Dry Heaving in Cats

Why is my cat dry heaving?

Most common conditions

Gastroenteritis / Liver Inflammation / Foreign Objects Stuck in the Throat

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Rated as moderate conditon

82 Veterinary Answers

Most common conditions

Gastroenteritis / Liver Inflammation / Foreign Objects Stuck in the Throat

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Why is my cat dry heaving?

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What is Dry Heaving?

Dry heaving (or retching) can sound like a minor cough or a major episode of gagging and stomach contractions. In some cases, it may just be a simple case of a hairball or tickle in the throat or it could be a serious issue such as intestinal blockage or organ disease. If your cat is just eating too fast and spitting up the food he just ate, this is not usually a medical problem; it is more of a portion control issue that you can fix by giving your cat smaller portions. However, there are some types of dry heaving that could mean something else. If you notice your cat dry heaving more than once, it could be a sign of one of these issues:

  • Hairballs
  • Nausea
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Foreign body in throat or stomach
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease

Usually, it is a good idea to take your cat to the veterinarian if you notice him dry heaving continually just to be sure there is no serious problem.

Why Dry Heaving Occurs in Cats

Even though dry heaving may be nothing to worry about, it is always best to check with a veterinary professional if you are concerned. Here are some of the more common reasons why this may occur in your cat:

Hairballs

All cats can get hairballs once in awhile because they are constantly grooming themselves and ingesting hair. This is usually nothing to worry about as your cat will sometimes dry heave a few times before coughing up a big ball of hair. However, if your cat is constantly trying to cough up the hair and cannot seem to do so, you should take him to see your veterinary care provider.

Nausea

Similar to humans, cats can feel nauseous once in a while for no real major reason. It is usually just from eating too much, acid in the stomach, or may even be from eating spoiled food. This is not serious and will usually go away on its own. It is often accompanied by appetite loss, vomiting, and lethargy.

Gastroenteritis

Cats with gastroenteritis will likely have bouts of diarrhea and vomiting along with dry heaving. At times, the vomit may be yellow or white foam, which is caused by trying to vomit after the stomach is empty. It is caused by infections from parasites, viruses, bacteria, or reactions to a new food or medication. Other symptoms include depression, lack of appetite, and sleepiness.

Foreign Body in Throat or Stomach

Cats are always eating things that they should not be eating such as string, bugs, plastic, and foam. They are just like toddlers, putting everything they find in their mouth to see what it is. Sometimes this can cause a blockage in the intestinal tract, esophagus, or throat. If your cat is suddenly vomiting, dry heaving, has abdominal pain and swelling, and will not eat or drink, you need to take him to a veterinary care center immediately. This is a sign of obstruction caused by foreign items, hairballs, tumors, or even intestinal twisting. It is essential that you get it checked out right away to prevent dehydration or complete blockage, which can be fatal.

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease in cats is common as they get older and can cause nausea and vomiting with dry heaves at times. Other signs of kidney disease include increased thirst and urination, lethargy, depression, pale gums, itchiness, and weakness. There are many causes of kidney disease such as:

  • Obesity
  • Repeated kidney infections
  • Toxic substances
  • Dental diseases
  • Urinary tract obstruction or infection
  • Injury to the kidney
  • Birth defects
  • Genetic (British Shorthairs, Himalayans, and Persians)

Liver Disease

The liver is an essential organ in the body that is needed for filtering toxins, storing vitamins, and digesting nutrients. Because it has so many functions, the liver is more susceptible to damage and disease. Some of the other symptoms besides dry heaving are weight loss, appetite loss, head pressing, circling, jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), pale gums, extreme thirst, distended abdomen, and depression.

Heart Disease

Heart disease can be common in cats as well. In fact, over one in ten pets have some form of heart disease. The two types of heart disease are congenital (present at birth) or acquired (caused by something). The most common heart diseases in cats include heartworm infection, blood vessel (vascular) disease, arrhythmia, and myocardial disease. In addition to dry heaving, heart disease can cause coughing, breathing difficulty, growth failure, weakness, irregular heart rate, and swollen abdomen.

What to do if your Cat is Dry Heaving

Hairballs can be treated by giving your cat hairball treatment or mineral oil. Some people also use butter. It is important to talk to your veterinarian first to be sure it is safe for your cat.

