Vomiting & Diarrhea in Cats: Our Vet Shares 3 Home Remedies

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  • Vomiting and diarrhea are common complaints from cat parents. When I speak with concerned clients about their kitty’s symptoms, I explain that some causes of vomiting and diarrhea can be treated at home, but others require veterinary attention.

    In this article, we’ll explain the top causes of vomiting and diarrhea and cats, review the best home remedies, and discuss signs that it’s time to see your veterinarian. By understanding the reasons for digestive upset and best remedies, you should be equipped to help your kitty at home and know when it’s time to see the vet.

    Three Home Remedies to Help Cats Who Vomit and Have Diarrhea

    Below are effective home remedies that might help your cat. Remember to always check with your veterinarian before administering any at-home remedies:

    1. Start with a bland diet

    Cats that exhibit vomiting and diarrhea should be placed on a bland diet after a 12-24 hour fast (Do not fast kittens before placing them on a bland diet). The fast gives the digestive tract rest and helps to reduce inflammation.  Bland diets rely on readily digestible materials that are gentle on the gut as it heals. You can try this at home for 1-2 days to see if the symptoms resolve. Examples of bland diets include:

    When reintroducing food to your cat after a fast, do it gradually. Give several small portions throughout the day to avoid stressing the gut. Below is a recommended feeding schedule.

    • Day 1: Feed 50% of a normal daily diet. Divide the food into 6-8 smaller portions and offer several small meals during the day.
    • Days 2 and 3: Offer about 75% of a normal daily diet divided into 4-6 smaller meals.
    • Days 4 and 5: Feed a full ration divided into 3-4 smaller meals.
    • Day 6: Mix a small amount of your cat’s normal diet into the bland diet and feed normal meals
    • Day 7: Feed a 50/50 blend of your cat’s regular diet and feed normal meals
    • Day 8: Feed 75% normal cat food mixed with 25% bland diet and feed normal meals
    • Day 9: Return to your cat’s regular diet

    2. Pre- and probiotics that can help cats with vomiting and diarrhea

    If your cat has vomiting and diarrhea, certain over-the-counter supplements and products may help her. Prebiotic fiber helps add bulk to the stool and promotes normal gut motility. Active cultures or probiotic microorganisms ensure healthy gut flora to support digestion and encourage digestive health. For cats who vomit and have diarrhea, I recommend Pet Honesty Digestive Probiotics because it offers a cocktail of 10 different bacteria with a total of 5 billion CFUs of live organisms per serving. It also includes chicory root and flaxseed meal to provide prebiotic fiber. 

    3. Antidiarrheal medications can also help your cat

    Feline-safe antidiarrheal liquids with products like kaolin and pectin can help to soothe the digestive tract and firm up poops. Nutri-vet Anti-diarrhea liquid for cats is one such product.

    When home remedies are not enough – signs that tell you it’s time to see your veterinarian

    You may be able to treat mild cases of vomiting and diarrhea at home. But any time you see the following signs, you should take your cat to the vet.

    • Vomiting/diarrhea lasts more than 12 hours
    • diarrhea lasts more than 48 hours
    • Vomiting several times per hour despite fasting
    • Blood in the vomit or stool
    • Painful abdomen
    • Acting disoriented or lethargic
    • Dehydrated (gums feel tacky to touch)
    • Refusing food or water for more than 24 hours
    • No improvement after 2 days of clinical signs or home treatment

    In any case, we recommend calling your veterinarian to work on a treatment plan. Before you start your cat on home remedies, it’s also important to understand the top causes of vomiting and diarrhea in cats. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend the right treatment plan once the root cause has been identified. Let’s now review the top causes to see what you might be up against.

