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