I have used excellent sources in preparing this page on cat vomiting. Treatments are not often mentioned as this is for veterinarians to decide based on the symptoms. References in the text are to 5 books listed at the base of the page numbered 1–5 (hence the numbers after text). I have made a reference to the books in this way because if the same information comes up several times from different books this lends support to the fact that it is sound information. Infrequently, I have also referred to online sources which are embedded in the text (these tend to be less useful than a good book).
An interesting section in this article is one where I describe the types of vomiting and the possible causes. This can help readers to assess whether the problem is serious requiring urgent betting attention or whether they can simply observe and wait and watch.
The page is in two parts. The first part was written about 12 years ago and the second part was written recently on December 31, 2021. I felt I needed to upgrade the page and provide more information. Once again, I’ve used an excellent source, Dr. Bruce Fogle.
Causes of feline vomiting
Vomiting is a common occurrence in cats. It is the result of stimulation of the ‘vomiting center of the brain’ by receptors in the digestive tract (1). Sometimes the cat will yowl before or after vomiting (2).
It can be due to regurgitating at will to relieve indigestion (4). This is a passive act in contrast to the harsh gagging sound when vomiting (1). Sometimes undigested food is brought up with little effort. This is probably not something to be concerned about (5). If the cat vomits 1 – 2 times and is otherwise in good health, is not considered to be serious (1). The question is whether it is serious. It can be caused by (see more causes below):
- many diseases
- general ailments
- digestive disorders
- overeating or eating too fast (another common cause (1)). This may be due to competition between several kittens eating from the same bow. Separation and putting less food down will probably help (1).
- food allergies
- hair balls or grass or foreign indigestible substance (these are the most common reasons (1))
Type of vomiting indicating cause
The way the cat vomits can help in diagnosing the cause (1). Clearly this depends a bit on knowing your cat’s lifestyle. For instance, does she go out? Does he tend to chew on odd objects etc. An outdoor cat that starts to vomit should be kept in for observation of behaviour and stools and to prevent further problems that may have occurred outside:
|Type of cat vomiting or material vomited and symptoms (source: 1 – unless stated otherwise)||What it indicates (source: 1 – unless stated otherwise)|
|Repeated – vomiting, retching, bringing up frothy clear liquid|
|Chronic & Episodic|
|Chronic & progressive – weight loss? – depression? – stomach distended? (2)|
|Acute to occasional (2) – kittens – worms – potbellied? – diarrhea?|
|Acute to sporadic – cat eating plants? – cat is a hunter – eats prey? – drooling – lethargy (2)|
|Frequent & Acute – history of eating non-food things (2)|
|Rapid onset & Acute – diarrhea? – anemia? (2)|
|Sporadic – not continuous and unrelated to eating – appetite also poor – listless|
|Occasional – long haired cat?|
|Blood – serious condition|
|Fecal – vomiting stuff that looks/smells like feces – serious|
|Foreign objects||These can be:|
|Motion sickness||This is what humans get sometimes. Apparently, vets can prescribe medicine to minimize the effects. Best to travel on an empty stomach.|
Cat vomiting – possible causes:
- inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis) (1) see table below – the main symptom is severe, chronic or sporadic vomiting. – Medline Plus – nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002312.htm) and sporadic.
- IBD – inflammatory bowel disease (or IBS – inflammatory bowel syndrome) (3) – an immune reaction disease – can be caused by commercial dry food. Cure: hypoallergenic cat food commercially available or better: homemade cat food.
- hepatic lipidosis & feline pancreatitis (3) (5) – linked to carbohydrate rich diet (3)
- food hypersensitivity (1) – vomiting might occur a couple of hours after eating. Can be accompanied by watery, mucus like diarrhea.