    Top causes of vomiting and diarrhea in cats

    Cats may have vomiting and/or diarrhea any time something triggers inflammation in their gastrointestinal tracts. The top causes include:

    1. Food sensitivity or sudden diet change

    Some cats have sensitive systems, and a sudden change in diet can trigger inflammation and upset. In other cases, a kitty may not be able to effectively digest certain commercial products. Either way, when your feline furbaby ingests food that irritates the gut, you may see

    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Loss of appetite
    • Drooling

    Usually, vomiting and diarrhea triggered by food tend to resolve once you remove the offending ingredient and rest the gut. If your cat reacted to a new diet, try gradually transitioning from the old to the new food over 3-4 days. Elimination diet trials may be needed to identify food sensitivities so you can avoid those ingredients in the future.

    2. Inflammatory bowel disease

    Inflammatory bowel disease(IBD) usually affects middle-aged cats and is characterized by chronic vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms of IBD in cats include:

    • Vomiting/diarrhea at least twice a week 
    • Gradual weight loss
    • Change in appetite(may increase or decrease)
    • Reduced activity levels
    • Flatulence
    • Abdominal pain
    • Stool changes

    IBD has no cure, but it can be managed. The treatment depends on your cat’s symptoms and the disease severity.

    • Dietary changes
    • Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
    • Deworming or antibiotics if needed
    • Nutritional supplements including probiotics and B-vitamins
    • Immunosuppressants

    3. Bacterial infection

    Cats may experience gut infections from bacteria, most commonly Salmonella and Campylobacter. When bacterial cells infect the intestinal tract, they can cause a range of signs.

    • Vomiting/diarrhea
    • Fever
    • Swollen lymph nodes
    • Loss of appetite
    • Lethargy
    • Weight loss
    • Dehydration

    Depending on the severity of the infection, cats may receive supportive treatment including IV fluids and antibiotics. 

    4. Viral infection

    Several feline viruses including coronavirus, feline leukemia virus, and feline distemper can trigger a range of symptoms including:

    • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
    • Loss of appetite
    • Weight loss
    • Lethargy/depression
    • Dehydration
    • Fever

    If your cat has symptoms that suggest a viral infection, take her to the vet. She may need IV fluids and other supportive care. You should also isolate your cat from other pets to prevent the spreading of the infection. 

    5. Foreign body obstruction

    If your kitty swallows a toy or other foreign material, it may lodge in the gastrointestinal system and cause an obstruction. When food can’t pass through the digestive tract, it stresses your cat and leads to symptoms like:

    • Vomiting
    • Bloody diarrhea at first followed by constipation in a day or two
    • Abdominal pain
    • Straining to defecate
    • Behavioral changes such as hiding
    • Lethargy
    • Weight loss

    In most cases, the treatment for obstruction is 

    • Surgical removal of the foreign body
    • IV fluids and other supportive care
    • Anti-inflammatory medications
    • Pain killers

    Cats usually recover after about 10-14 days of rest at home.

    6. Intestinal parasites

    illustration showing the most common internal parasites in cats

    Intestinal worms like roundworms and protozoa like Giardia can infest your cat’s digestive tract and cause vomiting and diarrhea. When parasites affect your kitty, you may notice other symptoms.

    • Lethargy
    • Weight loss
    • Changes in appetite
    • Dehydration
    • Abdominal swelling or pain

    Your veterinarian can diagnose the parasites with a stool sample. Anthelmintic medications are used to treat intestinal worms. When your kitty has a protozoal infection, the appropriate antibiotic is the treatment of choice. 

    7. Toxins

    If your cat ingests a toxic food, chemical, or plant, vomiting and diarrhea may be the main symptoms. Poisoning is an emergency and life-threatening situation. Any time you suspect poison, you should contact your veterinarian and get your kitty to the clinic immediately. Early treatment is essential to improve your cat’s chances of survival.

    Depending on how recently your cat ate the poisonous substance, he may induce vomiting(if your kitty isn’t already throwing up) or administer activated charcoal to minimize the toxin exposure. Additionally, the doctor will provide supportive care such as IV fluids. 

    What will happen at the vet?

