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Cat Digestive Problems: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

The occasional upset stomach isn't too unusual in cats. It's one of the most common issues our veterinarians at Greenbrier-Springfield Animal Hospital see. But at what point does vomiting, diarrhea, and other digestive issues become worrisome? Our Springfield vets explain.

What are Gastrointestinal (GI) Disorders in Cats?

Gastrointestinal (GI) illnesses affect the stomach and intestines of cats, causing pain and other issues. Efficient digestion is critical for your cat's ability to grow and repair tissues as well as obtain energy. Dehydration, acid-base and electrolyte imbalances and malnutrition can all result from GI issues. Therefore, it's critical to detect the symptoms and speak with your veterinarian.

What are the Symptoms of a Gastrointestinal Issue?

Gastrointestinal issues in cats can be obvious and/or sudden. However, they can also be subtle and develop gradually over time. That's why it's important to pay attention to your cat for signs that they might be in distress.

The most common signs of digestive distress in cats can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite or anorexia
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal pain (you may notice a hunched posture, overgrooming of the abdomen, or your kitty getting upset when you try to pick them up)
  • Abdominal enlargement/distension
  • A change in behavior, such as lethargy/listlessness, grumpiness, playing less often or hiding

Note that cats normally don't show all of these symptoms at once. Even if your cat is only showing two of these symptoms, it may be a good idea to bring your cat to see a vet or get a referral for an internist.

What Causes GI Issues in Cats?

While not exhaustive, the list below indicates some of the most common causes of digestive issues in cats.

Intestinal Worms

Internal parasites are a prevalent issue in cats, including indoor cats. The most difficult component of recognizing and treating them is that a cat can be infested and not show any symptoms. Hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms are some of the most prevalent intestinal parasites in cats. If your cat tests positive for deworming, follow all deworming instructions from your veterinarian.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Chronic Entreopathy

A chronic enteropathy occurs when a cat experiences symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite for three weeks or longer. This word refers to a variety of illnesses, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). IBD has no known origin, although it is assumed to be caused by a combination of a genetic predisposition and anomalies in the communication between the immune system, the environment, and the gut flora.

Intestinal Blockages

An intestinal blockage is defined as anything that obstructs the passage of food and fluids through the digestive tract or hinders normal gut movement. In cats, the illness is frequently caused by the ingestion of a foreign object, such as a small toy or a string that becomes lodged in the stomach. Surgery is almost usually required for treatment, and it can be fatal. But the good news is that many cats respond well to prompt veterinary care.

Eating Something They Shouldn't Have & Food Changes

Sometimes, a cat will eat something they shouldn't have. Garbage, table scraps, or old food on the floor, for example. This is usually more common in dogs, but it can sometimes happen in cats. However, symptoms may range from mild stomach upset to severe illness requiring medical care.

Sometimes, digestive distress can also be caused by food changes. It's advisable that all food changes happen slowly over 1-2 weeks. This can help alleviate an upset stomach and give your cat time to adjust to new food.

How are GI Issues Diagnosed?

A veterinarian will usually begin with a physical exam. However, diagnostic testing reveals more about what is going on inside a pet's body. X-rays, bloodwork, fecal exams, and other tests are commonly used to diagnose stomach problems. Your veterinarian will create a customized plan based on the most likely conditions your pet may have.

How are GI Issues Treated?

A cat suffering from constipation, for example, may require an enema, whereas a cat suffering from an intestinal obstruction usually requires surgery. Thus, treatment varies based on what is causing the distress - in other words, treatment is directed at the underlying cause of the digestive distress.

Further, supportive care (anything requiring the relieving of symptoms and making your cat feel comfortable) may be needed. Examples include:

  • Anti-nausea medicine
  • Antacids and stomach/intestinal protectants
  • Medicines to relieve diarrhea
  • Probiotics formulated for pets
  • Appetite stimulants
  • Fluid therapy (for dehydration and electrolyte replacement)

Do you believe your cat might be suffering from a GI issue? Contact Greenbrier-Springfield Animal Hospital today for a diagnosis.

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Greenbrier-Springfield Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Springfield companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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