The mythical cat health conundrum

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A cat that could benefit from cat insurance licks her coat.

By: Dr. Jane Matheys
Associate Veterinarian
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance

It’s quite common for my clients to come into an appointment thinking that vomiting is normal in their cats. Before I even inquire as to whether they have cat insurance for their pet, I ask if their cat has any problems related to vomiting. I’ve learned to ask very directly, “Does your cat vomit?” And I’m always surprised by the number of clients who answer “Yes, but that’s what cats do, right?” Wrong!

These clients tend to respond that the cat is fine even though I later discover that the cat has been vomiting habitually for years. I’m not sure how this myth started, but the truth is that vomiting in cats is NOT normal. Sure, an occasional hairball once a month or so can be expected, especially in a long-haired cat, but vomiting that is more frequent than that needs to be brought to your veterinarian’s attention. Having a pet health insurance policy for your cat can significantly help diminish vet-related costs when it comes to visits and diagnosing cat vomiting problems.

So why do cats vomit? The list is long! My approach to a vomiting cat depends on whether the vomiting is acute or chronic, the age of the cat, and how sick the cat is. If the cat is young to middle-aged, still bright and alert and feeling good, and if the vomiting has been going on for several months or longer, I feel comfortable taking a little more time trying to uncover the underlying problem. However, if the vomiting started suddenly, the cat is not feeling well and not eating, or if the cat is older and I see weight loss or other problems, then I will be more aggressive with my diagnostic testing and treatment.

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If there is evidence of hairballs, I will use a hairball diet along with consistent brushing of the coat so the cat won’t ingest as much fur. I have clients keep diaries of the vomiting so we can look for frequency and patterns as well as help to determine whether our treatments are resolving the problem.

If the hairballs have decreased but the cat is still vomiting, I try to determine if food is a factor. I will generally recommend a grain free diet first, a hypoallergenic diet to rule out food allergies or sensitivities next, and then a so-called gastrointestinal diet that has a more highly digestible protein component.

If the cat is allowed outside unsupervised, and especially for cats that hunt, I make sure I do a thorough deworming treatment. I also make sure the cat is not ingesting any toxic/irritating material or plants. Many people think that if cats don’t feel well they will instinctively eat grass to make themselves vomit to feel better. I don’t think cats can reason like this. I more often see that many cats just like to chew on greens naturally and may vomit from stomach irritation that plants can cause, particularly grass. If your cat likes to chew on grass, provide him or her with organic wheat grass or oat grass that you can find in local markets. It’s less likely to cause vomiting.

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For young cats that come in with vomiting and a painful belly, I often think of possible ingestion of a foreign body like a string or small toy. I use x-rays or an ultrasound scan to try to identify those problems, and the kitty may need surgery to remove the material. Again, because diagnosis can be costly, I always recommend pet insurance to my clients. While pet insurance will not cover preexisting conditions, it’s a good idea to invest early to ensure coverage for accidents and illnesses that can crop up thereafter.

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For older cats or for cats that are very sick on presentation, I’m more likely to recommend immediate diagnostics including bloodwork, a urine test, blood pressure measurement, and abdominal x-rays. Unfortunately, this does not always give us the answers. Sometimes the cat may need special procedures like endoscopy with biopsies or exploratory surgery of the abdomen. These more invasive techniques can be costly. Pet health insurance allows the pet owner to give her cat the best possible treatment available without financial worry. Because of this, cost does not have to be the major factor in the medical choices you make for your furry friend.

In my future blogs, I’ll look more closely at specific causes of vomiting in cats and how to diagnose and treat them successfully. For more information about cat health and pet insurance for your cat, visit Pets Best Insurance.

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