Vomiting is one of the most commonly reported problems with cats. We love our cats so much that it can be worrying when our feline friends start vomiting out of nowhere. This article will talk about the multitude of reasons why your cat is throwing up and what you can do if your cat vomits.
Why Does My Cat Throw Up?
Vomiting is nature’s way for your cat to get rid of irritating objects in the stomach through expulsion in a forceful manner. Although cat vomiting is not a serious problem most of the time, the condition can be detrimental if it persists. Vomiting causes loss of electrolytes and ingested food which can lead to lethargy and a weak immune system.
A cat can throw up due to multiple reasons. Let’s look at some of the common causes:
1. Ingestion of Foreign Bodies and Obstruction
Although more frequent in dogs, some cats like to eat almost anything in sight, especially stringy stuff, elastic, plastic and paper. Ingestion of a foreign body can irritate your cat’s digestive tract. When the ingested foreign body obstructs the tract, a cat may try to vomit to expel it out.
Cats love to groom themselves. Grooming keeps their coat clean and free from mats. During grooming, cats may ingest some of their hair. While most hair passes through the cat’s digestive tract with no problems, some hair can stay in the stomach and form a hairball over time. Your cat will usually vomit the hairball as it is irritating to the stomach.
3. Eating Habits
Cats eating too fast may regurgitate undigested food. Bilious vomiting or “hunger puking” can happen if there is too much time between meals. Hence, it is vital to feed your cat smaller and more frequent meals throughout the day: ideally 3 to 4 times.
Free-feeding or allowing your cat to graze all day can also cause vomiting. When your cat has constant access to food, it may overeat as not all cats have a trigger that tells them enough is enough.
4. Food Allergies or A Sudden Change of Diet
Cats are sensitive about their food. Not all foods are suitable for all cats, so if you have fed your cat with something it is allergic to, it may cause vomiting. Furthermore, the process of shifting from one diet to a new one should always be slow, which should take at least a week. A sudden change in diet can result in vomiting and other digestive problems.
5. Eating Something Poisonous
A cat may vomit after ingesting something toxic to the cat, like contaminated food, poisonous plant, rat poison, chemicals found in household cleaners and pesticides. Essential oils, for example, peppermint oil and tea tree oil, are dangerous to your cat. Many pet owners are unaware that some household plants such as aloe vera, onion, dumbcane and peace lily are highly toxic to cats. Make sure you have cat-proofed your lawn before you bring your cat home.
If you have witnessed your cat eating something poisoning or suspect what the toxin could be, bring the sample of the item during your visit to the vet, as this can help in an accurate diagnosis along with effective treatment.
6. Intestinal Parasites
Among the intestinal parasites, roundworms are the most common ones. They affect cats of all ages, especially kittens; they can also affect humans if transmitted to pet owners. Symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting and even death after prolonged weakness.
To prevent worms, you should get your cat dewormed every three months. Consult your veterinarian before administering any dewormer. A calculated dose of medicine should be given according to the weight and age of the cat. An under-dose is not effective in removing parasites, while an overdose can result in severe side effects.
7. Intestinal Viral and Bacterial Infections
Many viruses and bacteria can invade the digestive system of cats. Rotavirus, Astrovirus, Parvovirus and Coronavirus are those linked to viral infections in cats. Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni and Clostridium are the typical bacteria that cause digestive system infection. Specific symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst, dehydration and blood in poop.
8. Certain Drugs Side-effects
A cat may vomit after taking medicines it is sensitive to. Antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can result in cat vomiting. After administering these drugs, you should observe your cat and contact your veterinarian urgently if you notice your cat throwing up.
9. Cat Flu – Feline Upper Respiratory Infection
Feline Upper Respiratory Infection is like a common cold in humans. Sneezing, coughing, runny nose or eyes, sores on mouth, nose or eyes, and even vomiting – these are all signs your cat may have caught flu. Feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FCV) are the most common cat flu viruses. Although not always 100% effective, vaccination can protect your cat against these viruses.
Unfortunately, just like humans, cats can get cancer, and vomiting can be one of the symptoms. The most encountered cat cancers include Lymphoma (a blood cancer associated with feline leukaemia virus “FeLV”), Mast cell tumours, Bone cancer and Squamous cell carcinoma. Generally, senior cats have a higher risk of getting cancer than younger cats.
Cat Vomiting and Other Symptoms
Vomiting is not a disease itself and it always occurs due to some primary reasons. There are other symptoms apart from vomiting that your cat may show. You should observe these symptoms and share them with your veterinarian for accurate diagnosis.
1. My Cat Is Vomiting and Not Eating
The first scenario is that your cat is vomiting and is not eating anything. It is pretty common for cats to refuse to eat after vomiting, especially cats with liver and kidney diseases, ingestion of foreign objects and inflammatory bowel issue.
2. My Cat Is Vomiting and Having Diarrhoea
If you notice that your cat is vomiting and passing watery stool, this can be due to stomach and intestine inflammation. Any disturbance in the gastrointestinal tract can result in poor absorption of the food and loose stool.
