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Stomach upset/vomiting is among the top five conditions for which insurance claims are filed for cats (VPI, 2013). Many cats seem to vomit or go off their food for no apparent reason. But stomach upset is a sort of catchall symptom for the myriad potential causes of vomiting or loss of appetite in cats.
Stomach upset can be acute or chronic in nature. For a cat who doesn’t have a history of vomiting or who has a decreased appetite and then starts to vomit, consider the following possible causes: sudden diet change; hairballs; abdominal obstruction (from eating string or another object); side effects from medication; toxin ingestion; a disease such as pancreatitis; parasites; or viral or bacterial conditions. In cats with a long history of vomiting or inappetence, consider the following potential causes: inflammatory bowel disease; cancer; bacterial or fungal infections; metabolic disease (hyperthyroidism, kidney failure, liver failure, etc.); motility disorders; or a plethora of other causes.
In the classic case, you will see vomiting and/or inappetence. There may be discomfort in the abdomen, depression or retching, and the cat may hide. Unlike dogs, cats should not go very long without eating. If your cat doesn't eat for more than a day, it's important to see a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Other than the occasional hairball, it's not normal for cats to vomit several times a month. In cases that involve frequent vomiting, there may be dehydration, weight loss and other signs associated with the primary cause of the vomiting. After taking a thorough history and doing a physical exam on your cat, your veterinarian may recommend blood tests, urinalysis, radiographs, ultrasounds or other tests to help determine the cause and severity of the stomach upset.
The treatment will depend on the cause. Treatment can range from antivomiting medications and subcutaneous fluids to therapeutic diets, medications and even surgery. For chronic vomiting, finding the cause so that you can treat the correct condition is very important. Although you never want to withhold food or water from a cat, do not give your cat any medications or make any diet changes until you have spoken to your veterinary professional.
An abrupt change in diet is a common cause of stomach upset. A diet change should be made by gradually mixing the new food with the current diet, increasing the amount of the former and decreasing the amount of the latter, over the course of about a week. It's also important to keep string, tinsel, thread, small toys, plants, and medications that your cat could accidentally ingest away from your pet. Regular grooming can help reduce hairballs.
There are no breeds that are more prone to stomach upset. However, long- and medium-haired cats have a greater tendency for hairballs.
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