What is nausea?
Nausea is the feeling of sickness and is often a precursor to actual vomiting (emesis) although not all cats who are nauseous do go on to vomit. Prolonged vomiting can be extremely debilitating to cats.
The purpose of nausea is to act as a warning as well as being protective. For example, nausea at a particularly unpleasant smell is going to put the cat off eating it and possibly save it ingesting something dangerous. Nausea accompanied by vomiting after ingesting a food or substance is usually to rid the body of a toxin. Such as food which has gone off or an ingested toxin. It also serves as a warning system of organ dysfunction or damage.
Vomiting occurs when the vomiting centre in the brain’s medulla oblongata is activated. This occurs via substances in the blood such as drugs, electrolytes, uremic toxins, metabolic derangements or a number of different pathways.
- Morning sickness
- Food intolerance
- Travel sickness
- Chronic kidney disease
- Umbilical hernia
- Diaphragmatic hernia
- Motility disorders
- Liver disease
- Infectious diseases
- Stomach ulcer
- Gastrointestinal obstructions
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Metabolic acidosis
- Hepatic lipidosis
Symptoms of nausea can be somewhat subtle in cats, and as there is often an underlying cause, it can be difficult to determine if some symptoms are due to the disease or due to nausea.
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Sniffing at food in the bowl and walking away (think about how you feel when you’re nauseous, you are hungry but when food is put in front of you the smell alone brings on a wave of nausea)
- Salivation (drooling)
- Excessive swallowing
- Teeth grinding
- Hunched over position
- Lip-smacking or lip licking
Additional symptoms may also be present depending on the underlying condition. Due to the wide range of possible causes, it is not practical to cover symptoms relating to each cause.
A thorough evaluation and diagnostic workup will be necessary to determine the underlying cause. The veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a detailed medical history which will include:
- Onset and frequency of nausea and vomiting
- Other symptoms you may have noticed
- What type of food is the cat eating?
- How is the cat’s appetite
- Frequency of meals
- What has the cat eaten in the past 24-48 hours
- Is the cat drinking and urinating more than usual
- Has the cat ingested anything else recently (plant, non-food object)
- Is the cat on parasite control
- How are the cat’s toilet habits
- Medications the cat has taken (prescribed as well as non-prescribed)
Diagnostic tests can help the veterinarian determine the underlying health of the cat as well as specific tests which will depend on the veterinarian’s index of suspicion.
- Biochemical profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis to evaluate the organs, look for signs of infection, metabolic abnormalities, evaluate electrolyte and glucose levels.
- Xrays and ultrasound to evaluate the organs and look for blockages, hernia or tumours.
- Endoscopy, a plastic tube with a light and a camera on the end which is inserted through your cat’s mouth and into the intestinal tract to look for cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, stomach ulcer. A biopsy may be taken at this time.
The goal of treatment is to find and treat the underlying cause as well as manage symptoms.
- Travel sickness: Cats who suffer from travel sickness can benefit from anti-nausea medications or tranquillisers.
- Anti-emetics: For cats who are suffering from a systemic disorder, anti-emetic drugs may be prescribed to help reduce the feeling of nausea. There are a number of drugs which can be prescribed depending on the cause of nausea and vomiting.
- Antacid drugs: The veterinarian can prescribe medications to reduce the amount of stomach acid produced, gastric protectants which form a protective layer over damaged stomach tissue (stomach ulcers) or medications to neutralise the stomach acid.
- Nutritional support: Nausea is enough to stop your cat eating. You can try offering palatable food is unlikely to help if he is feeling sick. A cat who has gone without food for more than 24-48 hours is at risk of developing hepatic lipidosis, which is life-threatening. Therefore it may be necessary to put in a feeding tube until your cat recovers his appetite.
- Bland diet: Your veterinarian may recommend your cat be put on a bland diet until nausea has subsided.