Stomach Pain in Cats

Rhiannon Koehler, DVM
By Rhiannon Koehler, DVM on Jan. 2, 2024
cat getting ultrasound at vet office

We know how miserable a stomachache can be, and we assume it’s no less miserable for our pets. Our cats can’t tell us when their stomach hurts, so it’s hard for pet parents to know when stomach pain is the cause of their cat’s symptoms.

Luckily, vets diagnosis cats with stomach pain frequently enough to figure it out for you.

Often, the underlying cause for stomach pain requires emergency management. If your cat is showing any discomfort when you touch their tummy or if they have any of the symptoms below, contact your veterinarian immediately.

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What Is Stomach Pain in Cats?

Although the stomach is a specific organ, when we say stomach pain, we generally mean any cause of pain in the cat’s abdomen. Stomach pain in cats might also be referred to as a painful abdomen, abdominal pain, or an acute abdomen.

A painful abdomen or stomach pain in cats can be caused by health issues affecting organs or areas of the cat’s stomach including:

  • Intestines

  • Pancreas

  • Peritoneum (lining of abdominal cavity)

  • Reproductive tract

  • Liver

  • Spleen

  • Gall bladder

  • Urinary tract

If your cat responds to having their belly touched with extreme tensing, yowling, or other signs of pain, it’s best to take them to the emergency room. It’s better to rule those emergency causes of stomach pain (such as a twisted intestine or organ) as soon as possible instead of taking a wait-and-see approach.

Symptoms of Stomach Pain in Cats

Symptoms of stomach in pain in cats may include:

  • Restlessness or refusing to move

  • Guarding of the abdomen

  • Arched back

  • Distended abdomen

  • Yowling when the abdomen is touched or when they’re picked up

  • Lying on their side and yowling

  • Vomiting or retching

  • Diarrhea

  • Loss of appetite

  • Excessive salivation

  • Straining in the litter box

  • Yowling in the litter box

  • Pale gums

Why Does My Cat Have Stomach Pain?

Stomach pain in cats has a wide variety of causes, some of which are quite serious. All causes require immediate medical attention. Some causes, particularly those toward the top of this list, require emergency treatment.

  • Twisting of intestines or other organs in the abdomen

  • Telescoping of intestines where a portion of the intestine slides inside itself

  • Organs getting stuck in a hernia (hole through the abdominal wall muscles)

  • Peritonitis (inflammation of abdominal lining, often due to infection/sepsis)

  • A tear or puncture of the stomach or intestines

  • Block or ruptured gall bladder

  • Blocked urinary tract

  • Ruptured or infected uterus (pyometra)

  • Foreign object stuck in the stomach or intestines

  • Pancreatitis

  • Hepatitis

  • Gastroenteritis (irritation of the stomach and intestines) caused by infections, parasites, new medications, or eating something they shouldn’t

  • Constipation

Issues outside of the abdomen can sometimes mimic abdominal pain. For example, a cat with a back injury may also yowl in pain when you try to pick them up.

Your veterinarian can differentiate true abdominal pain from pain originating outside the abdomen.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Stomach Pain in Cats

Your veterinarian will typically be able to tell that your cat has a painful abdomen during their physical examination. They’ll most likely want to order more tests to determine the underlying cause of stomach pain in your cat including:

  • X-rays of the abdomen

  • Ultrasound of the abdomen

  • Blood work and analysis of urine

  • Collection of abdominal fluid to test for sepsis

  • Fecal testing if diarrhea is present

Treatment of Stomach Pain in Cats

Many causes of stomach pain in cats require surgery. Examples of causes that may require surgery include:

  • Twisted organs within the abdomen, which could require placement of organs back to their normal location.

  • Organ entrapment in a hernia, which would necessitate placing the organs back into the abdominal cavity and closing the hernia.

  • Peritonitis, in which surgery usually entails flushing out the abdomen and addressing any known source of the peritonitis, such as a tear in the intestines.

  • Ruptured or infected uterus, with surgery to remove the organ.

  • Foreign object stuck in the intestines, which must be removed.

If your cat is severely dehydrated, collapsing, or has other issues, your veterinarian will likely want to stabilize them with fluids and pain medications prior to surgery.

Immediately life-threatening causes of abdominal pain, such as twisted intestines that are losing blood flow, may lead the veterinarian to pursue surgery prior to full stabilization.

Some cases, such as a foreign object in the intestines, may allow for time to stabilize the cat and give them the best chance of a successful surgery.

Medications that may be given to cats with stomach pain include:

  • Pain medications like buprenorphine or fentanyl

  • Antibiotics like cefazolin, enrofloxacin, and metronidazole

  • Anti-nausea medications like maropitant (Cerenia®)

  • Medications that protect the stomach through stomach acid control like famotidine or pantoprazole

  • In severe cases, such as if your cat has sepsis, your pet may need additional medications to support vital functions, such as medications to combat low blood pressure

Supportive care may include:

  • Fluids, usually given in a vein via catheter

  • Supplemental oxygen in an oxygen cage, if needed

  • A urinary catheter in cats who are experiencing urinary blockage

  • A feeding tube, if needed

Recovery and Management of Stomach Pain in Cats

If your cat had surgery for stomach pain, you will need to monitor their incision for at least two weeks after the operation. You will also likely go home with pain medications for your cat. Depending on the cause of the cat’s stomach pain, you may also have antibiotics to administer.

If your cat is licking or scratching at their incision, consider placing a recovery cone or recovery suit on them to protect their incision and to keep them from scratching or biting their stitches.

For critical cases, your pet may need to spend several days recovering in the hospital before coming home. If stomach pain was caused by a chronic health condition like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or hepatitis, your veterinarian will explain any long-term management they recommend, such as a dietary change, fiber supplementation, or liver protectant supplements.

Food Diet for Cats with Stomach Pain

If your cat experienced a urinary blockage, one of the most common therapies is to change your cat to a prescription urinary diet such as Hill®'s Prescription Diet c/d Multicare Urinary Care or Royal Canin® Veterinary Diet Adult Urinary SO. This will usually be a lifelong dietary change.

Be sure to finish any medications prescribed by your veterinarian and to follow all directions to ensure your cat has an easy and pain-free recovery.


How can you tell if your cat is in pain internally?

Cats are known to be stoic, so it can be hard to tell if your cat is in pain internally. A cat with a tense abdomen who is yowling or responding aggressively to having their belly touched is likely in pain.

Why does my cat meow when I touch their stomach?

If your cat is otherwise acting normal, it’s likely they just don’t like having their stomach touched. However, if your cat’s abdomen is tense or distended, is vomiting, is having diarrhea, or has no interest in food, they may have a painful abdomen and need veterinary attention.

My cat yelps when I touch their stomach. What should I do?

Yowling when the stomach is touched is a sign of pain. If your cat is acting abnormally, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Featured Image: 

SbytovaMN/ iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Rhiannon Koehler, DVM


Rhiannon Koehler, DVM


Dr. Rhiannon Koehler is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Master of Public...

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