It is not uncommon for cats to throw up the occasional hairball. However, if your cat were to ever vomit blood, also called hematemesis, your cat could be suffering from something that requires immediate veterinary medical attention. Hematemesis can have two very different appearances. If the blood is coming from the esophagus, stomach, or upper part of the small intestines, it may appear as bright red streaks. If the blood is coming from further down the GI tract, thought, it will appear as coffee grounds. This is due to the blood being partially digested. Regardless of where in the GI tract the blood originated from, vomiting blood can be indicative of a wide variety of medical conditions that your vet can help you diagnose and treat.
As in people, cats can develop open sores on the mucous membranes lining of their esophagus or stomach. Gastrointestinal ulcers are uncommon in cats. They are often associated with tumors in cats, but the cause can also be unknown. They can also cause a loss of appetite, pale gums, lethargy, dark stools, and bloody diarrhea.
If you suspect that your cat is vomiting blood due to an ulcer, get them in to see their vet as soon as your can. Your vet will then be able to create a treatment plan specific to your cat.
Rat Poison Ingestion
Conventional rat poisons are incredibly dangerous around animals and children. Most people don't realize that when a rodent ingests rat poison and subsequently dies, the poison doesn't just stop being toxic. In fact, if a cat (or any other animal, domesticate or wild) ingests a rodent that has passed away from rodenticide ingestion, could be just as at risk as a cat that gets into the rat poison directly.
A cat that ingests rat poison can not only experience hematemesis, but also difficulty breathing, lack of appetite, lethargy, excessive thirst, as well as excessive bleeding. If you suspect that your cat has gotten into rat poison, immediately get your cat to a veterinarian.
If you are able to, collect a small sample of the vomit to bring with in case your vet would want to examine it. When you arrive, the vet may want to perform blood and urine tests to confirm rat poison toxicity. Depending on the severity of your cat's toxicity, your vet will begin treatment to neutralize the poison and get your cat healthy again.
On rare instances, your cat may have a genetic disorder called hemophilia. This is a rare blood disorder that interferes with the body's clotting cascade and, thus, inhibits the formation of clots. Depending on how severe your cat's bleeding it, your vet may want to hospitalize your cat for blood and plasma transfusions.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a GI condition seen in cats. While the true cause is not yet known, most professionals believe it is either the result of food allergies or a hypersensitivity to normal gut flora. IBD is chronic condition, meaning veterinary medicine cannot cure it, but we can manage symptoms. Cats suffering from this disease can also exhibit diarrhea, weight loss, bloody stools, and decreased appetite. Your vet will want to run blood work to check their organ function as well as their Vitamin B levels before starting a treatment regimen for IBD if that is the cause of your cat's hematemesis.
Feline panleukopenia (FP) is very closely related to canine parvovirus as it is a highly contagious and life-threatening viral disease. It is sometimes referred to as feline distemper and is part of the 'feline distemper' vaccine, which also vaccinated for feline viral rhinotracheaitis as well as calicivirus. Keeping your cat current on their vaccines will protect them from FP. If your cat has experienced a lapse in vaccines and FP is the cause of their hematemesis, your vet will want to hospitalize your cat on IV fluids as, just as with puppies that contract parvovirus, supportive therapy is the best treatment for panleukopenia.
While heartworm infection is a well known and well-discussed concern among veterinarians and dog owners, cat owners might be surprised to learn that our feline friends can, unfortunately, contract this deadly parasite as well. Heartworm disease, while not as commonly seen in cats as with dogs, is a serious concern.
While there is a treatment for canine heartworm disease (albeit an expensive, painful treatment), there is no treatment for feline heartworm disease. Cats that contract heartworm can suffer from a condition known as Heartworm Associated Respiratory Disease (HARD). Symptoms of HARD can include vomiting (of both blood and food), coughing, asthma-like attacks, lack of appetite, or weight loss.
There is a simple blood test in dogs to check for heartworms, but the most commonly used test checks only for the adult worm. Cats are slightly more resistant to heartworm infection than dogs, though, so most cats with heartworm don't have any adult worms. Instead, if your veterinarian suspects your cat to be suffering from HARD, they will want to run both an antigen test as well as an antibody test. The antigen test will check to make sure there are no adult worms, but the antibody test will be able to detect exposure to heartworm larvae.
There is monthly prevention for heartworm in cats, just as there is in dogs. Since there is no known treatment for cats with HARD, prevention is key. Your veterinarian will be able to discuss the different prevention options available as well as your cat's risk for exposure.
A foreign object in the GI tract can cause intestinal inflammation at best and an intestinal perforation at worst. The most commonly seen foreign object in cats is string and thread, so keeping these out of the reach of your cat is of the utmost importance. A cat that has a partial or full intestinal blockage from a foreign object will vomit when their food reaches the blockage and cannot continue through the GI tract any further. If there is a perforation or any associated inflammation there may be blood associated with the vomit. Foreign body obstructions require urgent veterinary attention.
Detection and Treatment
If your cat's hematemesis is the result of a foreign object in the GI tract, your vet will want to do imaging, such as an x-ray and/or ultrasound and blood work. Depending on their physical exam findings, testing, and the symptoms your cat is exhibiting, they may want to take your cat straight to surgery or hospitalize on IV fluids and observe them to see if the object can pass on it's own with just supportive care.
The causes for hematemesis are varied and some are more emergent than others, but all do require immediate attention. Your vet can help you determine what medical issue your cat is struggling with and create a treatment plan to help them feel better in not time.