Signs your cat has an upset stomach

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Signs your cat has an upset stomach  - A gray cat lying on the floor by a window

Having to care for a cat with stomach upset resulting in vomiting or diarrhea is a common experience among pet parents. Common symptoms of gastrointestinal (GI) upset often resolve on their own, but pet owners need to know when to contact a veterinarian. Read on if you have ever wondered:

  • What are the common signs of stomach upset in cats?
  • Why do cats get an upset stomach?
  • When does my cat need to see a vet for digestive problems?
  • How can I help my cat with vomiting or diarrhea?
  • Can I prevent my cat’s upset stomach?

There are many causes of an upset stomach in cats ranging from relatively harmless to life-threatening. Understanding when a visit to the vet is needed is an important part of cat ownership.

What are the signs of stomach upset in cats?

Stomach upset is a broad phrase describing multiple symptoms of GI irritation and related conditions. Signs of upset stomach in cats may include:

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The most common signs of stomach upset in cats are vomiting, diarrhea, poor appetite, and lethargy. “Cats are stoic by nature, so abdominal pain is rarely detected,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “If a cat has visible signs of abdominal pain, that indicates a potential emergency that should be addressed by a veterinarian immediately.”

What causes stomach issues in cats?

The symptoms associated with gastrointestinal upset in cats are common and caused by many medical conditions and situations. Diagnosing what caused a cat’s stomach irritation may be difficult without diagnostic tests.

Food allergies, sensitivities, or changes in diet

Just like people, cats can be allergic or sensitive to certain ingredients in their food. In addition, sudden changes in a cat’s diet or feeding spoiled food can cause stomach upset. Clinical signs of food sensitivities can include loose stool, vomiting, and reduced appetite.

Dietary indiscretion, or eating something outside the normal diet, is a common cause of GI symptoms in cats. Curious cats often nibble on houseplants, steal another pet’s food, or snag table scraps. Symptoms of dietary indiscretion often resolve on their own unless the material is toxic or cannot be digested. Some cases of toxin ingestion may be life threatening and ingesting indigestible items can result in an intestinal blockage, which is an emergency.

GI inflammation

The digestive tract includes multiple organs that can become inflamed for various reasons. Inflammatory conditions associated with digestive issues include:

These inflammatory conditions are often symptoms of a larger underlying medical condition.

Viral or bacterial infections

Many infectious diseases that affect cats cause vomiting, diarrhea, or GI inflammation. These diseases are most common in young kittens and unvaccinated cats. It is important to keep cats up-to-date on vaccinations to prevent many of the most contagious and life-threatening of these diseases. However, not all feline diseases can be prevented with vaccines.

Intestinal parasites

Intestinal parasites are common in cats. However, they rarely cause symptoms in healthy adult cats. When symptoms do appear, weight loss, diarrhea and vomiting are among the most common. Cats can also vomit up adult worms that live in the GI tract without showing other symptoms.

Other diseases and medical conditions

Many non-communicable diseases and common conditions can also cause digestive symptoms. These conditions include:

Conditions leading to GI symptoms can vary from mild to life-threatening. Regular wellness exams and testing can help catch conditions early and improve treatment outcomes.

When should I seek veterinary care for my cat’s upset stomach?

Most episodes of vomiting and diarrhea in cats are due to eating something unusual or irritating. These symptoms usually resolve on their own within a couple of days as long as the ingested material or food was not toxic. Seek veterinary attention if:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea lasts longer than 24 hours
  • Other symptoms accompany the vomiting or diarrhea
  • A cat’s stomach is swollen or distended
  • A cat is straining in the litter box
  • A young kitten is experiencing symptoms
  • There is digested blood or a large amount of fresh blood in the stool or vomit
  • The cat is living with a chronic condition like diabetes or FIV

In addition to these general guidelines, there are specific cases where vet attention is always warranted:

  • Straining to use the litter and abdominal pain: straining to use the litter and signs of pain in the abdomen indicate potential emergencies.
  • Young kittens: even mild GI symptoms in very young kittens can rapidly lead to life-threatening dehydration
  • Symptoms last longer than 24 hours: even if symptoms are mild and the cat is not experiencing other symptoms
  • More than a few streaks of blood: a small amount of red blood may appear in vomit or stool due to straining or irritation. However, digested blood that looks like coffee grounds or a large amount of red blood requires prompt veterinary attention

For more detailed information about your cat’s diarrhea or vomiting, check out our comprehensive guides. If you’re worried about your cat, an online vet can always help you decide if you need to take your feline friend to the clinic, all from the comfort of home.

Can I treat my cat’s upset stomach at home?

A vet may recommend fasting a cat experiencing mild stomach upset. However, fasting is not safe for all cats. Talk to a veterinarian before attempting to fast your cat so you don’t risk worsening their condition. In addition, suddenly switching diets, including to a bland diet, may make symptoms worse. Do not give medications without discussing them with a veterinarian first. Many human medications are not safe for cats.

Can stomach upset in cats be prevented?

Not all stomach upset in cats can be prevented, but there are steps pet parents can take to minimize the risk. Keep houseplants, other pets’ food, human food, trash, medications, and other tempting items out of a cat’s reach. Staying up to date on vaccinations and parasite prevention helps reduce the risk of  infectious disease and ensures your cat is getting routine care from an expert who can spot early signs of concern. Regular wellness checks and wellness testing can help catch medical conditions, diseases, and internal parasites so they can be treated. If a diet change is needed, slowly introduce the new food rather than making an abrupt change all at once. Finally, always keep your cat’s food and water clean and fresh.

If you have questions about your cat’s sensitive stomach or want to learn how to promote your cat’s digestive health, a virtual vet can help set up a personalized plan that’s best for you and your cat.

FAQ - Signs your cat has an upset stomach

How do you know if a cat has a stomach ache?

It is rare for a cat to show signs of stomach pain. If a cat shows signs of abdominal pain, such as a hunched posture, vocalization, or guarding the stomach, it is more likely to be an injury or a problem with the bladder. When cats experience stomach upset, they are more likely to experience vomiting and diarrhea. Signs of abdominal pain in cats warrant prompt veterinary attention.

What do you give a cat with an upset stomach?

Do not fast a cat, give a bland diet, or give medications without instruction from a veterinarian. Many human medications are toxic to cats, and changing a cat’s diet can worsen symptoms. If your cat is sick enough to warrant giving it some form of treatment, it’s best to see a veterinarian to determine the best course of action.

When should I take my cat to the vet for vomiting or diarrhea?

Take a cat to the vet if the vomiting or diarrhea persists longer than 24 hours, other symptoms are present, a young kitten has severe vomiting or diarrhea, or the cat has an underlying health condition.