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Cats: Recognizing Nausea and Food Aversions

You know that feeling when you decide to go ahead and commit to buying a whole case of your cat’s favorite food…. and then they decide it’s poison? There might be a medical reason!

We have all experienced the sensation of feeling nauseous without the progression to actual vomiting. The same degree of nausea occurs in our companions as well. Cats that are feeling nauseous can simply refuse to eat or not venture toward their usual feeding stations. Or they can lick their lips frequently or swallow often or swallow effortfully. This “lip-licking” and “heavy swallowing” are common signs of nausea in our companion cats that you can observe without actually seeing a cat vomit. Some ill cats will come to their food bowels and bend forward as if to eat, but upon smelling or seeing the food, recoil and move away, and maybe lick their lips afterwards. We suspect that many of these cats weren’t nauseous until the sight or smell of the food triggered the nausea.

You may have also had the experience of being nauseous from a particular kind of food and then not wanting to eat that same kind of food for days, weeks, or even months thereafter. That is a food aversion and cats are famous for developing food aversions easily. Our feline friends can develop a food aversion after just once smelling or tasting a food while they are nauseous, or vomiting a type of food just one time. It entirely depends on the level of nausea – that is, how severe it was and how long it was present. Cats with medical conditions that often cause nausea like kidney failure, constipation, inflammatory bowel disease often develop such aversions. They can become triggered by the type of food they were eating like “chicken”, or the texture of the food like chunky canned food VS pate canned food, and even by the location in the house or the sight of the serving dish! Some cats can become averse to the texture and may not want to eat anything that is canned or anything that is kibble if they have experienced prolonged nausea with one particular texture.

So what can you do to help your feline friend who may be nauseous? First of all, just recognizing nausea without the act of vomiting is a good start. If you offer your friend some food and they recoil from it and give you that look of “get it away from me” – then remove it immediately and never dab it on their face or paws! Smelling it and not being able to get away from the smell is a sure way for them to develop a food aversion.

When our cat friends are not eating, we tend to go to great lengths to find something they find tasty enough to eat. It will be helpful to your kitty’s health care provider if you keep a list of the types and brands of food you have offered, and your cat’s reaction. And again if your cat recoils from the food, shows lip-licking, or heavy swallowing, remove the food right away. If you have tried several foods, and none have been acceptable, it is time to stop offering foods and get them to a doctor. It’s not uncommon for cat lovers to “run out” of flavors because they have offered everything they can find to a nauseous feline. So get your kitty some help and offer food when you have the best chance of it being accepted.

And if you do run out of things to offer, give us a call. We keep yak burger and antelope in the freezer to entice even the most finicky of our little friends 😉

-Dr. Sharon Blouin

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