Vomiting blood, also known as hematemesis is always a worrying sign noted by owners 1. Cats are often seen retching to bring up hairballs and they do vomit on occasion when doing this. They may vomit if they have eaten too much food or eaten something too quickly.
However, if you see blood in their vomit, it is vital that they receive veterinary attention as soon as possible. Vomiting blood can be a sign of various medical issues. Your vet will be able to diagnose and treat the underlying cause in most cases.
This article will discuss the many underlying causes of vomiting blood. Read on to find out more.
What to Do if You See Blood in Your Cat’s Vomit
If you see blood present in your cat’s vomit it is vital that you take them straight to your vet to have them checked out. It is important that owners are aware that cats vomiting blood can manifest in very different ways. Frank blood can appear in the vomit, which is bright red. This usually comes from higher up on the digestive tract such as the top of the stomach or the esophagus. Or there may be bleeding in the mouth that gets confused with vomit.
If there is bleeding further down the digestive tract, the blood will appear brown and lumpy, this is because the blood has entered the digestive tract and begun to be digested. It is important that you visit your vet when you see either of these types of blood on vomit.
When you visit your vet with your cat, they will first need to gather a thorough clinical history. Be prepared to answer questions such as:
Your vet will then perform a thorough physical exam. They will do routine blood tests and a urinalysis to check the red and white blood cell counts and also to analyze organ function. They will decide on specific diagnostic tests. Depending on the findings of the clinical exam they may then want to perform X-rays, ultrasound scans, endoscopy, take biopsy samples, or perform surgery.
The 15 Possible Reasons Why Your Cat is Throwing Up Blood
1. Gastrointestinal Ulcers
If the protective lining of the gastrointestinal tract becomes damaged, the cells beneath are exposed to the stomach’s strong acidic fluids and an ulcer develops. If an ulcer is left untreated, it can cause excessive bleeding, which gets vomited up. The ulcer can eventually perforate the wall causing a full thickness hole. This can have fatal consequences.
Gastric ulcers are frequently seen with tumors in cats, but the cause is often unknown. Overall, they are relatively uncommon in cats. Other common signs seen with ulcers include lethargy, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, dark blood-stained feces, and pale gums.
Mild ulcers can be managed medically with drugs such as H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors. Medication to coat the lining of the gastrointestinal tract such as sucralfate can also be used.
Blood transfusions may also be indicated if anemia is present. Severe ulcers may require surgical intervention.
2. Poison Ingestion
If your cat has eaten a toxic substance such as rat poison, this can cause vomiting with blood present. This includes cats eating rats that have recently died from poisoning themselves. Cats that have ingested rodenticides can experience respiratory distress, lethargy, collapse, and excessive thirst as well as blood in their vomit.
If cats ingest certain foods and household chemicals, they can cause inflammation or corrosion in the gastrointestinal tract which can cause bleeding. Treatment of poison ingestion can involve the induction of vomiting to empty the stomach, (although this is tricky in cats), activated charcoal to prevent toxins from being absorbed, and supportive care such as fluid therapy.
3. Chronic Vomiting
Cats that have underlying medical issues that lead to them vomiting frequently, can go on to cause hematemesis. This is due to the constant irritation and trauma from bringing up acidic stomach liquid several times a day. The underlying cause of chronic vomiting must be identified first before any treatment plan is initiated.
4. Clotting Disorder
Some cats suffer from clotting disorders where they are unable to form blood clots properly. This means that if your cat is bleeding from anywhere, they will struggle to slow the blood loss down. They may be bleeding internally and when this accumulates, they will vomit it up.
Treatment for clotting disorders depends on the type of clotting disorder present, the cause of the clotting disorder, and which blood factor is affected.
5. Foreign Body
Any cat that has eaten a bone or other similar object may experience trauma as the object travels down the gastrointestinal tract. Foreign bodies may become lodged somewhere or cause damage resulting in a perforation injury. Bleeding into the gastrointestinal tract is highly likely and vomiting will follow soon after.
