Is Your Cat Throwing Up? Here’s What’s Normal and When to Worry

Vomiting is a common occurrence for cats, and most felines will vomit occasionally. A cat will often throw up after eating too fast or eating something that disagrees with their stomach. Hairballs are another very common cause of vomiting. While an occasional episode of vomiting is usually not a cause for alarm, frequent and persistent vomiting can indicate an underlying health issue.

According to veterinarians, a normal frequency is no more than one or two isolated episodes per month. Anything more frequent could signify an illness or condition requiring medical attention. It’s important for cat owners to closely observe symptoms and identify any patterns with the vomiting.

Common Causes of Vomiting in Cats

There are several common causes of vomiting in cats that cat owners should be aware of. Some of the most frequent reasons cats vomit include:

Hairballs – Hairballs are a very common cause of vomiting in cats. As cats groom themselves, they swallow loose hair. Over time, this hair accumulates in the stomach and forms a hairball. The cat will vomit up the hairball to clear it from their system. Vomiting caused by hairballs is usually intermittent and may involve coughing or hacking immediately before vomiting.[1]

cat throwing up hairball

Eating Too Fast – Cats who eat their food too quickly may end up vomiting soon after their meal. They essentially overload their stomachs which can’t handle the large influx of food at once. This cause of vomiting can often be resolved by getting a slow feed bowl to pace the cat’s eating.[2]

Allergies – Food allergies or environmental allergies like dust can prompt vomiting in cats. The allergens trigger an inflammatory reaction in the gastrointestinal tract leading to nausea and vomiting. Eliminating the allergen source can stop this reaction.[3]

Infections – Bacterial, viral or parasitic infections affecting the stomach and intestines are potential causes of vomiting in cats. Infections disrupt the gastrointestinal system and cause inflammation. Common examples include panleukopenia virus, giardia and inflammatory bowel disease.[1]

When to See the Vet

If your cat vomits more than twice in one day or has more than two episodes of vomiting within a 24 hour period, it’s a good idea to call your vet, according to Texas A&M Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (https://vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk/when-to-be-concerned-about-feline-vomiting/). The frequency of vomiting is often more worrisome than an isolated episode. Repeated vomiting may indicate an underlying health issue or point to something more serious.

The color and consistency of the vomit can also determine how concerning it is. Throwing up undigested food or clear liquid likely indicates an upset stomach and may not require an immediate vet visit. However, vomiting yellow or green bile could signal liver or intestinal issues and warrants attention. Vomiting brown liquid could indicate ingested blood, while vomiting white foam or yellow foam can mean kidney problems or severe nausea. Seeing any blood in the vomit necessitates an urgent vet examination, per VCA Animal Hospitals (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/vomiting-in-cats).

In addition to vomiting itself, look for other symptoms like lethargy, diarrhea, lack of appetite, or behavioral changes. The combination of vomiting with concerning secondary symptoms means a veterinary visit should not be delayed, according to Carolina Veterinary Specialists (https://www.winston-salem.carolinavet.com/site/pet-health-advice-blog/2020/06/01/cat-keeps-vomiting-emergency-vet-winston-salem). If your cat seems ill or distressed along with repeated vomiting episodes, seek prompt veterinary care.

Dietary Changes

Making some adjustments to your cat’s diet can help reduce vomiting episodes. One of the most effective changes is transitioning from dry food to wet food. Dry food is highly processed and contains more carbohydrates than a cat’s natural diet. The high carb content can lead to vomiting, especially in cats prone to hairballs or with sensitive stomachs. According to The Role of Food in Managing Nausea and Vomiting in Cats (source), wet food has more moisture and fewer carbs, making it easier to digest. The moisture also helps cats stay hydrated.

wet cat food

Another option is switching to a slow feed bowl or puzzle feeder. These make cats eat more slowly rather than gulping down food. Eating too fast can cause regurgitation of undigested food. Slow feeders also provide mental stimulation.

Pay attention to any food allergies or intolerances your cat may have. According to Home Care for the Vomiting Cat (source), common allergens for cats include beef, dairy, and fish. An elimination diet overseen by your vet can identify problem ingredients. Avoiding those triggers can significantly reduce vomiting episodes.

Hairball Remedies

Hairballs are a common cause of vomiting in cats. As cats groom themselves, they swallow loose hair. Over time, this hair can accumulate into balls in the stomach or intestines, causing irritation, nausea, and vomiting as the cat’s body tries to expel the hairball. There are several remedies cat owners can try at home to help cats pass hairballs and prevent/minimize vomiting episodes:

Regular brushing can help reduce loose hair that gets ingested from self-grooming. Use a slicker brush and focus on areas prone to matting like the belly and behind the legs. Brush at least a few times per week. The brushing action helps lift and remove dead hair that would otherwise end up swallowed. Just be gentle around sensitive areas like the tummy. [1]

cat being brushed

Special treats and foods made for hairball control can add fiber and lubrication to help hair pass through the digestive system. Look for added ingredients like petroleum jelly, mineral oil, plant fibers like psyllium husk, or omega fatty acids. Follow package directions. These are available from pet stores, vets, or online. Examples include Laxatone gel treats and Royal Canin Hairball dry food. [2]

Lubricant pastes and gels like Laxatone can be given orally to coat the digestive tract. Usually, a half-inch strip is plenty. Give as needed, such as during peak shedding seasons. This allows hair to slide through more easily when vomiting. Consult your vet on proper dosage and frequency.

