Why is my Cat’s Stomach Gurgling?

  • By:

    Dr. Kathryn Dench

    Dr. Kathryn Dench is an experience veterinary with over 10 years' experience in small animal and exotic pet medicine. Kate qualified from Cambridge University Veterinary School in 2007. Kate has worked in a number of veterinary practices in the UK. She has extensive experience in the medical care of pet species, from dogs and cats to chickens and chameleons! In free time, Kate writes pet advice in order to ensure that owners are receiving the best possible information on how to care for their pets.

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  • Updated on: 26/05/2020

As with people, it is not unusual to hear the occasional gurgle from your cat’s stomach. While this can simply be a sign that your cat is hungry or digesting their meal, if your cat’s stomach noises are happening more frequently or are accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea, it may be a sign of something more serious. In this article we look at some of the most common reasons why your cat’s stomach might be gurgling, and what you can do to look after your feline friend at this time.

why is my cat stomach gurgling@sakan.p / Freepik

Dietary Indiscretion

“Dietary indiscretion” is the formal term for when our pets have eaten something that isn’t good for them and is the most common cause of stomach problems, both gastritis (vomiting) and diarrhea, in pets who have access to outdoors. Pets who scavenge or hunt are most at risk, as the food they find may well give them an upset stomach. The symptoms may include vomiting and diarrhea, or your cat may just be off-color with a gurgly stomach. Some cats also have food intolerances, meaning certain foods just don’t suit them and can lead to digestive issues. Watch out for patterns in your cat’s symptoms: for example, if they always have stomach symptoms after you give them your leftovers, your cat may have an intolerance to some of the ingredients.

More concerning is cats who eat “foreign bodies”, meaning non-food items that can become lodged in the stomach or intestines causing an obstruction. Usually, these cats will be quiet because of stomach pain and maybe off their food or vomiting, but it is possible for the symptoms to be very mild and the first sign you notice may just be a gurgling in the stomach. The situation is a very serious one and can be life-threatening, so be vigilant and get your cat checked by a veterinarian if you suspect they might have eaten something they shouldn’t.

Worms

Intestinal worms are another common cause of upset stomach in our cats. Some cats can have worm infestations without showing any signs, while others can experience vomiting or diarrhea as a result of the parasites. In general, the symptoms are more severe if your cat’s system is under stress and their immunity is low, for example, if they are unwell with another illness at the same time. Just because you don’t see worms in your cat’s feces doesn’t mean they don’t have worms – the adult worms live in the intestines and most of the time only microscopic eggs are passed in the feces.[1] So if your cat’s stomach is gurgling or they are experiencing other symptoms related to their digestive tract, speak to your veterinarian about a good worming medication, and make sure you give it routinely following the advice of your vet.

Infection

cat dietary indiscretion@MalaMiska / Pixabay

Apart from parasites, there are a number of bacterial and viral infections that can cause upset stomachs in our pets. The symptoms can range from mild diarrhea to life-threatening dehydration, depending on the cause of the infection and the strength of your cat’s immune system. As these infections are usually passed from cat to cat, most cats with access to outdoors have the potential to be exposed to these bacteria and viruses. Fortunately, vaccines have been developed against the most serious of these infections, and your veterinarian will be able to recommend which vaccines are needed for your cat based on the prevalence of specific infections in the area where you live.

Salmonella infections can also cause stomach problems in cats eating raw chicken,[2] so if you are feeding your cat raw meat or bones as part of their diet, make sure you are following the best safety and hygiene recommendations.[3]

What should I do if my Cat has a bad Stomach?

If your cat is vomiting, the first step is to withhold food for a number of hours to give the stomach a rest. Your cat should still have access to room-temperature water (not too cold, as this can also irritate the stomach), and if they are unable to keep down fluids, you should make an appointment with your vet straight away. If the vomiting settles, you can start re-introducing food after 8-12 hours. Start with bland food, such as grilled or boiled chicken or white fish, and offer small quantities to start with so that the stomach is not overwhelmed. If they continue to vomit, a trip to the vet is in order. 

my cat has a bad stomach@Anton Darius

The recommendations for handling cats with diarrhea have changed over recent years. The advice used to be to withhold food, in the same way as for cases of vomiting, but research has shown that the irritated guts rely on nutrients from the food in order to repair themselves. So now the recommendation is to go straight to a bland diet. If diarrhea doesn’t clear up within 1-2 days, or if your cat is showing other symptoms like weakness or being quiet in themselves, then they should be checked by a veterinarian. 

Once your cat is recovering from their episode of stomach symptoms on the bland diet, it is important not to change the diet too suddenly back to a rich diet, as such changes can in themselves trigger stomach upset. In general, it is recommended to make the change gradually over the course of a few days, starting by mixing a little of their normal food into the bland diet for a couple of days, then increasing to a 50:50 mixture, and finally returning to their original diet.

Of course, as with most illnesses, prevention is better than the cure. Even if your cat is not experiencing stomach problems, making sure they are up to date with their vaccination schedule and receiving routine preventative parasite medications will help to protect them against these causes of upset stomachs.

Conclusion

There are a number of reasons why your cat’s stomach might be gurgling. While it is not necessary to panic at the first sound of your cat’s digestive system working, it is sensible to pay attention to your cat’s condition and be ready to take them to your veterinary clinic if their stomach noises are more frequent than normal or accompanied by other symptoms.

Useful sources for further reading

  1. Worm infections in cats: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/gastrointestinal-parasites-cats-brochure
  2. Salmonella in cats from raw meat: https://paperity.org/p/194618890/highly-suspected-cases-of-salmonellosis-in-two-cats-fed-with-a-commercial-raw-meat-based
  3. Best practice for raw meat diets: https://perfectlyrawsome.com/raw-feeding-knowledgebase/raw-feeding-food-safety-101/

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