Nausea usually goes away on its own within a few hours. If it persists for longer than 24 hours or is accompanied by fever or other symptoms, you should call your veterinary care provider.

Gastroenteritis should be checked out by your veterinarian, who will perform laboratory and diagnostic tests as well as a physical examination.

A foreign body in throat or stomach has to be evaluated by your veterinarian who will be able to use an endoscope to look into the throat and digestive system and remove the obstruction.

Kidney, liver, and heart disease all need to be checked by your veterinary care provider right away.

Prevention of Dry Heaving

Hairballs can be prevented by brushing your cat daily and providing a nutritious diet with plenty of fiber.

Nausea may be prevented by keeping your pet’s food fresh and making sure the proportions are right for his age and breed.  

Preventing gastroenteritis includes keeping your cat up to date on their shots and other preventive medication. Also, be sure to keep your cat away from other animals that may be sick.

Preventing your cat from getting a foreign body in his throat or stomach is as simple as keeping any dangerous items away from your cat.

Kidney, liver, and heart disease are not usually preventable but preventing the cause as best you can is recommended. For example, damage to the heart caused by heartworm can be prevented by a following a veterinary advised regimen of heartworm medication. In addition, to prevent all of these and other issues, you should bring your cat to see the veterinarian at least once per year.

Cannanine

Cost of Dry Heaving

The cost of dry heaving can run about $75 for an office visit and medication to treat difficult hairballs, and about $100 to $200 for tests to determine the cause of nausea or gastroenteritis. A foreign object may cost a bit more for test or as much as a few thousand to remove the object surgically if necessary. Kidney, liver, and heart disease can all be expensive, from $200 up to $35,000 for transplant, if needed. On average, the cost of dry heaving in cats is about $2,000.

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Dry Heaving Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Huxley

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dsh

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1 Year

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Mild condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Dry Heaving

My cat is a year old, and over the last two months he’s been dry heaving at random. I’ve noticed it happens when he comes too close to products like nail polish, hair spray, or flavored food powders (for humans). However, he also has retched a few times where I couldn’t identify a source. Two of those times he produced a fluid. He’s a DSH who sheds a lot. I try to brush him at least every other day and he has toys he can scratch his body on. What can I do to help him be more comfortable (aside from moving to another room to do my nails or hair)? Any idea if this is a hairball or something that needs medical attention? Thank you so much!

Sept. 21, 2018

Huxley's Owner

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Baby

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Bombay Cat

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4 Years

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Fair condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair condition

Has Symptoms

Choking

My cat will get random choking episodes that last about a minute or two. Sometimes she will have these episodes several times a day, but she usually has them at least once every day. Also, she weighs about 13 pounds. I’m getting very concerned for her safety and health.

Sept. 10, 2018

Baby's Owner

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Izzy

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tabby

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10 Years

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Moderate condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Vomiting
Lethargic
Dry Heaving
Not Eating
Puking

We recently adopted a kitten with feline respiratory issues. She's on medication, however our other younger cat started acting lethargic and had silent meows for a few days. After this though her meow came back. Now within the same week my elderly cat (10 years) is dry heaving, puking, and only going for wet food. It may be important to add she is pretty obese (despite numerous efforts to keep her on a healthy diet) and doesn't normally pass up on any opportunity to eat. I'm continuing to give her wet food twice a day to keep her hydrated but I'm not sure what I should do. Is this something that would clear up on it's own similar to my other younger cat? And is it something the kitten brought in? We had the kitten 2 weeks prior to these symptoms. Also, she's been showing these symptoms of dry heaving for the past 48 hours.

Aug. 26, 2018

Izzy's Owner

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3320 Recommendations

Without examining Izzy I cannot say whether this is something related to the kitten or due to another cause; you should ensure that Izzy is kept hydrated and visit your Veterinarian if there is no improvement in the symptoms presenting. It is possible that Izzy picked something up from the kitten, but I don’t think it is related; possible causes may include other infections, foreign objects, stray hairs, laryngeal disorders among other causes. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 26, 2018

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Friskie

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long hair

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11 Years

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Moderate condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Gagging
Lethargy
Loss Of Appetite
Heaving
Puking Up Nothing

My cat Friskie has been dry heaving and gagging greatly since this past Wednesday morning. My mother said on Wednesday all she did was lay in one spot the entire day. Thursday night after her symptoms increased (gagging, loss of appetite, attempting to puke) we decided to take her to the vet that night, fearing she had something stuck in her throat. The vet said she had asthma and gave her an injection to try and control it, but she hasn't improved at all since then. She's drinking, but not eating, still gagging, and still Lethargic. It sounds like she's choking on air sometimes when she gags, but the vet confirmed Thursday night she did not have anything stuck in her throat (they did an X-ray). She'll also just sit and stare at the ground or the wall and do nothing. I'm quite concerned for her, and I'm not sure what else we can do to help her.