Preventing Vomiting from Eating Too Fast

Cats that eat their meals too quickly can end up vomiting soon after. This happens because they swallow large chunks of food or inhale air while gobbling down their food. There are several strategies to slow down a fast eater to prevent vomiting episodes:

Using a puzzle feeder or food dispenser makes your cat work to get their food out slowly. The food is distributed through small openings, requiring your cat to nibble rather than scarf down large mouthfuls. Puzzle feeders engage your cat’s natural foraging instincts.

Feed smaller portions more frequently throughout the day. Giving your cat smaller meals reduces the temptation to eat extremely fast. Breaking up daily food into 3-4 smaller portions can lead to a more moderate eating pace.

Elevated food bowls promote slower, more controlled eating by requiring your cat to eat from an upright position rather than hunched over on the floor. The stance straightens their esophagus which slows the eating process and reduces air intake.

Implementing any of these feeding techniques can prevent your cat from eating too rapidly, allowing their digestive system to better tolerate mealtimes and reducing vomiting episodes.

Treating Allergies

Allergies are a common cause of vomiting in cats. The main ways to treat allergies in cats that are vomiting are through diet, medication, and removing allergens from the environment.

Switching to a hypoallergenic diet is often recommended to rule out food allergies. This involves feeding a novel protein and carbohydrate source that your cat has not eaten before. Some options are venison, duck, rabbit, pea, or potato. It’s important to trial a hypoallergenic diet for at least 8-12 weeks to see improvement.

cat with skin allergy

Antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can help relieve allergy symptoms like itchiness and vomiting. Talk to your vet about dosage and frequency. Antihistamines work best alongside diet changes and removing allergens when possible.

For environmental allergies, take steps to reduce allergens at home. This can include using high efficiency filters, washing bedding regularly, and limiting exposure to irritants like dust and pollen. Keep your cat indoors on high pollen days. Medicated baths and wipes can also reduce environmental allergens on your cat’s skin and coat.

Infections Causing Vomiting

Certain infections can cause vomiting in cats. Some of the main ones to watch out for include:

Panleukopenia – Also known as feline distemper, panleukopenia is a highly contagious viral infection. It targets rapidly dividing cells like those in the intestines, bone marrow, and immune system. In addition to vomiting, symptoms include lethargy, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and fever. Panleukopenia is often fatal if untreated. Vaccination helps prevent this infection.

Hepatic lipidosis – This condition involves a dangerous buildup of fat in the liver. It is often triggered by periods of decreased appetite and vomiting that lead to rapid weight loss. Cats with hepatic lipidosis require intensive nutritional and medical support. Treatment focuses on restoring appetite and providing liver support.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – This refers to chronic intestinal inflammation and damage. It can produce persistent vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, or appetite changes. IBD may be triggered by food allergies, infections, or an overactive immune system attacking the gut. Identifying and avoiding dietary triggers can help manage IBD. Medications like steroids may also be prescribed.[1]

Seeking prompt veterinary care for any vomiting accompanied by concerning symptoms like lethargy, diarrhea, or appetite loss can help diagnose and treat potentially serious infections before they worsen.

When to Seek Emergency Care

Most cases of occasional vomiting in cats are not cause for alarm. However, prolonged vomiting, vomiting blood, or vomiting accompanied by lethargy are signs your cat needs emergency veterinary care. According to veterinary emergency experts, if your cat is vomiting repeatedly over several hours, unable to keep any food or water down, and/or appears listless or depressed, you should seek immediate medical attention (Source). These symptoms can indicate potentially life-threatening issues like gastrointestinal obstruction, poisoning, pancreatitis, kidney failure, or other conditions requiring urgent treatment.

Look out for symptoms like vomiting more than 2-3 times per hour, vomiting that contains blood or has a coffee-grounds appearance, loss of appetite, severe or persistent lethargy where your cat seems weak and unable to stand, crying or whining in pain, rapid breathing, fever, or other signs of distress. If you observe any of these emergency warning signs in your vomiting cat, especially if the symptoms persist or worsen, don’t wait – get to an emergency vet clinic right away to get your cat the necessary treatment and potentially save their life (Source). Stay calm but act fast, as rapid treatment can make all the difference in giving your cat the best chance of recovery from these serious vomiting episodes.

Preventing Future Vomiting Episodes

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent future vomiting episodes in their cats:

Routine vet visits are important to monitor your cat’s overall health. Annual exams allow the vet to assess your cat’s condition and watch for any underlying issues that could lead to vomiting. Preventative care and vaccinations help stop illnesses that may cause nausea or vomiting.

Ensuring your cat is on a proper feline diet is key. Feed high-quality commercial cat food and avoid table scraps or people food, which can upset your cat’s stomach. Stick to a consistent feeding schedule and monitor portions to prevent overeating. Make any dietary transitions gradually over 5-7 days.

Reduce stress for your cat, which can trigger vomiting. Give them a comfortable place to sleep, keep litter boxes clean, and allow for daily playtime and enrichment. Limit major changes to their routine or environment. Use calming aids like pheromone diffusers if needed.

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