Ask a Vet: Can Cats Get the Flu?

Q: I am very worried about my cat, Felix. He is a three-year-old indoor cat. We recently moved from the east coast to California. Felix was a little upset with the car ride, but did fine and adjusted to the new place quickly.

About three weeks ago, he was scratching his neck a lot and had several hairballs. After a visit to a vet, he was diagnosed with seasonal allergies and given a cortisone shot, after which he did great.

Two days ago, I came home from work to find several vomit piles, none of which were hairballs, and a very unhappy cat. Yesterday, he did not eat or drink anything and I took him to the vet who ran blood work (nothing abnormal), x-rays (nothing found), and he was given subcutaneous fluid and anti-vomiting meds.

He did fine last night; then today has vomited several more times. Could this be a simple “stomach bug?” What other tests would you recommend?

A: Sorry to hear Felix is under the weather. It is uncommon for cats to get a “stomach bug.” Vomiting and lack of interest in food can be several things…from minor to more serious.

Allergies can cause cats to vomit, and although their scratching may be under control, vomiting can persist. Other frequent causes of vomiting in cats of Felix’s age include the ingestion of foreign objects. Frequently these objects are string or rope material or parts of their favorite toys. It is not always possible to see these foreign objects on plain x-rays, and special dye studies may be required.

A more serious condition that could cause these symptoms is pancreatitis. Again, it is not uncommon that x-rays and routine bloodwork will be completely normal. Ultrasound and specialized bloodwork are often required to make the diagnosis of pancreatitis.

If Felix’s symptoms are persistent, I would recommend a re-check with your veterinarian for additional testing, likely to include a barium (dye) study or an abdominal ultrasound examination.

Good luck with Felix and keep us updated!

Dr. Donna Spector, DVM, DACVIM

Do you need vet advice? Post a comment with your veterinary questions and we will send them to Dr. Donna Spector to be answered in a future column.

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17 Responses to Ask a Vet: Can Cats Get the Flu?

  1. Julie says:

    Just wanted to leave an update re: Felix- he continued to get worse and more dehydrated. We ended up taking him to emergency care where he had surgery which found that he had ingested a quarter size button! Thanks for your help, he is doing much better now.

  2. Chelsey Wiltzius says:

    I was wondering if you could tell me why my cat Luna is getting sick. She is two years old and we have had her for almost two months now and just the other night I woke up to her throwing up, why would she be doing that?

    • admin says:

      Hi Chelsey,

      Thanks for your question. There are many causes of vomiting in cats—from minor things such as eating too quickly to more serious conditions such as food intolerance/allergy or inflammatory intestinal disease. You should see your veterinarian for an examination and other evaluation to get to the bottom of what might be going on.

      Good luck.
      Dr. Donna Spector

  3. Carol says:

    My question is about diabetic older cats (14 Years old) . Protein and the kidneys. My cat Jigger is on insulin (2 units AM/ 3 units PM) he is fabulous. He was diagnosed in 2007, lost his extra weight and is doing great, however, the prescription diet foods he does not like and neither do the other two. I am researching better foods and they love Halo, however my vet is concerned about the amount of protein and the older cat kidneys ( no kidney problems yet). I want better healthy food for them just like I am eating. And I read some not so good things about the prescript. diets, ie.; contents of the food and where it comes from. Can you offer your expertise? Thanks.

    • admin says:

      Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your question. Experts in the field of feline diabetes are indeed recommending a high-protein/low-carbohydrate approach to the treatment of this disease. With this dietary approach, it is possible to get many cats (not all) to revert to a non-insulin requiring state (called diabetic remission). However, not all older cats can be managed this way due to concurrent issues with kidney failure or other conditions that may preclude them from eating this type of diet.

      Hope this information helps.
      Dr. Donna Spector

  4. Amanda says:

    I need help. My kitten of 3 months isn’t doing well. Her (Lumen) whole back end is hurting her, she will walk a little ways and sit/lie down. Also, I’ve observed that sometimes her muscles shake for an extended period of time. These aren’t the only problems though. Lumen has a loss of appetite(shes not eating at all), she doesn’t drink, and she wont have bowel movements. Whenever someone gently touches her shes meows and sometimes even when no one touches her, she meows. I don’t know what to do. This is now the 3rd day of this and I think my parents are taking her to the vet today.

