Busting Myths about Gut Upset in Dogs & Cats
An inevitable part of being a pet owner is dealing with some, let’s face it, pretty grim moments. These include when your pet vomits and/or has diarrhoea. GI upset is one of the most common reasons dogs and cats are seen by a vet. While an angry gut may seem like a simple diagnosis, there can be a lot more involved
MYTH 1: It’s normal for cats to vomit regularly.
Over the years, cats have earned the reputation of being regular pukers. Many cat owners think their cat vomits just because it’s a cat. While it is true that cats can vomit occasionally without there being a major underlying cause, it truly isn’t normal for cats to vomit regularly. There is no hard and fast rule about how many times is too many, but if your cat vomits at least once per month, there is a possibility of an issue that needs to be addressed. This may be as simple as changing the way your cat is fed, but can also be a medical problem, like intestinal tract disease. Your vet can help you figure out if your cat’s vomiting is a concern.
MYTH 2: My pet’s not vomiting so they can’t be nauseous.
Nausea can be challenging to treat in pets because they can’t tell us they feel unwell. That being said, we often hear pet owners ask why their pet needs anti-nausea medication if their pet isn’t vomiting very much. Particularly in cats, underlying nausea is a common problem that can mask itself as decreased appetite. Our pets do not have to be vomiting to be battling nausea. If your vet recommends anti-vomiting medication when your pet is unwell, it may also be to help combat nausea, so heed their advice.
MYTH 3: Vomiting and diarrhoea aren’t a big deal.
A one off episode of soft stool or vomiting may not be cause for concern. Pets can absolutely have an occasional bout of GI upset. They might have eaten something they shouldn’t have, they might have chewed on some grass in the back garden, or even might have been stressed after a new person visited the house. Once vomiting and diarrhoea becomes a pattern, this should put up a red flag for owners. Multiple episodes of vomiting/diarrhoea in a short period of time may indicate an issue that needs to be addressed. Chronic vomiting/diarrhoea regularly over several weeks to months is also a concern. Taking your pet to the vet sooner rather than later can help avoid dehydration, lethargy, and other side effects of fluid loss. They can also help determine if your pet simply needs supportive care vs. more diagnostic testing to address the underlying problem.
MYTH 4: Pets can’t have parasites if they don’t have diarrhoea.
It’s true that diarrhoea is a common clinical sign of pets infected with intestinal parasites. But did you know that it’s also common for vets to diagnose parasites in pets with normal stool? Particularly in multi-pet households, it’s not uncommon for several pets to be infected and one has diarrhoea but the other does not. This makes regular worming specific to your pets lifestyle and appropriate faecal testing with your vet all the more important.
MYTH 5: Vomiting and diarrhoea are always due to problems with the GI tract itself.
While vomiting and diarrhoea arise from the GI tract and often do reflect irritation with that body system, it doesn’t always mean the underlying problem was just the gut. Here’s a few diseases in pets that are not primary gastrointestinal in origin (like parasites, food sensitivities/allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.) but commonly cause vomiting and/or diarrhoea:
- Hyperthyroidism (cats)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Hepatitis/liver disease
- Kidney infections/pyelonephritis
- Hypoadrenocorticism/Addison’s disease
Let’s recap. This list doesn’t mean that your pet must have a serious problem if they vomit. If you are like many of us, it’s easy to assume something scary is going on. It’s just important for pet owners to be aware that there are many causes of GI upset, and that diseases other than intestinal ones can also cause vomiting and diarrhoea. Just as importantly, vomiting and diarrhoea can cause dehydration and nausea quickly so it’s important to have your pet seen by your vet if they have repeat episodes.
Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS