Very sick out of the blue — about once a year


Q. Would you know why cats (at least my cat) might get sick all of a sudden, vomiting and becoming listless, and then be completely better the next day? I left Ruby yesterday morning, and she was just fine. When I got home last night, she didn’t come to the door like she usually does and instead was lying on the couch miserable and barely moving. There was vomit in several spots around the apartment, yet she hadn’t eaten anything, including the treats I had left her in the morning. When she did eventually rise, she was all wobbly. I thought I would have to take her to the vet today, but by the middle of the night she was fine — and has been fine since.

This happens to her maybe once a year or so. But she has not eaten anything different or been exposed to anything different. Do you know what might bring it on?

Andrea Rill

New York, New York

Dear Ms. Rill,

A. “Two possibilities come to mind,” says Tufts veterinary internist Michael Stone, DVM. One is that your cat may sometimes have flare-ups of pancreatitis — inflammation of the pancreas that can interfere with the digestive system — although such bouts typically last longer than 24 hours, and in severe cases up to 3 weeks. The other possibility is ingestion of a bug. There’s no scientific literature on this, but anecdotally, if a cat eats a stinkbug it can cause stomach upset. The effects of ingesting a toxic bug might last only 4 to 12 hours and cause the signs you describe.

Dr. Stone suggests keeping a journal to see if there’s a pattern to Ruby’s stomach problems — whether they occur during certain parts of the year or correlate with certain bug hatchings (such as after a bout of warm weather).

One thing to keep in mind is that diagnostics are unlikely to uncover the cause after Ruby recovers. If you get her to the veterinarian during the throes of an episode, the doctor can take a blood sample to see, for example, whether her Precision PSL is high. PSL stands for pancreatic sensitive lipase, and elevated levels can be an indicator that your cat’s pancreas is indeed inflamed.

Sometimes an underlying cause like inflammatory bowel disease can be found and tended to, and the bouts of pancreatitis cease. If not, the way to treat pancreatitis is to withhold all food for a day or two (which Ruby more or less does on her own). She may also need antibiotics and pain killers as well as fluid given intravenously if she is dehydrated.

Mild pancreatitis, like Ruby’s might be, has a good prognosis, although you may be advised to switch her diet to one that is easily digestible with moderate amounts of protein and fat in order not to stress her pancreas to secrete too much of the enzymes that help digest those nutrients.


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