ASK A VET: How Can I Help Prevent GI Upset in My Cat?

By Dr. Genie Bishop

No cat owner enjoys cleaning up vomit or diarrhea, but we have to remember that it’s the cat who’s suffering the most in these circumstances. Gastrointestinal (GI) upset can make life miserable for both you and your cat, so let’s look at some ways you can help prevent the occurrence of GI upset:

Cat-Proof Your House.

Much like you would prepare your house for a human baby, you want to prepare your house for your cat. If you sew or do crafts, make sure to keep thread and needles sealed in containers. Cats love to play with string, but swallowing it can cause severe intestinal damage. Houseplants like ivy, lily and dumb cane (dieffenbachia) are just a few of the common houseplants that can cause GI problems for your cat when she eats them. Even hair ties are foreign bodies commonly removed from the stomachs of cats.

Limit Time Outside.

Your cat is a natural hunter. Small prey, such as birds, lizards or even bugs, abound in your backyard. A frequent feast of feathers and bones could certainly upset her digestive system.   

Potential Parasites.

Some parasites can cause GI upset. If your cat encounters a parasite, you should never try an over-the-counter deworming medication unless approved by your veterinarian; medications need to be specific to the parasite, and some of the general dewormers can be harmful to cats. Your veterinarian can perform laboratory tests to determine if a parasite is causing the problem and prescribe the appropriate medication.

Know What She’s Eating.

Some GI upsets may be food-related and could be corrected with a special diet. Many cats have allergies to certain proteins, which can result in both GI and skin problems. These cats can benefit from therapeutic diets available from your veterinarian. Additionally, most adult cats are lactose intolerant! This means that the old practice of giving kitty a saucer of milk can actually do more harm than good. Again, your veterinarian is your best source of information on what foods to avoid when feeding your cat.

Manage Hairballs.

 Hairballs are another common condition that can result in vomiting and constipation in cats, especially in those with long hair. However, only your veterinarian should make this diagnosis. Many conditions can have the same clinical signs as hairballs, and you could be doing more harm than good by administering a laxative for a hairball that was never there in the first place.

Visit Your Vet.

Some GI conditions will occur due to circumstances beyond your control, and this is another reason all cats should visit a veterinarian at least once a year. With regular physical exams, your vet may be able to discover a problem before you notice anything’s wrong. Some very serious conditions may require in-depth testing to diagnose, and early diagnosis is important to successful management in most cases.

By controlling certain factors in your cat’s environment and by partnering with your veterinarian, you can rest assured that you are doing everything possible to help your cat avoid unnecessary GI upsets. 

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Dr. Genie Bishop is the Scientific  Communications Manager for Royal Canin Veterinary Marketing. Prior to that, she was in private practice for 30 years as well as serving as an instructor of medicine and surgery in a veterinary technician program.