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Chronic Vomiting and Cats – What is Causing the Problem

Vomit is a common problem seen in many cats. There are a plethora of reasons that cats vomit, ranging from the innocuous such as parasites, overeating, and hairballs, to severe causes such as organ failure and lymphoma. Healthy cats may routinely vomit once or twice a week, without any other signs of illness. However, increased frequency of vomiting, especially sudden, acute vomiting in cats, should be treated as a medical emergency and veterinary attention must be sought.

Cats vomit more readily than many other species, and as such it can be a frustrating problem for pet owners. Cats who regularly vomit within a few minutes of eating may in fact be regurgitating their food. This is most commonly seen with cats who eat very quickly, and those who eat an exclusively dry food diet. When ingested, dry food will absorb the moisture in the cats stomach, expanding in size, causing the cat to regurgitate. Soaking dry food before feeding it to your cat, or mixing dry with canned food, may help to solve this problem.

Hairballs are a common cause of periodic vomiting, especially in longhaired cats. A dry cough and frequent retching, especially after meals, as well as small spots of yellow bile on the floor or carpet, are evidence of unsuccessful attempts to void the hairball. Constipation, or hard stools with visible hair, may be seen as the digestive system tries to deal with the amount of hair present. Finally, the hairball itself may be vomited, a cylindrical, wet, sticky and stinky mass of hair and digesta.

Parasites can play a part in vomiting in cats. Giardia is an intestinal infection caused by a single-celled organism that lives in the intestines of infected animals. Salmonella, Coccidiosis and internal parasites such as roundworms and tapeworms may also cause vomiting, lethargy, or diarrhea. Many infected animals will appear healthy, until acute vomiting and diarrhea occur. Routine fecal screening is the best way to prevent and treat parasites in your cat before they become a problem.

Feline Panleukopenia may cause acute vomiting in kittens, as well as in cats that have been exposed to other cats. Panleukopenia, also known as feline distemper, and is caused by the Parvovirus. A highly infectious disease, Panleukopenia is especially of concern in shelters and boarding facilities, where it can remain active in the environment for months to years. Panleukopenia is especially dangerous in kittens, and can cause fever, vomiting, diarrhea, severe dehydration and death

Vomiting in geriatric cats can have a variety of more sinister origins. One of the most common causes of chronic vomiting and diarrhea in cats is inflammatory bowel disease. IBD is a disorder caused by inflammatory cells in the gastrointestinal tract. Various types of inflammatory cells may be present, affecting the mucosa of the small intestine (enteritis), large intestine (colitis), stomach (gastritis), and colon.

The cause of IBD is unknown, but it may be in part caused by food allergies or sensitivity to certain types of food, bacteria in the intestinal tract, and even an immune system malfunction. Untreated, IBD can progress, leading to poor digestion and nutritional absorption. The chronic inflammation can also lead to scaring in the mucosa of the digestive tract, and lymphoma has found to develop when IBD is unmanaged.

Kidney disease and renal failure is one of the leading causes of death in cats. Chronic renal failure is common in older cats, and occurs over a long period of time. The kidneys are responsible for filtering the waste products from your cats blood and expelling them via the urine. Because the kidneys can continue to perform normally with as much as 70% of their function destroyed, often by the time a cat has symptoms of kidney problems, the disease is quite far progressed. Weight loss is often the first indication of renal failure, but a variety of other symptoms such as vomiting, decreased appetite, weight loss, depression, increased thirst and urination may be seen.

Hyperthyroidism is a common disease in older cats, caused by over-activity of the thyroid gland, which produces the thyroid hormones T4 and T3. The thyroid gland normally produces the thyroid hormones to control metabolism, but when production of the hormone increases, it can wreak havoc on the feline body. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include weight loss despite an increased appetite, increased thirst and urination, vomiting, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and behavior changes.

While occasional, chronic vomiting may not be a sign of a medical emergency, acute vomiting in cats can be a sign of a life-threatening health crisis. Acute renal failure is a sudden failure of the kidneys to function properly. This sudden change in function can affect almost every body system of the cat. Causes of acute kidney failure include kidney infections, toxic exposure to the kidneys (ie ingestion of poison or exposure to toxic chemicals), and kidney obstruction. Sudden, acute vomiting, lethargy, weakness, disorientation and ataxia are all signs of acute kidney failure, and immediate medical attention is required. Treatment requires hospitalization and intensive care, as well as identification of the cause of the failure. Intravenous fluids, symptomatic treatment of the causative factors, and even dialysis may be performed to clear your cats body of toxins, and return function to the kidneys.

Sudden, acute onset of vomiting, as well as reluctance or refusal to eat, or abdominal pain, may also be a sign of an obstruction in the intestinal tract, such as an ingested foreign body, tumor or intestinal malfunction. Dehydration, septic shock and even rupture of the intestines can occur quickly if an obstruction is not diagnosed and treated. Frequent, forceful vomiting is the most common sign of an obstruction.

Although many cats will vomit throughout their lifetime without having a specific cause, increased frequency of vomiting, and especially acute vomiting in cats may be a sign of a serious medical problem, necessitating immediate veterinary attention.

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