Treatment for foreign bodies usually involves surgical removal under general anesthesia. Some foreign bodies can be retrieved using endoscopy and others may be passed out with the cat’s feces or be vomited back up.
6. Inflammatory Bowel Disease
This is a condition that affects the gastrointestinal tract. It is a chronic condition and there is no cure, only management options. Inflammatory changes and irritation to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract can cause bleeding and vomiting. Cats may also have bloody diarrhea, reduced appetite, and weight loss.
Treatment of inflammatory bowel disease depends on the underlying cause but can include dietary management, immunosuppressive medication, parasite treatment, antibiotics for secondary infections, and vitamin B12 injections.
Malignant and benign tumors of the gastrointestinal tract can disturb the blood vessels causing bleeding. They can also cause ulcers as mentioned above. Treatment depends on the type of cancer present. Options can involve surgical removal, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
7. Kidney Disease
Cats suffering from kidney disease often experience vomiting. Depending on how far along the disease is, they may have also developed gastric ulcers which can cause blood to be present in the vomit. There is usually no cure for kidney disease (depending on the cause of the problem) but management options include a dietary change, phosphate binders, potassium supplements, antibiotics, anti-sickness drugs, drugs to reduce blood pressure, drugs to reduce proteinuria, fluid therapy, and B vitamins.
Infections caused by viruses, bacteria, and fungi can all cause blood in vomit. For example, Salmonella and Panleukopenia viruses can damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract which leads to internal bleeding. Antibiotics, anti-fungal medication, and supportive care can be used to treat infections.
Certain drugs such as corticosteroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can cause ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract. They can also delay blood clotting cascades. Both of these scenarios can lead to vomiting blood. Careful monitoring and regular checkups should be carried out when using these drugs long-term.
10. Gastrointestinal Parasites
Certain parasites can cause gastrointestinal bleeding by latching onto the lining of the guts and causing damage. Heartworm can cause a phenomenon called heartworm-associated respiratory disease, which causes excessive vomiting with blood present, amongst other things.
Treatment may include anti-parasite medication and supportive care such as fluid therapy or blood transfusions if chronic anemia is present.
11. Postoperative Complications
If your cat has recently undergone any surgical procedure involving the gastrointestinal tract, this can cause blood in vomit. Your vet will keep your cat hospitalized for the immediate post-operative period and you will need to closely monitor them at home when they are discharged.
12. Liver Disease
Liver disease in cats can cause chronic vomiting over time. It can also affect the clotting ability of the blood, so often hematemesis is seen in this situation. Treatment for liver disease depends on the underlying issue but it can involve dietary changes, antibiotics, surgery, and liver supplements. Some treatments focus on neurological complications as well.
Any disorder that causes a sudden drop in blood pressure and a state of shock can cause damage to the gastrointestinal tract and result in bleeding. Treatment for shock involves restoring the circulating blood volume. It can include intravenous fluid therapy, oxygen supplementation, pain relief, and a blood transfusion may be necessary.
14. Brain Damage/Disease
Due to the location of the vagus nerve, if there are any disease processes that increase pressure inside the skull, the nerve can become stimulated. This causes the stomach to become more acidic. This in turn can facilitate the development of gastric ulcers. Treatment depends on the underlying issue. It may include pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication.
15. Ingestion of Blood
If your cat has an injury in the oral cavity or respiratory tract that is bleeding, they may ingest large quantities of blood which then cause them to vomit it back up. Treatment will require identifying the source of the bleeding and addressing it as required.
There are many different reasons why your cat may be vomiting blood. Some may be obvious and can be simple to rectify. Others may be more subtle and complex. Whatever the underlying cause of the bleeding may be, it is never a good sign.
If you see blood in your cat’s vomit, you must always take them to your vet straight away. It may be a sign of something serious that needs immediate veterinary attention.