3. My Cat Is Vomiting and Having Constipation
Another symptom that you may notice with vomiting is that your cat has not been pooping lately, which can occur due to dehydration. Intestinal contents can get stuck in the stomach and result in vomiting.
4. My Cat Is Vomiting and Drinking a Lot of Water
A combination of signs like vomiting and drinking a lot suggests systemic diseases such as kidney problems, diabetes and cancer.
5. My Cat Is Vomiting and Sneezing
The presence of vomiting and sneezing may indicate that your cat has cat flu that infected the upper respiratory tract.
These are just general conclusions based on the data from different cats. You shall not rely on this information for diagnosing the actual problem.
Types of Cat Vomit
Cat vomit can be categorised into two types: acute and chronic.
Acute vomiting means a healthy cat suddenly starts vomiting. It can worsen quickly and lasts for a short time: not more than two or three days. Such cats need more urgent veterinary care, especially if they have not stopped vomiting for the last 24 hours.
Chronic vomiting means a cat has been vomiting with some regularity for a reasonably long time. It can be vomiting daily or at least once monthly. You should still bring such cats to see a veterinarian; however, it doesn’t require urgent veterinary attention as long as the cat acts normal and keeps food down. Chronic vomiting needs a detailed diagnosis to find the exact cause of the problem.
The causes of acute and chronic vomiting can be the same, but it is not always the case. Common causes of acute vomiting include foreign object obstruction and food poisoning, while common causes of chronic vomiting include parasites infection, gastrointestinal mobility disorder, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.
Another criterion for categorising vomit into different types is by looking at its contents:
1. Cat Vomiting Hairballs
Vomited hairballs are not usually round but cylindrical-shaped like a sausage because it passes through the narrow food tube “oesophagus” when the cat is expelling the hairball out.
The vomiting of hairballs may not be as normal as we have thought. It is hard to say what frequency of vomiting hairball is acceptable because this depends on the rate of ingestion of hair and the length of hair etc. Studies suggest if the frequency of vomiting hairballs is more than twice a month in any cat or once every two months in a short-haired cat, it can be a sign of chronic gastrointestinal disease or small bowel disease.
2. Cat Vomiting Worms
It is not uncommon to see worms in a cat’s vomit, especially roundworms which are cream-coloured, round-bodied, generally between three and five inches long. Mild worm infection can be treated as easily as giving your cat a dewormer. However, if you notice a severe worm infection, such as spaghetti-liked strands in your cat’s vomit, please immediately contact your vet.
3. Cat Vomiting Foam
Cats can vomit foam when the stomach and upper intestines are empty, which can be due to gastrointestinal conditions.
Other types of vomit may contain blood, mucus and partially digested food.
Colours of Cat Vomit
The colour of the vomit depends on the content present in the vomit and it can be helpful to correlate the information for an accurate diagnosis. However, the vomit colour may be affected by the colouring in cat food or foreign body consumed. Thus, it may not be the definite criterion for diagnosing the exact problem.
The following show some of the most commonly seen colours of vomit and their possible reasons:
Yellow or Orange Vomit
The yellow or orange colour of vomit is seen if stomach acids and bile are present along with the vomitus. The common causes of vomiting bile include intestinal inflammation, pancreatitis, liver or kidney disease, toxin exposure etc.
Red or Pinkish Vomit
The red or pinkish colour of the vomit can appear due to the presence of blood. Bleeding of the oesophagus or stomach can occur due to laceration from a foreign body. Dyes used in cat food can also give red to pinkish colour to vomitus.
Clear or White Vomit
Clear or whitish colour vomitus appears when the cat vomits with an empty stomach or has drunk too much water. If your cat is vomiting and drinking a lot of water, it may signify underlying diseases like diabetes.
Green vomitus can indicate that the substance is brought up from a location after the stomach, such as the small intestines, with a mixture of bile.
Black or Brown Vomit
The blackish or dark brown colour of the vomitus represents internal bleeding in the late part of the intestine, which can be due to a stomach ulcer or something serious. So, you shall visit your veterinarian in the first place.
What to Do if My Cat Throws Up?
As mentioned earlier, vomiting in cats can be due to various reasons. You should always observe and note the frequency of vomiting, the colour and the content of the vomitus, along with other symptoms such as diarrhoea and refusal to eat. If you suspect some severe condition such as vomiting blood or pooping blood, it is advisable to take a sample of the vomitus or poop for your vet’s further diagnosis.
When to Worry About Cat Vomiting?
Cat vomiting sometimes requires urgent veterinary attention. You should contact your veterinarian If your cat is vomiting several times per hour or is still vomiting after 24 hours, or if you notice some of the following signs accompany vomiting:
- Cannot keep water down
- Refusal to eat
- Bloody stool
- Behavioural changes
What to Feed a Cat that Is Throwing Up?
