This is a question we hear nearly every day in a feline specialty practice. And this is because chronic vomiting is very common!
NO MORE EXCUSES
During routine wellness visits, we ask clients if their cat vomits, what they vomit (food, hair, fluid), and how often they vomit. Then we ask if there are any concerns. As you can imagine, we get a wide variety of answers, but the two examples below show how the same scenario can be interpreted differently.
Scenario #1 – “Yes, my cat vomits, she brings up hairballs about twice a week, and yes, I am concerned because that is just too much vomiting!”
Scenario #2 – “Yes, my cat vomits, she brings up hairballs about twice a week, but no I am not concerned because she’s always done this, she seems normal otherwise, so it must be normal for her.”
Chronic vomiting is a problem, but I hear many excuses from loving owners to justify why this is accepted as “okay.” The top four excuses are listed below:
- My cat has always vomited, so it must be normal for him
- She eats too fast, and then she vomits
- He’s just a puker!
- She has a sensitive stomach
RECOGNIZE THAT VOMITING IS ABNORMAL
But we would like to challenge that notion and say that VOMITING IN CATS IS NOT NORMAL! And even, VOMITING HAIRBALLS IS NOT NORMAL! For those of you with 2-legged children, if your child vomited frequently, would you say “He’s just a puker?”– no! This is a medical problem that needs a medical work-up and treatment.
As vets we have been guilty of not offering more answers or options, but that was because there wasn’t a lot known about what caused this or what to do. That is not the case anymore. Our knowledge base on how to diagnose and treat these cats has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 5 years!
DEFINE VOMITING – THIS INCLUDES HAIRBALLS
The term ‘vomiting’ is all-encompassing – vomiting food, vomiting fluid, and vomiting hairballs. Vomiting requires an abdominal effort, a heave or a retch. This is different from regurgitation which is passive and associated with esophageal disease – regurgitation is exceedingly rare in cats.
SO WHEN SHOULD A CAT SEE THE VETERINARIAN?
If a cat meets any of the following qualifiers, then he/she should be examined:
- The vomiting (including hairballs) occurs more than twice per month. If you are not sure exactly how often this happens, then keep a “vomit journal” and record whenever it happens. Note: this can be challenging if you own multiple cats, but nonetheless good information to have.
- The frequency of vomiting is increasing. For example, two years ago he never vomited, but now it’s once to twice a month.
- The cat is losing weight. This may be obvious to you at home or may require putting the cat on a scale to define. Body weight is always recorded during veterinary visits, so this can be a good baseline for comparison.
MY CAT EATS GRASS
The one exception to these statements is cats that vomit after eating grass or plant material. Plant material can be inherently irritating to the mouth, esophagus, and stomach, and cause micro-cuts that trigger vomiting. And some cats just seem to love to eat plants. So, if your cat vomits after eating plant material, simply remove the plant source.
If you are frequently brushing your cat, using oral hairball remedies (laxatives, hairball control treats, cat grass), or hairball control cat food, be aware that there could be a more serious disease than hairballs brewing below the surface. These are “Band-Aid” solutions that may temporarily help the symptoms, but do nothing for the underlying cause. In most cases, vomiting and hairballs are the ‘canary in the mine’ signaling that there is a bigger problem on the inside.
Did you know? The technical name for a hairball is a “trichobezoar.”
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Ground-breaking research published by Dr. Lavallee and her colleagues has shown that chronic vomiting in cats is commonly associated with disease in the small intestine. Many of these patients had inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), but a scary finding was that a large percentage also had intestinal cancer (most commonly lymphoma). It is now theorized that cats with chronic vomiting and chronic intestinal disease may suffer years of insults to the intestine that sets them up for or predisposes them to cancers. This is similar to skin cancers in people, where too many sunburns (chronic inflammation) can predispose to a worse disease. We feel some of these cats that develop cancer at 12, 15, or 18 years of age, actually had disease brewing for many years beforehand and that early intervention could have yielded a better result. Therefore, we are very motivated to achieve early and accurate diagnosis. Both Dr. Lavallee and Dr. Olson have diagnosed and treated intestinal disease in their own cats, so we have been through this firsthand.
LET US HELP YOUR CAT
You and your kitty can provide valuable information during an appointment at Cat Specialist to help us evaluate chronic vomiting. Our goal is to make your cat healthier and give you back the time you spend cleaning up cat vomit. We can help! There are several different underlying causes of vomiting, but we can guide you through how to approach this and keep your cat healthy for years to come.