    • admin says:

      Hi Amanda,

      Thank you for writing in. It sounds as though something serious was going on with your kitten and our advice would have been to take her to your veterinarian for a complete examination. I hope things are improving for her.

      Good luck.
      Dr. Donna Spector

  5. Laura Garrett says:

    I have a grey tabby cat who is about 6 years old. Recently we have been finding poop streaks around the tiled floors he has been throwing up. I don’t know if it is worms because this has just been recent. Our other cat seems to have been throwing up a lot as well. Do you have any idea what could cause this all of a sudden?

    • admin says:

      Hi Laura,

      Thanks for your question. It is reasonable to get a fecal sample checked for parasites anytime there are issues with sudden onset of abnormal defecation or vomiting. However, there are many reasons that cats may vomit. This can range from issues with the food they are eating to actual disease of the stomach/intestines or hormonal conditions such as hyperthyroidism or kidney problems. You should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a basic checkup to determine what is going on.

      Good luck.
      Dr. Donna Spector

  6. samantha says:

    my cat gus keeps on pukeing up foam he ate tinsle and our fake christmas tree i dont know what to do he wont come out from hiding ither

    • admin says:

      Hi Samantha,

      Thanks for writing in. Hopefully your cat is feeling better now. It is always advisable to keep cats from decorations as ingestion is common and can lead to stomach irritation or even blockages which may require surgery.

      Dr. Donna Spector

  7. Kaz says:

    Hello, I was wondering if you can help? I have a 6 year old female cat who started throwing up liquid as of yesterday. Grass was noted in some vomit which I know is a normal sign. However she has continued to throw up only liquid today, and upon feeding time I noticed her complete lack of interest in food, so I attempted to test her appetite with her favorite treats, after a lot of encouragement I got her to eat one, About 10 mins later she brought it back up in liquid. If symptoms persist I shall be making an emergency appointment tomorrow but I’m hoping you can help. She also shows no signs of stomach tenderness or server bloating.

    Many thanks

    • admin says:

      Hi Kaz—thanks for writing in.

      Anytime a cat loses her interest in food and is vomiting—dehydration is right around the corner and is dangerous. So your decision to seek veterinary care was a good one and we hope she is feeling better now.

      Dr. Donna Spector

  8. elvira says:

    Hey. I realize there are a lot of questions about cats bring sick. I’m concern because my 10 year old cats seemed to be sick a lot. Not really vomit or hairballs. More like bail. She hadn’t gotten sick for weeks. But now my younger cat, about two years old is suddenly getting sick. It seems to be the same thing as before. Also I had been changing their food during the time the first was getting sick. I dunno. I’m so lost what to do. And even though I’ve been cleaning up right away it seems to be making my house smell.

    • admin says:

      Hi Elvira—thanks for writing in. Vomiting more than once a month—especially if it is a substance other than hair—should be considered abnormal in cats. Cats do groom and ingest hair but their digestive tract should normally be capable of handling this. If they start to vomit food, bile or hairballs more than once each month, it is often an indication that there is a problem with motility, IBD, pancreatitis or some other issue. An examination with your veterinarian is recommended to determine what might be going on. Food changes can cause vomiting which is why we recommend a slow (7 to 10 day transition) to any new food. All foods don’t agree with all cats so if vomiting seems to increase on a particular food, it is best to avoid that variety.

      Hope this information helps.
      Dr. Donna Spector

  9. Allison says:

    My cat is 2 years old and last night we came home after only being gone for an hour to find multiple piles of vomit. He has vomited a couple times today but not nearly as much. Two of the piles were a sticky gooey substance with a trace of red that might’ve been blood or partially digested food I’m not sure. We don’t have the money for a vet and I am getting really worried about him. If snyone could help me that would be amazing. Thank you.

    • admin says:

      Hi Allison—thanks for writing in. I hope your cat is feeling better. Vomiting can have many causes which range from basic and non-specific gastroenteritis to more severe cause like ingestion of a foreign body or an underlying medical condition. If vomiting is severe or becomes persistent in any cat, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian. It is completely acceptable to alert a veterinarian to any existing financial limitations but an examination can often give many clues as to an underlying cause. A veterinarian will also be able to provide appropriate supportive care to help get a cat feeling better as well. Hope this information helps. Dr. Donna Spector

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