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September 8, 2008

Is it normal for cats to vomit?

I have heard it said by several people over the years, some of whom are veterinarians, that it is "normal" for cats to vomit on occasion.

I am not sure if I would concur. I do not consider vomiting to be "normal," but I do try to decide whether the vomiting is a problem that needs to be addressed or something that is not causing a problem. This brings us to Don and Marlene of Milton, Wash., and their 26-month-old female Scottish fold cat.

They've neglected to provide me with the name of their cat, so I have made one up ... and that would be Crinkle. As you might guess, Crinkle vomits periodically. She has never gone more than 28 days without vomiting, and there have been stretches when she vomits several days in a row. Sometimes the vomit appears as minimally digested food, other times it is very liquid. In either case, there is sometimes hair in the vomit.

Crinkle, who has always been in excellent health, has been seen regularly by her veterinarian, and radiographs have been done to try to figure out the cause of the vomiting.

For the record, Crinkle's vomiting is not normal. There is an underlying cause that presents vomiting as one of its symptoms.

Let's establish some possible causes and develop a plan to rule out as many as possible. The list for a vomiting cat might circle the moon, so we must approach this by taking in all the available factors and physical examination findings to whittle down the list and then to focus on diagnostic steps.

I would likely repeat the abdominal radiographs and probably analyze a blood sample for possible underlying metabolic changes. A fecal examination for intestinal parasites is also warranted.

Beyond these simple tests, it might be necessary to biopsy Crinkle's stomach and bowel to look for inflammatory changes that can cause chronic intermittent vomiting. I am betting that this procedure holds the key.

I would further venture that the most likely cause of Crinkle's vomiting is feline inflammatory bowel disease, which involves an immune system response setting off an inflammatory condition in the digestive tract that often leads to vomiting as one of the main symptoms.

This disease can manifest as a result of certain types of food that cause an inflammatory response. Don and Marlene did report trying several different diets, none of which solved the problem. Many times, we do not find the specific cause of the inflammatory response but we can treat this disease, and usually quite effectively.

Remember, as I mentioned, there are many other possible causes for vomiting in cats. Hopefully, Crinkle's case will be nice and simple and treatment will be effective.

Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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