce swelling in the throat and careful monitoring of the kidneys and liver.
For transient or mild vomiting where no other symptoms are present, your veterinarian may recommend fasting your cat for 12-24 hours, but still providing water, then giving him a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice to let his stomach recover.
Supportive care may also be provided which may include fluids to treat dehydration and correct electrolyte imbalances, nutritional support and anti-emetic medications such to control vomiting.
Preventing vomiting in
Avoid switching diets too suddenly, if you want to change the type of food your cat eats, start by adding a small amount of the new food to his regular food, gradually increasing the new food while decreasing the old. This should take 5-7 days.
Don’t feed your cat human food, many are either poisonous or too rich for cats to eat.
Make sure you have a secure bin which your cat can’t get into. Dispose of uneaten food properly.
Don’t give your cat any medications (human or veterinary) unless you have been told to do so by your veterinarian.
If you have a cat who vomits immediately after eating it may be due to eating too fast, in which case, he should be switched to several smaller meals a day. In cases of repeated vomiting, he may have megaesophagus, which needs to be investigated.