Journal class

The causes of vomiting can be elusive

First in a series.

Vomiting is no one’s favorite pastime. Unfortunately, some cats vomit intermittently throughout their lives. The causes can be elusive. I learned early on that even when I was sure I had the answer, it was important to be prepared to be wrong. Unexpected clues – easy to miss – change treatment plans, like right away.

A cat with a history of hurling sat on my exam table with a complaint of recent vomiting. The nice lady, Jerri Samuelson, stared at me with a hopeful expression on her face as she stroked Gucci, her 2-year-old female turtle shell. “Hello, Mrs. Samuelson, I’m Dr. Jeff Nichol. When did this pretty girl start throwing up again? “Well, she was fine but all of a sudden, in the last three days, she stopped eating, then she started throwing up, and now she’s squirting.” Well, okay, then. Routine stuff, I thought. It was a Saturday morning. I’d be off work in an hour and a half, having lunch, then washing and waxing my Triumph. Another day at the office.

My first years of practice made me hire experienced veterinarians. Dr. Lloyd Beal, my boss at Foothill Veterinary Hospital in Sacramento, was absent that day. No problem. I walked into the exam room as confident as any young vet could be. I hadn’t treated all pet illnesses yet, but I was up to date with my knowledge and ready for anything. Oh good? Just two years out of school? Of course I was.

What I found on the Gucci physical exam changed my day and my attitude. Her temperature was 104.2, her breathing 60/minute – almost panting, her pulse was 180. A gentle abdominal pat made this sweet kitty tense up and cry softly. His intestines were strange; there was liquid where it did not belong. As I started a mental list of possible causes, I quickly realized I didn’t know where to start. I remembered a warning from an emergency medicine instructor in veterinary school. “Don’t just do something, stay there.”

Next week: Act fast or lose.

⋄ For help with behavioral issues, you can sign up for a Zoom group conference on my website,

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He offers in-person and group consultations via Zoom (505-792-5131). Each week, he shares a blog and a Facebook Live video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up for free at Ask your pet questions at or by mail at 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM, 87109.