Chronic Vomiting In Cats Is Not Normal


Vomiting in cats is not normal. Period. Far too many cat guardians rationalize occasional, or even chronic, vomiting with explanations such as “he just eats too fast,” “she has a sensitive stomach,” or “it’s just a hairball.” Chronic vomiting can be an indicator of serious diseases of the small intestine, including inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal lymphoma.

Dr. Gary Norsworthy, a feline veterinarian and owner of the Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio, TX, recently conducted a study on 100 cats who showed one or more of the following clinical signs:

  • vomiting once or twice a month or more
  • diarrhea of at least two months’ duration
  • weight loss

Out of the 100 cats, only one had normal test results. 49 had chronic inflammation in the small intestine, and 50 had a form of cancer in the small intestine. 46 of the cancer group had lymphoma.

These findings are staggering and make it abundantly clear that cat guardians and veterinarians must stop diminishing the seriousness of chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea.

Proper diagnosis is critical

To rule out other causes of gastrointestinal problems, your veterinarian will perform diagnostic tests that may include complete blood cell counts, blood chemistry, thyroid function tests, urinalysis, fecal analysis, abdominal x-rays, and ultrasound.  The most definitive way to diagnose IBD is through biopsies of small samples of the intestinal lining.  Unfortunately, many veterinarians will use endoscopy to obtain these biopsies, which, while less invasive than surgical biopsy, will not always reach the abnormal sections of the intestine. Dr. Norsworthy found that the only way to definitively distinguish between inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal cancer was by obtaining full thickness biopsies surgically.

Intestinal disease is very treatable

Inflammatory bowel disease is usually treated with a combination of medical and dietary therapy.  Corticosteroids are used for their anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant properties, and they can also serve as an appetite stimulant.  Unfortunately, steroid therapy carries potentially serious longterm side-effects.

There is mounting evidence that treating the disease in its early stages will likely prevent a progression to lymphoma. The most common form of intestinal lymphoma, small cell lymphoma, is also very treatable.

It should be noted that dietary treatment may work for some cat with frequent vomiting and/or diarrhea if the symptoms are caused by food allergies or insensitivities. Increasingly, holistically oriented veterinarians are seeing a connection between diet and IBD.  These vets believe that commercial pet foods, especially dry foods, are a contributing factor to the large numbers of cats with chronic IBD.  They also discovered that many cats improve by simply changing their diets to a balanced grain-free raw meat diet.  Similar results may be achieved with a grain-free canned diet, but a raw diet seems to lead to quicker and better results.

Don’t ignore chronic vomiting or hairballs

Cat guardians need to realize that hairballs are not normal. Yes, cats will vomit up the occasional hairball, but “normal” is no more than four times a year for longhaired cats, and twice a year for shorthaired cats. Anything more than that could be cause for concern.

You can read more about Dr. Norsworthy’s study here.

Photo by Lindsey Turner, Flickr Creativde Commons

Dr. Goodpet

9 Comments on Chronic Vomiting In Cats Is Not Normal

  1. Debi
    March 19, 2014 at 9:21 pm (1 year ago)

    Not happy about this post. For all the years I’ve lived with kitties in my home, they have all vomited on occasion, some more than others. I thought it was natural to have to clean puke when cats were around. My Zoe goes through periods of vomiting bile or regurgitating food maybe every few months for a day or so. Now I will have to take her to the vet next time this happens? She’s 15 and hates the car and going to the vet, although I do take her once a year for her check up and NYS mandatory rabies shot. I don’t know if the stress she will go through is worth it. It will be a tough decision. :(

      • Debi
        March 23, 2014 at 11:14 am (1 year ago)

        Thanks for this suggestion, Ingrid. There doesn’t seem to be one that services my area, but I will look into it further. Happy to say Zoe hasn’t vomited in quite some time now. Maybe it was the stress of losing her brother, Cholla. I will keep track if it starts again and take it more seriously.

  2. Sue Brandes
    March 19, 2014 at 4:45 pm (1 year ago)

    Thanks for this post. I was always told it was normal too with the hairballs. They are learning so many things now.

  3. Margaret
    March 19, 2014 at 11:49 am (1 year ago)

    Excellent article. We have a cat who is “sensitive stomach” and she has been on a suitable – dried – diet for many years; it seems to suit her – and from her own choice she eats nothing but that, although it’s not essential according to the vet. Despite the somewhat worrying “throwing up” a lot of the time when she was a very young cat, she has appeared to be a healthy and fit cat for all of her 14 years and remains so…. and each time she goes to the vet (which isn’t often!) he comments on her wonderful teeth and beautiful coat.

    For Ella a suitable diet seems to work – but it shows doesn’t it we should never get complacent about our cats.

    • Ingrid
      March 19, 2014 at 12:01 pm (1 year ago)

      I don’t recommend feeding dry food to cats, especially not cats with IBD, but since it’s clearly working for Ella, I’d say stick with it, Margaret!

  4. Viki Worden
    March 19, 2014 at 11:10 am (1 year ago)

    Great post! I have a cat with IBD. Thankfully he doesn’t get sick too often. I have to be careful with how much food he eats at a time and if he is moving his bowels like he should.

  5. janeray1940
    March 19, 2014 at 9:53 am (1 year ago)

    Over his 15-year life span, no fewer than four different vets told me that Mischa’s chronic vomiting was “normal for cats” or “nothing to worry about, he has a sensitive stomach.” While he had a good long life, it ended suddenly when he developed hepatic lipidosis. Through the research I did, I am convinced that he had some form of IBD.

    I am so happy to see you putting this information out there. Even though I have had cats since childhood, until Mischa’s illness, I was entirely unfamiliar with feline IBD. Thank you for helping to educate others about this! It seems that most vets are equally ignorant and cat guardians have to take it upon themselves to become educated.

    • Ingrid
      March 19, 2014 at 12:00 pm (1 year ago)

      I think the findings of Dr. Norsworthy’s study came as a surprise to many vets, and will go a long way toward the veterinary profession taking a different view of vomiting in cats.


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