Gastroenteritis is a problem that affects the stomach and intestinal tract of a cat. Any cat can develop gastroenteritis and it's hard to ignore it due to its obvious, and often messy, symptoms. It may be the result of a serious illness or simply a new food, but it's helpful for cat owners to understand what this problem is and how it can be safely treated.
What Is Gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and intestines. These internal organs are responsible for the breakdown of food, as well as the absorption of nutrients. If the stomach and intestines become irritated, gastroenteritis is the result. If bleeding in the digestive tract also occurs, the type of gastroenteritis is referred to as hemorrhagic gastroenteritis (HGE).
Symptoms of Gastroenteritis in Cats
Gastroenteritis, like many other diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, often results in vomiting and diarrhea, but other symptoms may also be seen.
The classic symptoms of gastroenteritis are vomiting and diarrhea. The inflammation that occurs in the stomach and intestinal tract results in an upset stomach and, subsequently, vomiting, diarrhea, and even flatulence. It may also cause your cat to be lethargic and not want to eat. Some cats will also cry out if their abdomen is pressed on or hiss and try to bite if their belly is pet because it is painful.
Causes of Gastroenteritis
Many things can cause a cat to develop gastroenteritis, including the following:
- Dietary change or indiscretion - New foods, treats, or supplements, eating garbage or foreign objects.
- Viral infection - Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), Feline leukemia virus (FeLV), Feline parvovirus (panleukopenia virus), and others.
- Bacterial infection - E. coli, Clostridium, and others.
- Parasitic infection - Protozoans like Giardia, whipworms, and other intestinal parasites.
- Fungal infection
- Medication side effects - Antibiotics, steroids, NSAIDs and others.
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
- Toxins - Chocolate, mushrooms, xylitol and other household items.
- Gallbladder disease - Mucoceles, ruptures, inflammation, and other issues.
- Gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV)
- Addison's disease
- Pyometra - Unspayed female cats can get an infected uterus.
- Splenic torsion
Diagnosing Gastroenteritis in Cats
If your cat is showing symptoms of gastroenteritis, your cat will need to see the veterinarian. A history will be obtained to hear how your cat has been acting at home, what it may have been exposed to, and if there were any dietary changes, and a full physical examination will be performed. Your vet may request a fecal sample to be examined for parasitic, bacterial, or fungal infections. They may also take X-rays to check for signs of diseases or foreign objects that could be causing the gastroenteritis. If your cat's abdomen is painful, an ultrasound may be necessary as well. Finally, blood work may be performed to look for other signs of infection, disease, or toxin exposure.
Treatment will vary depending on the cause of the gastroenteritis, but if vomiting and diarrhea are present, these symptoms will likely be treated with antiemetics, probiotics, antidiarrheals, and fluid therapy. Next, depending on the cause of the gastroenteritis, your cat may require surgery, a dietary change, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antifungals, antiparasitics, and other forms of treatment. Hospitalization may be necessary if your cat needs to be on IV fluids or requires surgery, but most cats with gastroenteritis recover quickly.
How to Prevent Gastroenteritis
Since ingestion of a new food, treat, medication, toxin, foreign object, or something else are the most common reasons for gastroenteritis, keeping things your cat shouldn't eat out of its reach is very important. Introducing new foods, treats, medications, and supplements into your cat's diet slowly may also help prevent gastroenteritis.
Regular check-ups with your veterinarian, fecal screenings, and routine blood work may help catch diseases before they cause gastroenteritis. Dewormings or routine intestinal parasite preventatives can help prevent gastroenteritis due to various types of parasitic infections. Keeping your cat in a clean environment and away from pets with an unknown health status can also lessen the likelihood of your cat developing gastroenteritis.
Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis (HGE) vs. Gastroenteritis
HGE is typically a more serious form of gastroenteritis that is more often seen in dogs. It may also be referred to as acute hemorrhagic diarrhea syndrome (AHDS). Red blood may be seen in the vomit and diarrhea but black, digested blood may also be present.
Trotman TK. Gastroenteritis. Small Animal Critical Care Medicine. 2015;622-626. doi:10.1016/B978-1-4557-0306-7.00117-3