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Vomiting in Cats: Everything You Need to Know

She gags and heaves; you clean up after your royal feline and she’s in fine fettle, as if nothing happened. Vomiting in cats can be normal and harmless, albeit unpleasant. It can also be more than a hairball-retch and indicate a more serious cause of stomach upset. When should you worry and call the vet? Here’s everything you need to know. 

Vomiting in Cats: Everything You Need to Know

When is vomiting in cats considered normal?

A cat vomiting a hairball is completely normal; when kitty eats too fast or eats something indigestible out of curiosity, it’s also normal for her to regurgitate what she ate. 

Regurgitation of food that is eaten too quickly may be easily confused with vomiting. Regurgitation occurs when kitty’s stomach wall suddenly expands from eating too fast and sends the food along with some fluid back up. This usually occurs immediately after eating and the regurgitated food is still identifiable as it is still incompletely digested. However, there are instances when regurgitation is a symptom of a more serious problem. If your cat regurgitates her food even when she eats slowly, you should take her to a vet. 

As the saying goes, “Curiosity made the cat puke.” It is common for cats and dogs to try to eat stuff other than food, such as small toys or toy parts, string, or feathers. As a protective mechanism, your cat’s stomach will expel the indigestible foreign object through regurgitation. While this is a normal physical reaction, it is also often a cause for immediate medical attention. The foreign object may remain lodged in your cat’s stomach or gastrointestinal tract, causing an intestinal obstruction, despite continued heaving. This could lead to serious distress and complications. 

Vomiting in Cats: Everything You Need to Know

When should you be concerned about your vomiting cat?

Vomiting that occurs just once or several times over a period of no more than three days is referred to as acute vomiting. Whether or not the underlying cause is determined, if your cat’s condition improves with simple treatment and she completely regains her appetite and health, then there’s no reason to worry. 

If the acute vomiting stops but your cat still has poor appetite and exhibits other symptoms, such as weakness and lethargy, you should call your vet. If the cause is ingestion of a toxic substance or if she can’t keep food down and her condition is quickly deteriorating, she also needs emergency care. 

Vomiting that occurs regularly over a prolonged period, or more than a few times over a short period, is defined as chronic vomiting and is more serious. This can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and even liver disease if she is not given immediate and appropriate treatment. Especially if your cat is unable to keep food down or refuses to eat, is showing signs of severe discomfort or pain, also has diarrhea, or experiences significant weight loss, you should take her to a clinic pronto. 

Vomiting in cats, whether acute or chronic, may be caused by a minor intestinal upset, such as when kitty eats spoiled food, rotten carcass, or plants. Other more serious causes include a bacterial or viral infection; ingestion of an indigestible foreign object which leads to an intestinal obstruction; ingestion of a toxic substance, such as from lilies or antifreeze; urinary tract obstruction; inflammatory bowel disease; thyroid disease; liver disease; kidney disease; pancreatitis; or cancer. 

If your cat’s vomiting is accompanied by other symptoms, take her to the vet as soon as possible to prevent more serious and potentially long-lasting complications.

Vomiting in Cats: Everything You Need to Know

Recognizing the signs of vomiting

Your cat may display any of the following symptoms prior to vomiting. 

  • Restless and anxious behavior;
  • Nausea accompanied by frequent licking of her lips, salivation, and repeated swallowing;
  • Forceful contractions of the abdomen

You should also know how to recognize when your cat is coughing, as this can easily be confused with the heaving prior to vomiting. Coughing involves crouching on all fours, stretching the neck, and coughing up a froth or foam which she swallows again. 

You should also not confuse vomiting with regurgitation. Regurgitation typically occurs more quickly after eating or drinking, and does not involve abdominal contractions. The regurgitated food normally does not go farther than the esophagus and is, therefore, still mostly undigested. 

Vomiting in Cats: Everything You Need to Know

At-home treatment for vomiting

For mild cases of acute vomiting, symptomatic treatment at home is generally recommended by veterinarians. This includes:

  • Teaching your cat to eat more slowly by giving her smaller portions, or putting a ball in her food bowl (the ball should not be small enough to swallow).
  • Changing her diet to a higher quality food.
  • Feeding kitty frequently and in small quantities with an easily digestible, bland diet or a prescription or special-formula diet.
  • Making sure that your cat drinks water frequently. 
  • Giving her a prescription anti-emetic, which helps stop the vomiting. 

If your cat’s condition improves within three days, you can gradually increase the quantity of food you give her until she is able to eat her normal quantity. You can then slowly reintroduce her normal diet over the next few days by mixing increasing amounts into her “treatment” diet.  

Have her checked by a vet if her condition does not improve or takes a turn for the worse.