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Study Shows that Vomiting in Cats is often a Sign of Serious Disease

Reviewed by Peter Kintzer DVM, DACVIM on Friday, April 22, 2016
Posted September 04, 2014 in A Vet's Life

If you’ve had a cat for more than a month, you’ve surely experienced the delight of feline vomit in an inconvenient location.

Most cat guardians and many veterinarians probably consider regular vomiting of food, bile or hairballs “normal” for a cat. Yet, recent research challenges these long-held assumptions, and warns us to take vomiting seriously.

Sick cat

Studying vomiting in cats
For this study, conducted by the Alamo Feline Health Center and published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, researchers performed an ultrasound on cats who presented with vomiting, diarrhea and/or weight loss.

It’s important to note that endoscopy (placing a camera into the intestine) would have been another method for the researchers to take biopsies. However, this option, even though it is less invasive than surgery, does not give results that are as good. In addition, only surgery allows for biopsies of the entire thickness of the intestine, whereas endoscopy only allows biopsies of the superficial layers.

Here are the results of the biopsies, which were read under the microscope by a pathologist:

  • One cat had no abnormal findings1.
  • Forty-nine cats had a condition generically called chronic enteritis, which means long-term inflammation or irritation of the small intestine. (One of the diseases that belongs to that group is Inflammatory Bowel Disease [IBD, similar to IBS in people]). Those cats were aged from one to sixteen years, with an average age of ten1.
  • Forty-six cats had lymphoma of the small intestine, a type of cancer. Those cats were aged from one to eighteen years, with a mean age of twelve1. Four cats had other types of cancer: three had mast cell tumors and one had adenocarcinoma1.
  • Even though the age ranges look similar, there was a statistical difference between the two groups: cats with chronic enteritis tended to be younger (under eight years of age), and cats over eight years of age tended to have either enteritis or intestinal cancer.

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Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at

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