What is Vomiting?
Vomiting is the act of forceful expulsion of the content of the stomach. If your cat is about to vomit, you may notice her acting restless, drooling, swallowing, and crouching on all fours with her neck stretched out. Many times, vomiting can simply be your cat’s stomach rejecting whatever is in it, or it could be a sign of a more serious medical condition. While vomiting can often be treated, chronic vomiting could cause dehydration, which can severely weaken your cat. Reasons your cat may vomit can include:
- Eating too fast
- Minor stomach upset
- Foreign body obstruction
- Food allergies
- Poor quality diet or treats
- Bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection
- Internal medical condition
Why Vomiting Occurs in Cats
The reason for your cat’s vomiting will depend on your cat’s eating habits and health.
Eating Too Fast
Some cats tend to gulp down their food the second it is in front of them, only to throw up undigested pieces soon after. This can be especially evident in multi-cat households where there is competition for resources.
Minor Stomach Upset
Cats can sometimes eat things their stomachs just can’t handle, such as bugs, garbage, spoiled food, or other items that just don’t agree with their delicate system. Vomiting out the undesirable item is a safe way to ensure the health of the body.
Foreign Body Obstruction
Sometimes, that undesirable piece of something, such as string, gets stuck in the digestive system and cannot be vomited out. An object that gets lodged in the stomach or intestines can create an obstruction that comprises the function of the digestive system, blocking food from continuing down its normal path.
Every cat owner is familiar with that cylindrical wad of slimy hair amidst digestive juices that our felines love to gift to us. Grooming is a natural part of every cat’s daily routine, but the hair that they swallow in the process is not digestible. Vomiting up a hairball every week or two is not a cause for alarm, as it ensures that the hair does not cause a dangerous blockage in the intestines.
Not only can cats develop allergies to their own food, but they can also have allergies to food items that are only occasionally in their diet. Allergies are common in cats, which is why there are so many protein choices in the pet food market right now. Cow’s milk, another common vomit instigator, is a food that all cats cannot digest as they lack the right enzyme to break it down.
Poor Quality Diet or Treats
For a long time, the pet food market has produced rendered, dry, grain filled diets that are inappropriate for our feline friends. Rendered proteins are generally not choice meat pieces and are hard for our cats’ systems to digest. Lots of foods and treats also contain artificial flavors, smells, and preservatives, all of which can cause your cat’s digestive system to become inflamed and attempt to expel the chemicals.
There are many things in your cat’s environment that can poison her if she ingests it. Many indoor and outdoor plants can be toxic, as can poisons such as herbicides and pesticides, household cleaners, antifreeze, lead and other chemicals, human foods such as chocolate, garlic, and onions, and human medicine. Many of these things can be found in or around your house. If your cat has a sudden, acute, and severe case of vomiting, check the contents as she may have been poisoned.
Bacterial, Viral, or Parasitic Infection
There are many types of infectious agents that can cause vomiting in cats of any age. Often, if an infectious agent is the cause of the vomiting, you may see other symptoms. Parasites may be evident in the vomit or feces. Younger and poorly vaccinated cats may be at a higher risk for some bacterial and viral infections.
Internal Medical Condition
There is a wide variety of internal conditions that can cause a symptom like vomiting. There are digestive conditions, such as constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, pancreatitis, ulcers, and GI inflammation. Cancer in the stomach or intestines can cause vomiting. Metabolic diseases can include hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and kidney disease. Vomiting can also be a sign of organ failure, such as in the kidneys or liver.
What to do if your Cat is Vomiting
If your cat vomits sporadically, it may be a healthy reaction to hairballs, or food or other items that have been swallowed. Vomiting that occurs more than once a day, for several days, or is accompanied by other symptoms may indicate a more serious problem and needs to be checked by your veterinarian.
