You might not notice your cat's restlessness, but his retching will definitely catch your attention. Cats get tummy aches and related stomach issues for many reasons, some obvious, some enigmatic. Watch for other symptoms and try to figure out what's wrong. Seemingly mundane stomach issues sometimes indicate serious medical conditions.
Food for Thought
When your cat starts stumbling, vomiting and having stomach pain, diarrhea or gas, you need to assess how serious his condition is.
If he's got a hairball or simply eaten too much, he should start acting normal after throwing up. If you want to get technical -- warning, the rest of this sentence's gross-out factor is high -- vomiting is from the stomach and takes effort, while regurgitation is from the esophagus and is effortless. Both can herald distinct medical conditions. A veterinarian may ask you questions to help narrow a diagnose.
If your cat gets sicker, keeps retching or looks restless or especially listless, watch for other symptoms and call a veterinarian or vet hotline. Err on the side of caution.
If your cat looks like he's in a lot of pain, try touching his stomach. If it's painful -- he'll reel, cry, grunt, meow or may even purr -- he needs immediate medical attention. Call a veterinarian or visit the nearest 24-hour pet ER.
Possible causes include urinary tract obstruction, abdominal trauma with internal bleeding, bladder rupture, perforation of the stomach or intestines, acute peritonitis, intestinal obstruction or (if you've got an intact female cat) pregnant uterus rupture. If your cat has any of these, it's likely he'll get sicker and sicker if left untreated. His breathing may become shallow and his pulse may weaken. He could go into shock. He could die.
If your cat doesn't appear to be in pain, you're not necessarily in the clear. Poisoning is still on the table.
Cat vomit is gross, but you have to clean it up, right? Take a closer look at it. If notice any plant matter or pills, you need to figure out if your cat ate something poisonous.
Check house plants for bites and nibbles, make sure cupboards and medicine bottles are closed. See if you left anything inappropriate on the counter. The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a list of plants poisonous to cats -- check that. They also have a list of common household poisons -- check that, too.
It can take hours, even days in some cases, for poisoning symptoms to show up, so your cat's empty stomach doesn't mean you're in the clear. Call a veterinarian or pet poison control hotline.
If you've ruled out illness and poisoning, but your cat still has a tummy ache, you need to help nurse him back to health.
Don't offer your cat food for 6 to 12 hours after vomiting. (Put away bowls if you free-feed your pets.) When he looks better, offer him a small amount of baby food with meat -- check the label to make sure garlic and onions aren't listed as ingredients, since they're toxic to cats -- or boiled rice with skinless, boneless chicken. Reintegrate other foods across several days.
If your sick cat is throwing up a lot or has chronic diarrhea, you need make sure he stays hydrated. Lift the skin on his shoulder blades. If it springs back, he's properly hydrated. If not, he may need fluids administered by a veterinarian, stat.
- WebMD: Acute Painful Abdomen in Cats
- Institute for Laboratory Animal Research: Recognizing Pain in Animals
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Animal Poison Control FAQ
- Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Vomiting
- Cornell University Cornell Feline Health Center: Bad Breath -- Sign of Illness?
- Dr. Mohammed Khalil: The Anatomy of the Digestive System
- WebMD: Vomiting in Cats -- Causes and Treatments
- HillsPet.com: Gastrointestinal Disorders
- Dr. Sue A. Whitman: Vomiting in the Cat -- More Than a Hairball?
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List -- Cats
- WebMD: Top Cat Poisons
- Texas A&M University Gastrointestinal Laboratory: Pancreatitis Information
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Pet's Regurgitation May Signal Weak Esophagus
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: A Hairy Dilemma
- Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images