A closer look: Altered Gastric Noises (Stomach Growling) in Cats
The stomach is a sac in the abdomen where food is broken down into a paste before it passes to the intestines for further digestion. Chewed food is broken down in the stomach by a combination of fluids (collectively referred to as ‘gastric juices’), and by the mechanical action of the stomach squeezing and relaxing to mix up its contents. The action of the stomach muscles jostling the stomach contents can sometimes be heard from outside the body.
Most instances of gastric noise in cats are normal and nothing to be concerned about. However, there may be something more serious going on if the borborygmi are accompanied by other symptoms.
The presence of these additional symptoms warrants immediate veterinary attention.
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Gastric noises are normal and expected as part of digestion. Some conditions are associated with changes in gut noises, but it is important to note these conditions are expected to present with other, more serious symptoms.
All cats are expected to have gastric noises as part of normal digestion. Any disease process that affects the GI tract or its supporting organs has the potential to alter digestion and gastric noises. Outdoor and unvaccinated cats in general are at higher risk of injury and infectious disease.
Altered gastric noises vary in severity from absence thereof with gastric stasis, to very loud and increased frequency with gastroenteritis, dietary indiscretion, and a number of other underlying causes. Diaphragmatic hernias can cause borborygmi to be heard from the chest, rather than the abdomen.
Testing and diagnosis
The first step for a veterinarian investigating the cause of altered gastric noises is a physical examination, including listening to the abdomen to determine the character, frequency, and location of bowel sounds.
Further diagnostics depend on what other symptoms are present and what is found during the exam and medical history. Depending on the specifics, additional tests may include
- Blood tests, possibly including specialized tests
- Fecal examination
- Diagnostic imaging
Endoscopy may be indicated, which may require referral to a specialist. Any tissue biopsies are usually taken during this procedure.
Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Examples of treatments:
- Hospitalization with IV fluids and other supportive care
- Dietary changes
Normal gut sounds may be mistaken for excessive or abnormal gut sounds.
Gastric noises are expected to occur without any other symptoms in healthy cats.