- peritonitis (see also preventing FIP). This is serious requiring quick action (1)
- feline panleukopenia (AKA Feline Distemper) (1) – this is frequently associated with cat vomiting (1)
- feline dysautonomia (paralysis of the autonomic nervous system, which controls the unconscious body functions). It is rare (5)
- intussusception (a complete or partial obstruction to the passage of food due to the intestine becoming rolled up. A rare condition that is more commonly seen in young cats with diarrhea. Rare disease and operation is the treatment (5)
- liver disease – see feline fatty liver disease (5)
- megaoesophagus (5)
- poisoning (5) such as antifreeze or aspirin (1) – see cat poison
- salmonellosis (5)
- colitis may cause vomiting (vetbase.co.uk)
- sepsis and metabolic imbalances (vetbase.co.uk)
- disease of the central nervous system (vetbase.co.uk)
- congestive heart failure (vetbase.co.uk)
- worms – round worms, hook worms (petclubuk.com)
- hyperthyroidism (2)
- viral or bacterial infection (2)
|Type of Gastritis – symptoms||Cause|
|Acute – severe, continuous vomiting – lethargic – possible diarrhea||Swallowed:|
|Chronic (“something that continues or persists over an extended period of time” – Medline Plus) – long term problem with sporadic vomiting – lethargic – lose weight||Common cause:|
A cat vomiting will be a serious illness if (4):
- it is persistent and severe (5)(1)
- contains blood
- it is ejected with force
- the cat is weak
- there is accompanying abdominal pain
- there is fever
Cat Vomiting – Sources: As stated in text plus these medical sources:
- Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook by Drs Carlson and Giffin
- The Veterinarians’ Guide To Your Cat’s Symptoms by Drs Garvey, Hohenhaus, Houpt, Pinkney, Wallace and Elizabeth Randolph
- Your Cat by Dr Elizabeth Hodgkins
- The American Animal Hospital Association Encyclopaedia of Cat Health and Care
- A-Z of Cat Diseases & Health Problems by Dr Bradley Viner
Cat Vomiting – Photo: Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic – the picture is cropped as allowed under the license. The cat wearing soft paws.
Update Dec 30, 2021
In order to upgrade the page, I have added some further information from Dr. Bruce Fogle, the UK’s number one veterinarian and also a prolific author. I’m referring to his book Complete Cat Care.
Vomiting is a clinical sign that something is wrong. It is not an illness.
Cats can vomit, have diarrhoea or constipation for a variety of reasons some of which are banal and some of which are serious. The same clinical signs exist when the underlying cause is not serious and when it is serious. This creates complications.
For example, the stomach might be irritated causing vomiting. A change in diet will probably do the trick together with perhaps medicines to protect the stomach wall. But far more seriously, vomiting can be caused by cancer developing in the stomach wall. Veterinarians need good diagnostics to tell the difference.
When vomiting is not serious
A good starting point is this: if a cat is behaving normally in respect of: eating, playing, peeing and pooping but also vomits occasionally it is probably not a cause for concern.
When vomiting is serious
In contrast, however, if a cat vomits habitually or persistently even if that cat appears to be healthy and well, the signs are that the cause may be serious and it certainly needs to be addressed. This is certainly so if there are other signs such as lethargy, a general symptom of ill health for understandable reasons.
Reasons for vomiting
Reasons for vomiting include: eating or diet problems; medicines including worming medicines; hairballs; poisons whether absorbed through the skin or ingested; heat stroke; motion sickness; intestinal problems including ulcerations, obstructions, irritations, IBD and intestine worms; metabolic diseases including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, liver disease, kidney disease and pancreatic disease; infections including a womb infection, an abscess and gastrointestinal infections; various cancers, and urinary tract conditions including kidney failure, lower urinary tract disease, obstructions and infections.
For young cats, most often vomiting is caused by the food they eat or the way that they eat the food. There may be food intolerance especially to protein. There may be a two-rapid change in diet. Or the cat might be eating too quickly or overeating. Houseplants might have been eaten or they might have eaten food that has gone off. Finally, they might have eaten a prey animal which has irritated the stomach causing vomiting.
If the problem is food intolerance you will have to find out which food your cat is intolerant to through trial and error. Dr. Fogle says that if a cat is on foods based on chicken beef or lamb, he would switch them over to fish-based foods. If this doesn’t work, he uses a diet where the protein has been hydrolysed into its component amino acids (ask your veterinarian about this).
Eating too quickly
If the cause is eating too quickly, leaving small portions of food in paper bags, he says, may help. I think an interactive feeder would be the solution here because they automatically slowdown a cat. They are also, in my opinion, good for dieting.
Vomiting up hairballs is normal. It just depends how frequently occurs. If it is obviously too frequent then it needs attention. Sometimes longhaired cats ingest too much hair and it accumulates in the stomach rather than passing through the intestines.
The solution is to comb your cat frequently, particularly longhaired cats. He highly recommends using a fine-toothed comb on shorthaired cats and a wider-toothed comb on cats with longer hair. Brushing, he says isn’t effective. A bristle brush doesn’t remove enough dead hair.
Self-medicating for hairballs
Dr. Fogle says that cat sometimes cats self-medicate by eating grass or plants. This causes them to regurgitate the hairball. An alternative is to use a proprietary herbal treatment which contain a petroleum jelly or mineral oil. You can also use a hairball diet which is higher in fibre than standard cat food. And fibre in the form of powdered cellulose or pulp helps the hair passed to the intestines. However, too much fibre may cause diarrhoea as it absorbs moisture or constipation as it is too bulky. The switch should be made gradually and the cat should be monitored.
Hope this helps.
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