Feline Vomiting 101. When to Worry About Your Cat’s Upchuck


Vomiting is a common occurrence for cats, but not all types of cat vomit are cause for concern. According to a 2016 study, weight loss was the most common sign of disease in cats, present in 70% of cases, sometimes without vomiting or diarrhea.[1]

While occasional vomiting is normal, frequent vomiting or vomiting combined with lethargy, weakness, decreased appetite, or blood in the vomit can indicate an underlying health issue. Understanding the different colors and contents of cat vomit can help cat owners identify when vomiting may require veterinary attention.

This article will cover the key characteristics of different types of cat vomit, from more benign to more concerning varieties, as well as when you should take your cat to the vet.

What is Normal Cat Vomit?

Normal cat vomit is usually pale yellow or clear in color. This is often undigested food contents or bilious fluid, which is digestive fluid produced in the stomach and small intestine. Vomit may also contain hairballs, which are composed of hair and fibers cats ingest while grooming themselves. According to the ASPCA, the vomit of a healthy cat is typically food contents, clear or yellowish bile or hairballs[1]. So if your cat vomits and it looks like their normal food contents or clear/yellowish bile, it is likely not a cause for concern.

When to Be Concerned

While an occasional episode of vomiting is normal for cats, you should be concerned if your cat is vomiting repeatedly or if the vomit contains blood or has an unusual color. Here are some warning signs that indicate a trip to the veterinarian is needed:

Blood in the vomit – Any amount of bright red blood or clots in your cat’s vomit warrants an immediate trip to the vet. Blood indicates irritation or damage in part of the gastrointestinal tract.1 The cause could range from simple irritation from vomiting to something more serious like an ulcer or toxin ingestion.

Diarrhea – Chronic vomiting accompanied by diarrhea could suggest gastrointestinal inflammation, infection, or another serious condition. Diarrhea leads to dehydration, so if your cat has frequent vomiting and diarrhea, veterinary care is essential.

Vomiting after eating – If your cat vomits immediately or soon after eating, especially if this happens consistently, there may be an obstruction or other issue preventing food from being properly digested. Any difficulty keeping food down warrants veterinary investigation.

Repeated vomiting episodes – While the occasional isolated vomit is normal, if your cat vomits multiple times a day over multiple days, it’s a sign of an underlying problem. Take note of frequency, volume, and contents of vomit to help the vet diagnose the cause.

Red or Bloody Vomit

Seeing red or bloody vomit is always concerning for cat owners. There are several potential causes of bloody vomit in cats:

Ulcers: Stomach ulcers can develop from infection, cancer, trauma, or certain medications like NSAIDs. The ulceration results in erosion of the stomach lining and blood vessels, leading to bloody vomit. Ulcers should be treated by a vet to prevent internal bleeding (Bondvet).

Poisoning: Ingestion of certain toxic substances like antifreeze, rodenticides, and plants can cause vomiting blood. The toxins damage the stomach and intestinal lining. Immediate veterinary treatment is needed for poisoning (PetMD).

Trauma: Any trauma to the head, chest or abdomen that damages internal organs can result in bloody vomit. Things like being hit by a car or falling from a height may cause internal injuries and bleeding. Take cats with suspected trauma to the emergency vet right away.

Bloody vomit indicates a serious medical issue and warrants an urgent vet visit. Cats that are vomiting blood may become dehydrated or go into shock. Try to collect a sample of the vomit to show the vet. With treatment, many cats recover fully from the underlying cause of bloody vomit.

Black & Dark Brown Vomit

Black and dark brown vomit is a serious concern in cats. It indicates the presence of digested blood in the gastrointestinal tract, likely from an actively bleeding source in the upper GI tract [1]. The vomit will often have an appearance resembling coffee grounds or tar.

Potential causes of black or dark brown vomit include: stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal tumors, ingestion of toxins or foreign objects that caused internal injury, liver disease, or even cancer. The dark color comes from the digested blood mixing with stomach acid and turning black [2].

Vomiting black or dark brown material is an emergency. The cat needs to be seen by a vet promptly, as ongoing bleeding in the upper GI tract can quickly become life threatening. The vet will likely recommend fasting, anti-nausea medication, and intravenous fluids while conducting diagnostics tests to determine the underlying cause.

Yellow Vomit

Yellow vomit in cats can often indicate there is an issue with the liver or gallbladder. The yellow color comes from bile, which is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. An unhealthy liver may cause bile to build up and be vomited up by the cat [1]. Some conditions that can lead to yellow vomit include:

  • Hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) – Buildup of fat in liver cells impairs liver function
  • Cholangiohepatitis – Inflammation of bile ducts in the liver
  • Gallbladder mucocele – Thickening of the gallbladder wall

In addition to yellow vomit, symptoms of liver issues can include loss of appetite, lethargy, and jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and gums). It’s important to get a cat with consistent yellow vomiting checked out by a vet, as many liver diseases will become fatal if left untreated [1].

