Stomach ulcers in cats

A stomach ulcer is a wound that forms on the inside of the stomach. Often it’s a side effect of some medications, especially when human painkillers are given to cats. Some cases can be severe and even life-threatening.

The acid inside the stomach is fundamental for digestion and protection from infections. However, the stomach needs to protect itself from the acid with special secretions and other mechanisms. If something damages these defences, the acid will cause one or more wounds that will struggle to heal. Stomach ulcers seem to be uncommon in cats, but could potentially cause serious complications like internal bleeding or peritonitis.



What is a stomach ulcer in cats?

A stomach ulcer is damage to the stomach caused by the acid within. Possible causes are:

  • Side effects of medications, especially with overdoses or when human painkillers are given. Steroids and cat anti-inflammatories/painkillers can also cause this.
  • Foreign objects that are sharp or stay in the stomach for long periods of time
  • Diseases of internal organs, such as kidney failure or liver disease
  • Tumours or cancer of the stomach



Symptoms of stomach ulcers in cats

In more severe cases:



Cats at higher risk of stomach ulcers

Cats on long-term treatment with anti-inflammatories may be at higher risk of this side-effect.


Diagnosis of stomach ulcers in cats

A stomach ulcer can be suspected, and treatment can start, based on a physical examination. To confirm the diagnosis, however, tests are required.

  • A special type of x-ray, called a contrast study, can sometimes show a stomach ulcer. Unfortunately, this is not very reliable and is not frequently used anymore.
  • An ultrasound can detect the inflammation in the stomach wall caused by the ulcer, but cannot tell for sure if it’s an ulcer.
  • Endoscopy of the stomach, called gastroscopy, is the best way to confirm an ulcer, as it can be directly seen. This also allows a biopsy to be taken if there are concerns about an underlying tumour.


Vet treatment

Vet treatment of stomach ulcers in cats

  • The most important part of treating a stomach ulcer is to find and treat the cause, if possible.
  • Severely ill or actively bleeding patients will need to be hospitalised to receive intensive care and treatment for complications.
  • Some medications are available to protect the stomach from further damage and promote healing:
    • Antacids, such as Ranitidine or Omeprazole, will temporarily reduce the acidity in the stomach and make healing a lot easier
    • Sucralfate is a medication that covers damaged portions of the stomach, protecting them from further injury
    • Some cases may benefit from a medication that boosts the stomach defences called Misoprostol


Home treatment

Home remedies for stomach ulcers in cats

No effective home treatments for stomach ulcers have been recognised, but a high quality, easy to digest diet (given in small, frequent meals) is likely to help the stomach cope and reduce complications.


Living with a cat with stomach ulcers

If the cause of the ulcer can be diagnosed and treated, the ulcer can usually be cured, although this may take weeks or months. Unfortunately, some causes are not treatable and the only option may be to manage the symptoms and provide comfort while possible.



Can stomach ulcers in cats be prevented?

  • Don’t give any medications to your pet without consulting your vet, so the risks of side effects like stomach ulcers can be minimised.
  • In cases where the risk of developing this side effect is significant, antacids or misoprostol will sometimes be prescribed preventively.
  • If your cat has been accidentally exposed to a human painkiller or other potentially harmful products, speak to a vet immediately to discuss preventive measures.



When to worry

When to worry about stomach ulcers in cats

Take your cat to see a vet immediately if they have:

  • Constant vomiting, especially if blood is present or the vomit has a ground-coffee appearance
  • Black or tarry stools
  • Very painful and hard tummy
  • Pale gums
  • Weakness or lack of response when you interact with them

Speak to a vet as soon as possible if your cat:

  • Has a small amount of blood in their vomit
  • Continues to vomit even on an empty stomach
  • Seems to be in pain in their tummy
  • Passes blood in their diarrhoea

Joii can help if your cat:

  • Loses interest in food
  • Is quiet or lethargic
  • Is struggling to take medicine
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