Cats are amazing, not just because of all the warm and fuzzy stuff they bring us, like their kisses and purrs, but because they have an incredible ability to hide signs of disease. It breaks my heart when a loving, concerned owner brings me in a cat that doesn’t look very well and the owner’s response to the questions I ask tell me that this cat has had issues for a lot longer than it should. Most often the owner thought some of the behavior was normal. One of those behaviors is when cats vomit.
It is widely accepted that cats can vomit when they are very healthy. Most often, cat owners associate vomiting with the peaceful grooming most cats love to do. Yes, it is true that cats can bring up hairballs when they are grooming more than they usually do and they ingest a lot of fur, but cats are meant to groom, so their gastrointestinal tract was designed to handle most of the fur they swallow. I like to think of the cats’ GI tract as having great housekeeping capabilities. So, when I find that a cat is vomiting a lot, I am not likely to accept it as normal. I am not saying that every time a cat vomits there is something very wrong, but I think a cat that vomits regularly, likely needs some help.
Simple causes of vomiting can be the way a cat eats – some almost inhale food! Many times, moving a cat from canned food to dry food will help since it slows some cats down, or the other way around. I also ask owners to use bowls like the Brake-Fast bowls, or have owners put a small ball in the cat’s dish which usually get the cat to eat slower. Cats can also develop sensitivities to a cat food’s ingredients, so trying different foods might be all that is needed to stop a cat from vomiting. Keep track of how often your cat brings up food or fluid and whether it vomits just after eating (referred to as regurgitation) or whether it can happen hours after eating. If you make changes in the way you feed and try different diets but vomiting continues, it is time to make an appointment with your veterinarian.
The cause of vomiting that I think is most often missed by owners because their cats seem perfectly fine despite vomiting regularly, is a condition called inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD is a very complicated condition, because the level of inflammation in the cat’s GI tract that one cat has can be very different than the level of inflammation another cat has. Along with the difference in the severity of inflammation is the fact that our GI tract and cats’ GI tracts have architectures that are very specific. The GI tract has an important job, so changes in the architecture due to smoldering inflammation that eventually alters the main function of the GI tract, which is to absorb nutrients, can lead to devastating consequences that can also involve other important organs. When inflammation occurs, the changes are not always the same, so the treatment can vary. This means that your veterinarian is likely to recommend diagnostic tests that will figure out what the best way is to treat your cat.
So, if your cat vomits regularly or a friend tells you their cat vomits regularly, remember that it really isn’t normal for a cat to vomit often. I think that cat needs to see a veterinarian as soon as possible!