The two most common signs associated with disturbances of the gastrointestinal tract are vomiting and diarrhea. Cat owners should know how to look after a cat with an acute intestinal upset. Remember, acute diseases - with rapid onset and short duration - can, if managed correctly, reduce the risk of
more chronic - long term - problems occurring.
The digestive tract
For cats to get the fuel they need for their daily life, they must digest their food - that is, they break the food down into smaller nutrients that can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Digestion begins in the stomach, and continues in the intestines where the nutrients are absorbed. None of this process occurs in the large intestine. Here, water is re-absorbed into the bloodstream - to allow for the production of firm stools, but also to maintain the body's water balance.
Diarrhea can be caused by a number of different factors, including:
"Gastritis" describes an inflammation of the stomach, and is usually associated with vomiting and abdominal pain. "Enteritis" is inflammation of the intestines. "Gastroenteritis," therefore, describes a general inflammation of the whole intestinal tract. Diseases such as kidney disease and liver disease can result in gastroenteritis.
Inflammation of the intestinal tract interrupts normal digestion and absorption: water and nutrients are not absorbed efficiently into the body, resulting in large volumes of diarrhea.
Acute diarrhea in the cat is often self-limiting, and with the right care and nutrition, the cat will soon be back to normal.
Cats with severe diarrhea are at risk of becoming dehydrated because of this great loss of fluid. To offset this loss, treat your cat with electrolyte drinks, or intravenous fluids if the diarrhea is very severe according to your vet's recommendations. Vomiting also causes fluid loss, and may upset the pH and electrolyte balance of the blood.
Your veterinarian may prescribe medicines (antibiotics and/or drugs to control vomiting) for your cat, depending on the cause and severity of her gastroenteritis. If your cat is severely dehydrated, she may be treated with an intravenous drip to replace the lost fluid. Whatever the cause of your cat's diarrhea, you must control her diet, according to your vet's recommendations.
To give the intestines a rest, your veterinarian may recommend you withhold food from your cat for 24 hours and, instead, give her a fluid replacement drink. These electrolyte solutions aid re-hydration but also help to restore the electrolyte and pH balance in your cat's body.
Your veterinarian will let you know when to start your cat back on solid foods, and may recommend feeding her a highly digestible, concentrated special diet. Reduce the amount of food she takes in by providing small, frequent meals. Make sure everyone in the family knows the importance of feeding your cat only the recommended diet -- she can't receive any treats or snacks. Make sure, too, that she doesn't have the chance to scavenge food from the outside, or from the garbage can.
After she has recovered, gradually return your cat to her regular diet -- usually, over three to four days. If problems persist, seek your veterinarian's advice.