Stomach and Intestinal (Peptic) Ulcers in Cats

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Last updated on
4 min read

Key takeaways

Peptic, or gastrointestinal, ulcers are crater-like lesions in the lining of the stomach or intestines. 

  • GI ulcers occur either when stomach acid production is increased, or when there is damage to the protective lining of the tract
  • The most common symptom in cats is vomiting; blood may be present in the vomit
  • Other symptoms include loss of appetite, lethargy, pale gums, and weight loss
  • In cats, the most common underlying cause of peptic ulcers is cancer
  • Additional causes include drug toxicity, kidney failure, liver disease, and bacterial infection
  • The most definitive method of diagnosis is endoscopy with tissue biopsy
  • Treatment may involve supportive measures, medications, surgery, and treatment of underlying conditions if possible
  • If ulceration is secondary to cancer, prognosis is poor; otherwise it is generally good
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A closer look: Stomach and Intestinal (Peptic) Ulcers in Cats

Gastric juices in the stomach are highly acidic and contain digestive enzymes, which help break down food so nutrients can be absorbed by the intestines. The gastrointestinal tract is lined with a barrier of mucus which protects the underlying tissues from damage from these caustic substances. If this protective barrier becomes damaged, the tissue underneath is exposed to the gastric juices and can sustain damage, leading to open sores within the tract. These sores are referred to as ulcers.

Stomach and intestinal ulcers are not common in cats. Prognosis depends on the underlying cause and response to treatment. Better outcomes are seen with early intervention. Cats showing symptoms of stomach and intestinal ulceration require prompt veterinary care.

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Risk factors

Gastrointestinal ulcers may be asymptomatic in cats. In severe cases, ongoing ulcers lead to chronic blood loss and anemia.

Left untreated, chronic blood loss can result in sudden death.

Possible causes

Gastrointestinal ulcers can be idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown or cannot be determined. Known causes fall into two general categories, increased acid production or damage to the protective lining of the tract.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnostics include a full medical history and physical exam, blood work, urinalysis, and x-rays (with or without barium). Additional diagnostic imaging via ultrasound may be desirable. The most definitive way to diagnose GI ulcers is by endoscopy, which allows visualization of the lesions while facilitating sample collection for biopsy. A test for blood in the stool (fecal occult blood test) may also be recommended.

Steps to Recovery

Supportive treatment including hospitalization, IV fluids, antiemetics (anti-nausea medications), and blood transfusions for anemic patients may be necessary. Treatment to target the ulcers themselves includes medications to reduce gastric acid secretion and provide gastric mucosal protection. Surgery may also be necessary depending on the underlying cause.

Treatment of any underlying conditions, if possible, is indicated. Further treatments may include antibiotics, probiotics, dietary changes, and other specific treatments targeting the underlying disease. Continued monitoring and repeated endoscopy may be necessary during treatment and recovery.

Prognosis depends on the underlying cause, severity, and promptness of detection and treatment. Early intervention is associated with better outcomes. GI cancer is associated with poor outcomes.


GI ulcers are not contagious. There is no specific prevention, but regular vet visits may help to identify underlying causes before ulceration occurs. Preventing ingestion of foreign bodies and never giving medications without veterinary guidance are also good practices to protect the health of the digestive tract.

Are Stomach and Intestinal (Peptic) Ulcers in Cats common?

GI ulcers are uncommon in cats.

Typical Treatment

  • IV fluids
  • Antiemetics
  • Blood transfusion (if anemic)
  • Ongoing monitoring
  • Probiotics
  • Gastroprotectants
  • Surgery
  • Dietary changes
  • Antibiotics

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