Be sure to tell your veterinarian about your cat’s eating habits, history of vomiting, contents of the vomit, accompanying symptoms, any possible toxic ingestions, and medical history. Your vet may run a series of tests after a physical exam to determine the reason, which can include blood, urine and fecal tests, X-rays and ultrasounds, and an endoscopy.
Once a diagnosis is made, treatment can be determined based on what is ailing your cat. For most cases of vomiting, a short fast of 24 hours is recommended, followed by a bland diet. Cats can become dehydrated and may need fluid therapy. Antibiotics and anti-emetics, along with other appropriate medications may be needed. Parasitic infections will be treated with deworming medications, while cases of poisoning will use antidotes and supportive care. Food allergies are treated with a change in diet. More serious conditions, such as kidney failure and cancer, will be treated appropriately. Obstructions may need emergency surgery.
For those cats whose eating habits are causing the vomiting, there are simple solutions that you can do at home. For gobblers, try portioning out each meal into smaller meals, or use a baking sheet or muffin cup sheet to spread out the food. For those kitties who love to munch on houseplants, try growing plants that are good for them, such as wheat grass or catnip. And for the cat who leaves you hairballs, routinely groom her and any other cats in the house to cut down on the amount of hair she ingests.
Prevention of Vomiting
While many internal conditions are difficult to predict, and therefore prevent, there are some ways to combat casual vomiting in your cat. Keeping toxins and poisonous substances away from your cat will ensure she is not exposed to them. Feeding her an appropriate and healthy food will keep her stomach happy. Getting your cat vaccinated and routinely using spot or chew treatments can keep infectious agents at bay, and ensure she stays healthy.
Cost of Vomiting
The cost of treating vomiting in your cat can vary considerably, and depends entirely on the severity of your cat’s condition. The average expense for a toxicity will depend on the compound, plant or product; for Cardinal plant poisoning the therapy may average around $500. A medical condition like acute pancreatitis may cost $1000.
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Vomiting Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
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I have two cats, Fluff(3.5 years) and Storm (7 months)and as of this week, I've noticed they don't seem to be eating as much as they normally do and have been throwing up quite often, Fluff more so than Storm but between the two, they've thrown up almost every day this week. They both still seem to be happy, healthy (aside from the issues I just mentioned) and their normal selves, but I can't help but worry something might be wrong. Just so you have a bit more information to go off of: I've been feeding them FROMM cat food and switching up the flavor each time they finish a bag. I also give them Sheba Perfect Portions cuts in gravy once or twice a week, also changing up the flavors. They both still react excitedly to food, especially wet food. Fluff did have to have an emergency surgery to get a blockage removed from her small intestine back on 12/4/2016 and then spayed the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2017. Storm was just spayed back on 2/2/2018 at Pima Animal Care Center (the local shelter.) My friend had been fostering her since she was 10 days old and I've had her since December, so I'm wondering if it could be something Storm picked up in the few hours she was there and has spread to Fluff?
Feb. 10, 2018
Dr. Michele K. DVM
Thank you for your email. Without examining either cat, I'm not sure what might be causing the vomiting, but if you have just recently gotten Storm, it may be related to her coming in to the house, perhaps they are grooming each other and are showing signs of hairballs. Since they both have decreased appetites, it may be related to a particular bag of food. Parasites are also a possibility, since they are both affected. it might be a good idea to have one, or both of them, examined by a veterinarian, and have stool samples analyzed to make sure that they are free of parasites. If they are both generally healthy and nothing obvious is found on exam, your veterinarian can prescribe a GI food that you can feed them both and see if signs resolve. I hope that all goes well for both of them!
Feb. 10, 2018
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My cat, Dolly, just threw up--not generally a worrying thing for a maine coon. But this time she threw up while she was eating her wet food into her bowl, and instead of a chunk of hair there was a chunk of some sort of clear gel. Really concerned, as I've never seen a cat throw up something like that, but she seems to be otherwise fine. She's also scarfed-and-barfed before, but never into her bowl.