Cats are notorious for trying to hide when they don’t feel well. But just like humans, they can experience tummy troubles from time to time. An upset stomach in cats can have multiple causes, from eating a new food to something more serious, like an underlying thyroid disease.
If you notice your cat is acting a little off, there are some things you can do at home to soothe their stomach and make them feel better. But ultimately, if you suspect there’s something more serious going on with your cat’s health, you’ll want to take them to the vet for a full check-up.
Upset Stomach in Cats
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Signs Your Cat Has an Upset Stomach
Signs of tummy upset in a cat can vary depending on what exactly is causing the upset stomach, says Dr. Monica Tarantino, DVM, founder of Vets on the Rise and Senior Dog Revolution in Alexandria, Virginia.
However, the most common signs your cat has an upset stomach usually include:
Causes of an Upset Stomach in Cats
And just as the signs can vary, so can the causes. An upset stomach is pretty non-specific, meaning it could arise from something as simple as eating a new food or be a symptom of a potentially life-threatening situation, like eating a toxic plant.
The most common causes of upset stomach in cats include:
Food Indiscretion (Eating Something They Don’t Normally Eat)
Some cats have a sensitive stomach. As such, switching their diet too quickly or giving them a new food or treat they don’t normally eat can upset their digestive system and cause stomach trouble.
This can also happen if you feed them toxic human food and table scraps that they can’t digest well.
Eating Things They’re Not Supposed To
In a similar vein, cats are known for being curious creatures, and sometimes that means they get into something they shouldn’t.
An upset stomach can be a result of a blockage or ingesting a foreign body—strings such as dental floss and yarn are common culprits, according to Dr. Tarantino. It can also be a result of eating a toxic plant, like lilies. Note that eating lilies is a life-threatening medical emergency that can result in kidney failure if not treated promptly.
Stress is one of the most common causes of an upset stomach in cats, according to Dr. Alison Birken, owner and DVM of Victoria Park Animal Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Just like with humans, excessive stress in cats can cause indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation.
If stress is the cause, your cat may also seem tense and withdrawn and be more reactive to their environment.
Intestinal parasites can affect cats of all ages, but they’re especially common in kittens who haven’t gotten any deworming yet, says Dr. Tarantino.
If you suspect parasites in a kitten, seek veterinary care ASAP. If left untreated, parasites (and the diarrhea that often comes with them) can make kittens very sick, very quickly.
Food Allergies or Sensitivities
Just like humans, cats can develop allergies or sensitivities to certain foods and proteins. The most common food allergens for cats include beef, chicken, fish and dairy.
While food allergies can certainly trigger an upset stomach, the most common reaction is constant itching and licking that doesn’t seem to wane with the seasons.
Underlying Health Issues
Some health issues can also cause an upset stomach. Typically, these more serious conditions are accompanied by other symptoms, like vomiting, weight loss, coat changes and lethargy, among others.
Some of the most common underlying conditions causing stomach upset in cats include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
Coughing up hairballs is a normal behavior in cats, and Dr. Birken says you don’t need to be overly concerned with this. However, on occasion, cats may have a difficult time coughing up a hairball or may have excessive hairballs (cats who overgroom or are long-haired), which can cause an upset stomach.
These cats can be prescribed supplements to help, and you should talk with your veterinarian if you are concerned.
When Your Cat Should See a Veterinarian
So, when should you be concerned that your cat may have an underlying health issue? The best way to answer this question is to start by asking how often your cat is experiencing an upset stomach, says Dr. Birken.
Most of the time, symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting resolve within a few days, and an occasional episode here and there usually isn’t anything more serious. However, if your pet is having severe diarrhea for longer than a few days, there is vomiting associated with it or you feel your pet is acting sick (lethargy, withdrawal, etc.), it’s best to contact your veterinarian immediately.
Clinical signs you should look for that require more advanced testing include the following, according to Dr. Birken:
- Multiple episodes of vomiting and diarrhea in a month
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite and refusing food
- Chronic soft stool
- Inability to keep food down due to vomiting
- Lethargy and sickness
- Showing signs of pain and discomfort
- Multiple episodes of vomiting throughout the day despite having no food or water in their stomach
These clinical signs can be associated with more serious digestive health conditions such as foreign bodies, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease or even cancer, according to Dr. Birken.
So, if your cat is exhibiting any of the above symptoms, your vet will likely order additional diagnostics, such as blood tests, radiographs, X-rays and possibly ultrasounds to test for more serious diseases.
If you have any concerns whatsoever, please take your cat to the vet.
What to Feed a Cat With an Upset Stomach
Most vets recommend feeding your cat a bland diet—that may mean boiled chicken and rice or a small amount of pumpkin—while they have an upset stomach.
The bland food helps settle their digestive tract, while the pumpkin (or pumpkin-based treats, like Nummy Tum-Tum) contain fiber that can help bulk up the stool.
You can also get a bland dry food, like Hill’s Prescription Diet i/d Digestive Care Cat Food, if you don’t want to prepare any meals yourself, says Dr. Birken.
Talk to your vet before changing your cat’s food.
Home Remedies for Cat Upset Stomach
In addition to feeding your cat a bland diet, there are some other steps you can take at home to try to settle their tummy.
Before trying these home remedies, you should give your vet a call to rule out any serious concerns. If your vet doesn’t think you need to bring your kitty in for a check-up, discuss the options below to get the all-clear.
If your vet approves, you can:
- Give them probiotics labeled for cats. Sometimes an imbalanced microbiome can cause digestive upset, and probiotics can help balance the gut, especially if an upset stomach is caused by changing the diet too quickly. Dr. Tarantino likes the VetriScience Vetri Mega Probiotic, which has billions of healthy flora to help soothe occasional, mild GI upset and normalize digestion, and VetriScience Probiotic Everyday, a bite-sized chew that can be used as a daily preventive and gut maintenance supplement.
- Add a tablespoon of plain Greek yogurt, which contains probiotics, to their regular food.
- Try hairball remedy supplements, if needed. If your cat is constantly coughing up hairballs, you may want to try an over-the-counter option like Tomlyn Hairball Remedy, which helps eliminate and prevent hairballs.
How to Prevent Upset Stomach in Cats
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In other words, it’s often easier to prevent an upset stomach than it is to make your cat feel better once they have tummy troubles.
Of course, you’re not going to be able to guarantee that your cat feels good all the time, but there are some things you can do to make an upset stomach less likely.
- Do not feed your pet foods that they do not regularly eat—even new treats purchased over the counter can cause diarrhea in cats.
- When introducing new food, switch it slowly, gradually over the course of two weeks. Add a little bit of the new food to the old food gradually, slowly transitioning to a higher ratio of the new food.
- Make sure your pet is on a monthly heartworm prevention that protects against gastrointestinal And have your pet tested every six months to a year for parasites.
- Keep toxic plants out of your home. Dr. Tarantino says she always tells cat parents to be compulsive about keeping potentially harmful plants and flowers out of the home. Cats love to nibble on plants, but some plants, like lilies, can be potentially lethal, while others can irritate the digestive tract. Be diligent about researching plants and very discerning about what’s allowed in your home.
- Be cautious with strings and ribbons. Dr. Tarantino says that this is another thing she often warns cat parents about. String can easily become a foreign body and is one of the most common found in felines. This may not only lead to digestive upset, it can also become life-threatening. Avoid leaving ribbons, string toys, floss and yarn around the house.
- Don’t skip routine visits. Bring your kitty to the vet yearly to get screened for diseases and parasites. Even if your cat looks healthy on the outside, this can help ensure there’s nothing going on beneath the surface.
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