Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and intestinal tract. Its signs are most commonly vomiting and/or diarrhoea. Potential causes are many and varied, the main ones being intestinal worms, infections (bacterial or viral) and eating something that upsets the gut (eg, ‘garbage’, cooked bones, excessively fatty meals).
Often when cats have gastroenteritis they will still be quite bright and happy. If they present with lethargy/depression as well as vomiting/diarrhoea, other more serious conditions may be present and blood tests (or other diagnostic tests) may be required.
The treatment of gastroenteritis involves ruling out worms and intestinal parasites as a cause first. This is done by either knowing the cat has recently been effectively wormed or by worming them at the time. A faecal sample is usually analysed to help with the diagnosis. Then we give the stomach and intestines a rest. A common problem we see is that cats have been fed too much too soon after the signs started, which triggers another bout of vomiting or diarrhoea.
In most cases the best course of action is to feed nothing for 24 hours (allowing free access to water) and then introduce regular, small, bland meals. ‘Bland’ means that the type of food is not ‘rich’ and will not upset the gut (easily digested). ‘Small’ means that the volume of food will not over stretch the gut and cause further irritation. Bland food may be boiled chicken (no skin, no fat, no bones) and boiled white rice; or one of the commercially prepared prescription diets available from us.
When the vomiting/diarrhoea has stopped, the meals are gradually increased in size and the frequency is reduced, then normal food is added little by little.
Many cats will get better if they revert to normal feeding earlier than this, but some will return to vomiting/diarrhoea. You cannot know which ones will do this until it happens, so it is best to treat all patients as if they will be one of the more sensitive ones. If at any time the vomiting or diarrhoea recurs it is very important to let us know so we can reassess the diagnosis and treatment.
Cats with gastroenteritis can lose significant amounts of water quickly and can find themselves severely dehydrated quickly. Some cats need to be hospitalised and rehydrated with intravenous fluid therapy. An injection may be given to settle the nausea/vomiting and sometimes a course of antibiotics will be prescribed if bacterial infection is suspected. Antibiotics are often held in reserve as most patients improve rapidly even without them. Unidentified viral diarrhoea will usually resolve without medications.
Regular worming, flea control, vaccinations and being careful with your cat’s diet will greatly reduce the chance of gastroenteritis reoccurring.