Cats that throw up need more attention and care. There are not many over-the-counter medicines that can help in cat vomiting. Usually, pet owners should withhold food and water to your cat until the cat vomiting has stopped. Vomiting causes loss of electrolytes, exposing affected cats to other diseases, so it is not appropriate to withhold the food and water for too long.
It is advisable that after half an hour to two hours, you should slowly reintroduce water to your cat. Start with a few teaspoons of water, then continue to offer small amounts of water every 20 minutes or until your cat is optimally hydrated. If your cat doesn’t drink water, try to encourage it drinking by offering freshwater or homemade chicken broth without harmful ingredients to a cat, and by using different bowls etc.
If your cat has no problem keeping the water down, you may gradually offer a special diet after several hours. Give a bland diet that is easily digestible such as freeze-dried chicken or boiled chicken. You can try to feed about 20% of the regular meal size and observe if your cat can keep it down. Then slowly increase the amount over the next 24 hours. Remember to feed a small portion frequently throughout the day. Do not overfeed your cat or else it may vomit again.
Furthermore, you can feed electrolyte supplements or probiotics for cats, alongside the special diet. It is crucial to give according to the manufacturer’s instruction or as advised by the vet.
The guidance above is, however, solely for vomiting. You will need to find out the primary cause of your cat’s vomiting to resolve the root of the problem.
Treatment and Remedies for Cat Vomiting
The exact treatment for cat vomiting depends on the underlying cause. The possible treatments for some of the common problems are:
Vomiting Due to Ingestion of Foreign Bodies
This is a serious situation needing immediate veterinary attention. Although in some cases, the foreign body may be able to pass through your cat’s digestive system on its own, injuries from foreign bodies can cause internal bleeding. Sometimes, the trachea may also be compressed due to pressure from a foreign body, leading to breathing difficulties. Such cases often require immediate surgical intervention. Do not try to get the foreign body out of your cat at home as you can worsen the situation.
Vomiting Due to Hairballs
Hairballs can be normal for every cat, but they are not normal if your cat is frequently vomiting hairballs. You should check with the vet if there is an underlying cause for this, such as inflammatory bowel disease and bacterial overgrowth. Some of the hairball treatments you may try include feeding a specialized “hairball formula” diet that is commercially available and using Laxatone i.e. an oral gel that helps the hair pass through your cat’s digestive system more efficiently.
Vomiting Due to Food Allergies
Cats are obligate carnivores thus they require proteins to thrive. However, some cats may be allergic to specific proteins. If you suspect that your cat is allergic to a protein or other food such as grains, you should contact your veterinarian. An elimination diet can help diagnose if your cat has a food allergy and identify further the problematic ingredient for your cat.
Vomiting Due to Poisoning
Poisoning in cats is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention from your veterinarian. An attempt to treat cat poisoning at home without a veterinary consult can do more harm than good. Your vet might prescribe treatments that include fluid therapy to flush the toxin from the body, activated charcoal to bind with the toxins and anti-seizure medication.
Vomiting Due to Systemic Diseases
A systemic illness such as a kidney problem or liver failure can cause your cat vomiting. Treatments can range from surgery to injection of fluids. Your vet might also suggest special diets, supplements and medication for your cat.
Recovery from Cat Vomiting
A cat may recover from a mild problem within a couple of days. Chronic cases require longer to treat and the diagnosis of the primary cause is the key.
For vomiting due to ingestion of a foreign body, a longer time is needed to recover if there is surgical intervention.
In a nutshell, the chances and time of recovery depend on the actual cause of the problem.
How to Prevent My Cat from Vomiting?
Following are some points to aid your cat in smooth functioning of the digestive system, which can, most of the time, help to prevent vomiting:
Diet plays an essential role in maintaining the health of your cat. Feed a well-balanced diet containing all the required nutrients in small portions multiple times a day, as feeding in large quantities at a time can lead to choking or vomiting. The cat food should be easily digestible and free from ingredients that are harmful to your cat.
Any new food should always be introduced gradually to your cat to minimise the risk of intestinal disturbance. The introduction of new food should take place for at least seven days.
Check the food bowl of your cat for the presence of any foreign materials. If your cat has a habit of engulfing random things like tissue papers, shopping bags etc., keep them out of its reach.
Groom your cat’s coat regularly, especially the long-haired cat, to minimize ingestion of hair during its self-grooming. Some products are also available to prevent hairball problems; you should only use them after consultation with your vet.
Ensure that your cat is dewormed every three months to prevent intestinal parasites and worms.
Avoid viral and bacterial diseases by keeping your cat up to date on its vaccine shots. These diseases are transmitted usually through contact with other affected pets, so you may want to restrict your cat’s interaction with other stranger pets to minimize the risk of disease transmission.
Trepanier, Lauren. Journal of feline medicine and surgery 12.3 (2010): 225 – 230. “Acute vomiting in cats: rational treatment selection.”
Rossmeisl Jr, John H., et al. Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 38.1 (2002): 61 – 66. “Chronic vomiting associated with a gastric carcinoid in a cat.”