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Canberra Cat Vet Blog

Furballs and vomiting

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Stomach and intestinal disease is so common in cats that many people think vomiting and ‘furballs’ in an otherwise healthy cat are normal.

 

Vomiting more than once a week, particularly if your cat is losing weight is NOT normal. Furballs are a sign of stomach or intestinal inflammation and should be investigated.

  

There are many causes of vomiting. The easiest to diagnose and treat is an intolerance to a particular food, usually a protein like fish, lamb or beef. If the vomiting stops when your cat is switched to a hypoallergenic diet then a dietary intolerance is the most likely cause. Once the offending protein has been identified you just have to avoid feeding it to your cat.

 

Cats that eat grass or other hard- to-digest plants frequently vomit. Preventing access to the grass may solve the problem but often they are driven to eat grass by an irritated stomach.

 

If a hypoallergenic diet does not eliminate the vomiting we suspect a more serious disease like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or a gut cancer. IBD and low grade gastrointestinal lymphoma are quite responsive to treatment. Occasionally more serious cancers are found.

 

An ultrasound may show increased thickness of the stomach or small intestinal wall indicating IBD or lymphoma. Occasionally another problem like a partial blockage or a solid cancer is found.

 

Unfortunately ultrasound does not distinguish between inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and lymphoma. Biopsy samples of the stomach, small intestinal wall, abdominal lymph nodes, liver and pancreas obtained during abdominal surgery are the most accurate way of distinguishing them.

 

A veterinary pathologist looks at the biopsy sample under the microscope and determines if IBD or lymphoma is present and then classifies them. This information helps us make a treatment plan and predict the response to treatment.

 

Inflammatory bowel disease is caused by a chronically irritated stomach and intestinal lining. The inflammation is sometimes caused by an irritant in the food. Often the cat’s immune system overreacts to components of a normal diet. It is usually very difficult to identify the specific cause. The inflammation interferes with digestion of food and absorption of nutrients. Therefore cats with advanced disease lose weight and try to compensate with an increase in appetite. Treatment includes immunosuppressive drugs such as prednisolone, special diets and vitamin B12 injections. Often, cats get an initial short course of antiparasitic drugs and antibiotics to rule out other irritants of the intestine.

 

IBD is not a curable disease but proper treatment controls it and stops or slows the vomiting and weight loss. Overall, the prognosis is very good.

 

Low grade lymphoma is treated similarly but a low dose chemotherapy drug is added in. Many cats live for years with proper treatment.

 

If dietary intolerance, IBD or low grade lymphoma are left untreated higher grade bowel cancers may develop.

 

Curious cats and sore bellies

Friday, April 11, 2014

This week has been a busy one at Canberra Cat Vet - mainly fishing odd things out of cats' bellies!

On Monday Smitten the kitten was vomiting, hunched up and very dehydrated. We X-rayed her and saw a round object in her abdomen (see the X-ray below). We re-hydrated her on a drip, took her to surgery next morning and found a five cent coin stuck in a bend in her intestine.

Princess arrived on Tuesday. She wouldn't eat and was crying and jumping about intermittently. Her belly was painful but we couldn't see anything on X-ray. She went on a drip too and after a couple of days of force-feeding and pain relief (and scratching our heads - why wouldn't she eat? why did she have a sore belly?) she passed part of a tassel from a cushion - and started eating heartily!

On Tuesday afternoon  a ribbon went missing in prim Miss Mittens' apartment. Her frantic carer came down because the last time she had seen the ribbon was in  Miss Mittens' mouth. Meanwhile Miss Mittens was eating and grooming and seemed quite normal.

Ribbons and string can make the intestines accordion - like putting elastic through a waist band. Eventually they saw through the intestinal wall. Many cats die when the intestinal contents spill into the abdominal cavity and cause massive infection. Even with surgery to remove the ribbon and clean up the spill many cats perish.

Because Miss Mittens looked relaxed and normal her carers found it difficult to believe that she could get so ill. They were very glad they decided to let us take her to surgery when we found the ribbon already working its way through her intestines and causing trouble. Today Miss Mittens is home ruling the household with an iron paw again - but all ribbons have been banished from her kingdom!


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