Cat owners are resigned to the fact that their pets leave little puddles of sick around the house every so often. Part and parcel of being a feline’s best buddy is having to clean up after them as they traipse around, apparently returning to the pink of health after a bout of retching.
But the idea that it is normal for cats to barf is now being challenged. More and more animal care professionals are beginning to realize that routine feline vomiting is not something to shrug off, but rather a condition that requires deeper probing.
And that’s good news for cat owners around the world! It means that cat vomit (and consequently, the act of cleaning it up) can be prevented.
Acute Versus Chronic Cat Vomiting
Cat vomiting falls under two general categories: acute and chronic.
Acute vomiting is often precipitated by a traumatic event such as toxin ingestion or intestinal obstruction. This is characterized by barfing frequently over a short period of time. This is often accompanied by lethargy, inappetence, and other symptoms. The vomit If your cat has been barfing multiple times over the course of one or two days, take it as a sign that you need to take your cat to the vet immediately.
The only good thing about acute vomiting is that very few cat parents take it for granted. The change in behavior is so obvious that you simply cannot ignore it. As such, cats who experience this get the help they need.
On the other hand, there is chronic vomiting. This is associated with prolonged exposure to low levels of allergens or irritating substances. It could also be caused by underlying disease in the gastrointestinal tract and other systems of the body.
Chronic vomiting is the type of condition that cat owners tend to shrug off. The incidents are usually a couple of days apart, happening 3 or more times a month. In between, the cat looks and acts normally.
Whatever the underlying cause is, there is always a chance of it getting worse without treatment. While the risk of death is low in most cases of chronic vomiting, it does lower your cat’s quality of life. The danger may be insidious, but it is definitely there. Given this, it is important to take your cat’s chronic vomiting seriously.
Common Causes Of Chronic Vomiting And What To Do About Them
Every cat owner is familiar with those wet, clumps of hair that are coughed out after much retching. While it is normal for cats to ingest hair when they groom themselves, the feline gastrointestinal tract is geared to pass the fur out in the stool. Given that, hairballs coming out the opposite end should be rare. And by “rare”, we mean once or twice a year. Yes, even for long-haired cats.
So if your cat coughs out a couple of these bad boys every month, there is something wrong.
Hairballs are the result of (a) too much fur, (b) too little water, or (c) intestinal mobility issues.
What You Can Do
If you think your cat’s vomiting is caused by poor hairball processing, there are a number of things you can do at home to help.
Give your cat a hand in grooming by combing through his fur once a day to dislodge excess fur that he would otherwise swallow. Address issues behind excessive grooming such as boredom or skin infection.
Make sure your cat stays hydrated. Water helps move fur through the gastrointestinal tract so it can reach the other end without complications. Try flavoring his water with a little juice from your can of tuna to get him to drink more. You may also consider shifting his diet to wet cat food or food formulated to prevent hairball formation. Before buying, make sure to consult your vet for the recommended food given your cat’s age and health condition.
If the problem isn’t grooming or lack of water, it may be poor intestinal mobility. Because this can be caused by anything from helminth infection to digestive system dysfunction, it’s best to visit your vet so they can run diagnostic tests.
Eating Too Fast
If your cat wolfs down his food like he hasn’t eaten in five days, it’s possible that this eating habit is causing his “vomiting”. Quotation marks are added because what you may think is vomit is actually regurgitation. It is a passive process (read: no retching or heaving) wherein food is moved from the esophagus back out the mouth.
Your cat’s esophagus is horizontal rather than vertical. Gravity doesn’t play a role in bringing the food from the mouth to the stomach, so there’s a lot more work involved for the esophagus. If there is too much food too fast, then it can get stuck and trigger a regurgitation reaction.
The expelled material is basically a tube of undigested food. It takes its shape from the esophagus and remains undigested because it never entered the stomach.
What You Can Do
To get your cat to eat slower, you can feed frequent small meals rather than one or two big meals. Even if he scarfs his food down, the amount won’t be big enough to trigger a sudden expansion in the alimentary canal that signals the brain to regurgitate.
Another option is to use a slow feeder. The idea is to get your cat to work for his food. It not only helps slow down his eating, but it also serves as play, exercise, and mental stimulation. There are many options on the market, from bowls with built-in obstacles to high-tech automated feed dispensers. You can make one at home by placing a large stone, ball, or brick inside your cat’s feeding bowl. He will be forced to work around the object as he eats, slowing him down.
Cat owners are spoiled for choice when it comes to food for their feline friends. You may think that this means anything on the market will do, but you’d be surprised to know that some products labeled “cat food” don’t sit very well in our pets’ tummies.
One unfortunate consequence is inflammatory bowel disease. This means that there is something in the food your cat is eating that his immune system thinks is dangerous. The response of the body is to fight back, causing inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. This has many consequences, one of which is chronic vomiting.
Aside from the threat of immune-stimulating ingredients, an inappropriate diet could also mean nutritional deficits and poor digestibility. Low-grade cat food makes use of cast-offs from human food production, so you can expect these to have poor nutritional content. Some may include ingredients that are not naturally processed by the feline gastrointestinal tract. Others may not provide the right amounts of macronutrients and micronutrients required by cats.
Aside from overall food quality, you also have to consider the life stage and the medical condition of your cat. For example, kittens, lactating cats, and senior cats have very different nutritional requirements. So too will cats who suffer from underlying conditions such as kidney or liver disease, or those who are obese.
What You Can Do
If you live in the United States, the easiest way to know if a particular brand of cat food is good quality is to look for the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement. This regulatory body has a rigid set of standards to ensure that animal feeds provide the complete nutritional requirements of the species these are targeted towards.
In general, veterinary research indicates that high-protein, low-carbohydrate wet food is best for felines. However, it is still best to consult your veterinarian on the best food for your cat considering his specific life stage, allergic reactions, and other medical conditions.
Underlying Medical Conditions
Chronic vomiting is a symptom common among many diseases. It could be caused by anything from parasite infection to tumors in the gastrointestinal tract, hormonal disorders to liver, kidney or pancreatic disease, side effects of maintenance medicines to neurological dysfunction.
What You Can Do
If you’ve tried behavioral interventions and diet changes, and have observed no advancement in your cat’s chronic vomiting, the best thing to do is to visit your vet. Your cat will undergo a series of diagnostic tests to help pinpoint the problem, and a treatment plan will be drawn up accordingly.