Aug. 26, 2018

Friskie's Owner

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recommendation-ribbon

3320 Recommendations

Dry heaving or choking can be difficult to control especially if you cannot identify a specific trigger or cause for the symptoms; inflammation of the airways or laryngeal disorders may add to the problems. Without examining Friskie I cannot say what the specific cause is or give you an indication of a management option or treatment. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 26, 2018

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Mimi

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Cat

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13 Years

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Moderate condition

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Heaving

Our 13 year old cat Mimi has been dry heaving for the last week or so ... sometimes it last for a few seconds to minutes ... sometimes it's very loud sometimes it's not ... she has always had problems breathing since she was a kitten (our vet has been aware of it since then and done nothing) ... I think she has thrown up several times in the last week or so not sure because we have three cats. Her appetite is normal (meaning she eats a little 'soft' food in the am and pm .. and forages the dry food during the day) ... she drinks water w/o problems ... uses the litter box normally .. acts normally other than the 'heaving' .... should we have her checked out by our vet soon? (I have given her the stuff for hairballs)

Aug. 24, 2018

Mimi's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 Recommendations

I think that it would be a good idea to have her examined, yes, as this seems to not be resolving. Possible causes for this behavior might be hairballs, asthma, allergies, or heartworm disease. Your veterinarian might want to take an x-ray of her lungs, and see what is going on with her.

Aug. 24, 2018

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Osiris

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Unknown

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8 Years

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Serious condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Diarrhea
Vomiting
Dry Heaving

I can’t afford to take my poof cat to the cat and he dry heaves and has stomach contractions multiple times a day. I’d say multiple times an hour even. I feel so bad I know he’s in pain with them. All he does if find weird objects to eat. If he can jump up and get it, it’s good to him. We have put things out of reach and locked doors but he always finds a way to eat everything. Plastic, anything crunchy sounding in the garbage, tape, cardboard. I’m sure it’s that, but the procedure is just way too expensive, especially with a baby on the way. Anyone know any ways to help these symptoms subside till we can afford the vet? It would mean the world to me and my family.

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Gibbson and General

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Cat

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2 Years

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Moderate condition

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Vomiting
Dry Heaving

my two cats have been dry heaving for quite some time. It started of with my oldest dry heaving all the time but in small spurts. However, now my youngest cat has started to dry heave, however, it's more severe. She will heave for multiple minutes and she's thrown up once (but it was all un-chewed food) and while my older cat still only dry heaves every now and then in short spurts I'm worried about them especially sense my younger cat is having more issues. If anyone has any ideas on how to help that would be really grateful. I can't afford to take then to the vet due to the pandemic (and I don't think vets are open other then emergencies)I also don't think it has to do with the food they eat since they've never had issues with it before and they don't eat to much. please help my kitties

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Rustie

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DOMESTIC

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8 Years

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Moderate condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Gagging

My cat is 8 yrs old,it's been a couple of days that he sounds a bit hoarse, when he's sleeping, he will wake up and start gagging, he has thrown up a few times, I don't have money to take him to the vet. Getting worried

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Percy

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Cat

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5 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Dry Heaving

Yes I have experience. My cat died. Was dry heaving, we thought it would get over it like every other time. Nope, never came back. Get it to a vet, if it doesn't stop after 10 minutes.

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Lucky

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Stray cat

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4 Years

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Moderate condition

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Dry Heaving, Constipation,

Hello. My cat is 4 years old. She started dry heaving 3 weeks ago. She was vomiting white foamy water in the first week but that stopped. She is active and eats as usual. She started drinking less water though. We took her to many vets. They checked her blood, did x-rays and ultrasound, checked her throat as well. All normal. We used hairball cream, antibiotics but nothing changed. She doesn't poop as much as she used to either. I don't know what else to do. Anyone experiencing the same?

Cannanine