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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

We took in a Siamese mix cat, Merryl, about 10 years ago, when he was six months old. About 5 years ago he started vomiting a white foamy substance. We took him to the vet, who ran a battery of tests — blood work, x-rays, you name it — that revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Back then Merryl, was doing this once or twice a week and would eat little or nothing for a day each time it happened. He would puke four or five times, just foamy clear/white liquid even if he just ate a meal. Sometimes loose hair would be mixed in, but I never saw a hairball. But in the past year, the problem has gotten worse. He’s now doing repeated vomiting episodes three or four times a week. About a day after an episode, he seems to feel better and eats like you wouldn’t believe; he’s fine for a day or two, and then the whole process repeats. We’ve taken him to several different vets looking for answers, with no luck. He is so skinny he almost looks unhealthy, but when he is eating he’s super-active and extremely loving. This has gone on so long it is obviously not something that’s very critcial to his health, but we would love to treat him! We have tried Science Diet foods, other dry foods, only canned moist foods — none of this seems to affect the issue at all. He had a couple of urinary tract infections, but the last one was two years before this vomiting issue surfaced. Otherwise, he has no problems other than this one repeating issue no vet can seem to figure out. Any ideas? We want to help him!

~ Alex

Siouxsie: Wow, Alex, we’re sorry that you and Merryl are going through this misery! We think we might have a few tips for you and possibilities to discuss with your veterinarian as well.

Thomas: First of all, there are all kinds of reasons why cats vomit, from hairballs to bad food to eating mildly poisonous plants.

Dahlia: In the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook, the authors write that when a cat vomits and continues to retch, bringing up a clear, frothy fluid, that suggests spoiled food, grass, hairballs, eating indigestible objects, or diseases that irritate the stomach lining.

Siouxsie: Another common reason for vomiting is food sensitivity. Cats aren’t designed to eat high-carbohydrate foods, and many commercial pet foods are made with artificial preservatives, low-quality grains and low-quality proteins.

Thomas: You might try feeding Merryl a premium canned cat food, one that’s 95% protein or more, with a type of meat he doesn’t usually eat. I’m quite fond of the venison canned food Mama’s been getting for us, and it’s easier on my tender tummy than other types of meats.

Dahlia: Another thing you can do is try feeding him some baby food. Pureed chicken or beef baby food (read the label and make sure it does not contain garlic!) may be easy enough on his stomach that he could tolerate eating some even after one of his vomiting episodes.

Siouxsie: It’s not ideal food — it doesn’t have all the nutrients cats need — but it will give him some energy to recover and he may feel less miserable with something in his stomach.

Thomas: Has your cat had an ultrasound exam or an endoscopy? We ask because certain diseases that cause vomiting, such as pancreatitis and liver/gall bladder disease, can be detected by ultrasound. An endoscopic procedure can detect if Merryl has any abnormalities in his digestive tract, such as a stomach ulcer (cats do occasionally get them) or irritable bowel disease.

Dahlia: Because Merryl is so skinny, we’re concerned that he’s not able to absorb and utilize whatever nutrients he is getting, so it would be worth it to find out if there’s anything structurally wrong with his gastrointestinal system.

Siouxsie: Another question for you: How are Merryl’s bowel movements? Are they normal and solid, or does he have diarrhea or stools that are like cow manure in consistency? Be sure you report to your vet about what comes out the back of the kitty as well as what comes out the front.

Thomas: Different consistencies, colors, and smells of feces can help your vet get some idea of where in your kitty’s gastrointestinal tract the irritation is taking place.

Dahlia: If Merryl is vomiting because he’s nauseous, your vet may be able to give you a medicine to help combat the queasiness, which may make it easier for him to enjoy a good meal.

Siouxsie: And, of course, we can’t ignore the possibility that there’s something in Merryl’s environment that’s making him sick. When the problem started five years ago, had you changed anything in your home? For instance, did you have new carpet installed? Did you have your home or yard sprayed for bugs? Did you bring some new plants inside?

Thomas: Cats do like to chew on plants, and some of those plants can be toxic to cats. If you’re seeing plant matter in Merryl’s vomit, he may be eating your plants for reasons known only to him.

Dahlia: Here’s a comprehensive list of plants and household cleaners that are toxic to cats.

Siouxsie: We suggest you keep a journal of the foods Merryl is eating, any special activities going on (even including household chores like vacuuming and doing laundry), what kind of kitty litter you’re using, the consistency and frequency of his bowel movements and urination, and the times when he has vomiting episodes. You may find some common factors that can help you track down the sources of his problem.

Thomas: Good luck, Alex. I know how awful it feels to have a sensitive stomach and easily irritated guts, so I really sympathize with Merryl!

Dahlia: Please let us know what you find out and if any of the changes you make help the little guy feel better.