Green Vomit

Green vomit in cats often suggests that bile is being brought up from the small intestine before the food has been fully digested. Bile is a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It contains bile salts that help break down fats during digestion. In some cases, bile may move too quickly through the digestive tract and be vomited up before completing its job. This can result in the characteristic green color of the vomit.

Possible causes of green vomit include:

  • Eating too quickly – This can overload the stomach and force bile and undigested food up.
  • Intestinal blockage or inflammation – Diseases affecting the small intestine can cause reverse peristalsis, bringing bile back up.
  • Gallbladder issues – Inflammation, gallstones or other gallbladder problems may cause excess bile production and vomiting.
  • Parasites – Worms or other parasites can irritate the digestive tract and cause vomiting.
  • Food sensitivity or allergies – Your cat may have trouble properly digesting certain ingredients, leading to vomiting.

While an occasional episode of green vomit may not be concerning, recurrent projectile vomiting or vomiting along with other symptoms warrants veterinary attention. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can occur if a cat is frequently vomiting. Treatment depends on the underlying cause but may include dietary changes, anti-nausea medication, anti-parasitics, or antibiotics.

To help soothe your cat’s upset stomach, restrict food for several hours and stick to a bland diet like boiled chicken and rice when reintroducing food. Make sure your cat stays hydrated by encouraging water intake. Seek prompt veterinary advice if vomiting persists or your cat seems lethargic, has diarrhea or shows other signs of illness. While alarming, green vomit generally does not indicate an emergency on its own but do monitor your cat closely.

Gray Vomit

Gray vomit in cats can sometimes simply mean the cat has regurgitated hairballs. Cats regularly groom themselves and swallow loose hair, which doesn’t easily pass through the digestive tract. The hair may be brought back up later as a hairball. Small hairballs are common and usually nothing to worry about.

However, larger amounts of gray vomit can also signal a potentially serious issue like pancreatitis, especially if accompanied by lethargy, appetite changes, or abdominal pain. The pancreas produces enzymes for digestion, and pancreatitis is an inflammation of this organ. With pancreatitis, digestive enzymes start attacking the pancreas itself, which can cause nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort. The vomit may appear grayish-yellow from stomach bile mixing with partially digested food and pancreatic fluid.[1]

Some key signs of pancreatitis in cats include:

  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Loss of appetite or reduced eating
  • Seeming depressed or lethargic
  • Hunched posture, like the cat is in pain
  • Dehydration

Pancreatitis can range from mild to severe. Mild cases may resolve on their own with supportive care, while severe pancreatitis can be fatal if not treated. Take your cat to the vet promptly if vomiting continues beyond a day or if worrying symptoms arise. Getting prompt treatment improves the prognosis.[2] With aggressive vet care, many cats can recover fully from pancreatitis.

When to Go to the Vet

You should seek veterinary care immediately if your cat is vomiting and exhibiting any of the following symptoms:

  • Repeated vomiting (more than 2-3 times in an hour)
  • Vomiting that lasts more than 24 hours
  • Vomit that is red or bloody
  • Black or dark brown vomit
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or gums)
  • Severe lethargy or weakness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

According to vethelpdirect.com, repeated vomiting episodes, lethargy, or dark vomit are signs of a serious health issue that requires urgent veterinary attention. If your cat shows any of these symptoms along with vomiting, take them to the vet or emergency animal hospital right away.

Vomiting accompanied by lethargy is especially concerning, as it can indicate poisoning, pancreatitis, kidney failure, or other life-threatening conditions. Don’t wait to see if the vomiting passes – seek professional veterinary help immediately.

Preventing Vomiting

There are several tips that can help prevent your cat from vomiting:

Feed your cat a few small meals throughout the day rather than one large meal. Eating too much at once can overwhelm your cat’s digestive system and lead to vomiting. Stick to a consistent feeding schedule as well.

Brush your cat regularly to remove excess hair and prevent hairballs. You can also give your cat hairball remedy products like gels or supplements to help hair pass through their system.

Feed your cat a high-quality wet cat food or pâté formula. The moisture and smooth texture make it easier to digest. Dry kibble is more likely to cause vomiting.

Avoid food and treats with artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. Stick to all-natural, gentle ingredients.

Make sure your cat always has access to fresh, clean water. Dehydration can exacerbate vomiting.

Reduce stress for your cat by providing a comfortable environment with resting areas, toys, and scratching posts. Stress and anxiety can upset the stomach.

Monitor your cat’s eating habits and health closely. Talk to your vet if vomiting persists despite preventive measures.

Scroll to Top