    When you bring your cat to the vet for vomiting and diarrhea, be prepared to give a history of what signs you have observed in your kitty and when they started. Let the doctor know about any remedies you tried at home and whether they had any effects. Also, bring a stool sample along for analysis.

    Diagnosis

    Your veterinarian will begin by getting a history and giving your cat a physical examination. He’ll do a fecal analysis to check for any parasites and may take blood samples, urine samples, or an x-ray/ultrasound based on the physical signs. 

    The cost of diagnosis and treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause of your cat’s vomiting and diarrhea.

    • Initial diagnosis and treatment of food allergies/sensitivity are about $400 
    • Inflammatory bowel disease treatment can run about $500-3,000
    • Treatment for bacterial and viral infections costs about $200-500
    • When a cat has an intestinal obstruction, the cost of surgery and other treatments ranges from $800-7,000
    • For intestinal parasite infections, the cost generally ranges from $100-400
    • Emergency care and supportive treatment for poisoning can range from about $500-1,000 unless surgery is needed.

    Treatment

    When your vet has a diagnosis, he’ll begin treatment based on his findings and your cat’s symptoms. Treatment options may include

    • IV fluids
    • Fasting for 12-14 hours followed by a bland diet for 2 or more days
    • Dietary changes
    • Antiinflammatory medications
    • Antibiotics
    • Anthelmintics
    • Surgery
    • Pain killers

    When are vomiting and diarrhea an emergency?

    When cats have vomiting and diarrhea, they can quickly lose body fluids and become dehydrated. Additionally, going more than a day without eating can cause dangerous health conditions in felines. Vomiting and diarrhea in cats can quickly become an emergency when a cat:

    • Vomits multiple times in an hour
    • Vomits and has diarrhea for more than 12 hours
    • Vomits blood or has bloody diarrhea
    • Can’t keep water down
    • Acts confused or is unresponsive
    • Refuses to eat for more than 24 hours

    Preventing vomiting and diarrhea issues with your cat in the future

    You can take some actions to help protect your kitty from some of the causes of vomiting and diarrhea.

    • Maintain your cat’s health with annual veterinary checkups
    • Stay up-to-date on preventative vaccinations
    • Provide ample fresh water for your cat
    • Give your cat preventative anthelmintics
    • Feed a diet that features digestible ingredients and fiber-rich foods
    • Avoid potential food allergens
    • When you switch to new cat food, transition gradually over 1-2 weeks
    • Supplement your cat’s diet with probiotics

    Frequently asked questions

    When should I worry about my cat’s vomiting and diarrhea?

    You should be concerned when you notice

    • Vomiting multiple times in an hour
    • Vomiting and diarrhea for more than 12 hours
    • Blood in stool or vomit
    • Can’t keep water down
    • Refusing to eat after 24 hours without food
    • Unresponsiveness or confusion

    Should I feed my cat after vomiting and diarrhea?

    When your cat has vomiting and diarrhea, it’s best to withhold food for at least 12 hours to rest the gut. After that, you may introduce small, bland meals of something like boiled chicken and rice.

    How long should a cat have diarrhea before I take him to the vet?

    If your cat’s symptoms last more than 2 days, or if you have other concerning symptoms such as blood in the stool, you should take your kitty to the vet.

    How long should a cat vomit before I take him to the vet?

    If your cat is vomiting multiple times in an hour or if the vomiting continues for more than 12 hours, take him to the vet.

    Can stress cause vomiting and diarrhea in cats?

    Stress from a change in routine or boarding can trigger vomiting and diarrhea in some cats.

    Can worms cause vomiting and diarrhea in cats?

    Intestinal worms can irritate the gut and cause vomiting and diarrhea in cats.

     

    Author

    • Dr. Liz Guise, Veterinarian

      Dr. Elizabeth Guise (DVM) graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. She worked as a veterinarian in private practice for over two years before going to work with the USDA as a veterinary medical officer for 14 years.