Why Is My Cat Vomiting and What Should I Do?

Updated on June 20, 2018
Sherry H profile image

Sherry Haynes is currently pursuing a PharmD degree and has experience in both the clinical and management sides of pharmacy.

Various conditions may cause your cat to vomit. Know when to seek emergency veterinary care.
Various conditions may cause your cat to vomit. Know when to seek emergency veterinary care. | Source

Why Is My Cat Vomiting?

Vomiting is one of the most common non-specific symptoms encountered in cats. Regurgitating partially digested food once or twice is not a problem, but if your cat keeps throwing up persistently or vomits blood, bile or foreign objects, you may need to take them to see a vet. A number of diseases and conditions are associated with digestive issues, and it is important to determine the cause and severity of the vomiting in order to treat it accordingly.

Common Causes of Vomiting in Cats

  • Hairballs
  • Foreign Body Ingestion
  • Overeating or Rapid Eating
  • Non-Infectious and Infectious Diseases or Viruses
  • Motion Sickness
  • Drugs
  • Poison
  • Anatomical and Physiological Abnormalities

1. Hairballs

The most common cause of vomiting in cats is due to an accumulation of hair in the stomach (thanks to self-grooming habits). When swallowed, the hair coalesces into a ball within the stomach and creates a "foreign body." The stomach lining becomes irritated and may cause the cat to throw up. Hairballs are not a serious issue, but it is important to rule out other causes of vomiting. Hairballs may be symptomatic of an underlying disease.

Symptoms: Your cat may vomit right after eating, gag or cough.

Treatment:

  1. Hairball Products: Many cat hairball products are available on the market. These products lubricate the hairballs and facilitate their passage out of the stomach via excretion.
  2. Vet-Approved Laxatives: Occasionally, laxatives are given to treat stubborn hairballs and may help keep things moving smoothly through your cat's gastrointestinal tract. Laxatives should not be administered without veterinary supervision.
  3. Regular Brushing: Brushing your cat’s fur regularly helps to reduce hairballs.

Never use mineral oil as a hairball laxative as this substance can be easily aspirated into the lungs.

2. Foreign Body Ingestion

Cats that have a habit of roaming and ingesting substances like grass, cloth, string, plastic wrap and the like are at risk of intestinal blockages. These substances irritate the stomach lining and are one of the common causes of vomiting and/or diarrhea in cats. Some blockages may require surgery.

3. Overeating or Eating Too Fast

Kittens are likely to regurgitate their food if they eat quickly and exercise shortly after; such instances are not serious. Feeding several kittens from a single dish may encourage rapid eating. To eliminate the problem, feed them separately or feed them smaller meals.

4. Non-Infectious and Infectious Feline Diseases and Viruses

Various non-infectious diseases (e.g. bacterial) and infectious feline viruses may cause gastrointestinal symptoms and vomiting in cats. The following tables break down commonly encountered conditions in feline veterinary medicine, diseases, viruses, and associated symptoms.

Cats often hide symptoms of illness.
Cats often hide symptoms of illness. | Source

Infectious Feline Viruses With GI Symptoms

Virus
Pathogenicity
Symptoms
Feline Panleukopenia or "FP"
High
Highly contagious virus; spreads by direct contact with infected animals or their secretions. It is a leading cause of death in kittens. Characterized by loss of appetite, fever up to 105°F, frothy, yellow bile in vomit. Inability to hold down water. Yellow or blood-streaked stool.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis or "FIP"
High
Caused by certain strains and mutations of the feline coronavirus. Spread through close and continuous contact with secretions. It is a serious condition that should be dealt with by a veterinarian. Upper respiratory symptoms and diarrhea are common. Often fatal.

Non-Infectious Feline Diseases With GI Symptoms

Disease
Pathogenicity
Symptoms
Inflammatory Bowel Disease or "IBD"
Low, situational
A condition caused by immune-mediated reactions of the bowels to food, bacteria or parasites. Chronic diarrhea, sporadic vomiting, malabsorption and, in long-standing cases, weight loss, anemia and malnutrition.
Pancreatitis
Low, situational (diet)
Often acquired through diet. Loss of appetite, excessive production of saliva, vomiting, diarrhea, depression and pain in the abdominal region on the right side, just below the abdomen.
Gastritis
Acquired
Ulcers form in the stomach or intestine when the mucous membrane/protective covering of the wall of the stomach is destroyed, allowing the stomach acids and bile acids to erode the stomach or intestinal wall lining. Characterized by heartburn, loss of appetite, vomiting and lethargy. *Omeprazole can be given for acute gastritis in cats.

5. Vomiting Associated With Traveling

Like humans, cats can develop motion sickness and gastrointestinal issues related to nausea. If your cat is licking its lips, drooling, urinating or defecating inappropriately, he/she is probably sensitive to travel. Traveling on an empty stomach (or feeding 4-5 hours before traveling) reduces symptoms of motion sickness.

Common medications for travel-related nausea include:

  • Promethazine: Antiemetic; prevents vomiting in cats.
  • Cyclizine (Marezine): Antihistamine and antiemetic; dosed at 4 mg/kg and given intramuscularly every 8 hours
  • Chlorpromazine: Antiemetic for reducing travel-associated vomiting in cats.

6. Vomiting Induced by Drugs

Certain drugs can cause vomiting including digoxin, cyclophosphamide, adriamycin, erythromycin and tetracycline. Other treatments for drug-induced vomiting are dolasetron, granisetron, metoclopramide and ondansetron.

7. Vomiting Due to Ingestion of Poison

Many substances are poisonous to cats. Some of these include:

  • Prescription drugs, cleaning solutions, natural herbs and plants.
  • Topical insecticides.
  • All varieties of lilies.
  • Anticoagulants and common human pain medications such as NSAIDs, acetaminophen and amphetamines.

Human medications are extremely dangerous if accidentally ingested by cats.
Human medications are extremely dangerous if accidentally ingested by cats. | Source

Tylenol Safety

Only one tablet of acetaminophen can be fatal to cats.

What to Do If Your Cat Is Poisoned

Steps to take if you suspect your cat has ingested poison:

  • If symptoms are severe, take your cat to the nearest emergency veterinary clinic immediately. Time is of the essence.
  • Determine whether the substance your cat ingested is actually a poison. Most products have labels that list the ingredients.
  • Call the animal poison control center for specific information or visit the ASPCA's website for a list of toxic plants.
  • Call your nearest animal hospital to get information on what to do next.

Other Possible Causes of Acute Vomiting in Cats

  • Hiatal hernia (protrusion of a portion of the stomach through the esophageal hiatus of the diaphragm)
  • Electrolyte abnormalities (e.g., hypokalemia, hyperkalemia, hyponatremia and hypercalcemia)
  • Hypertrophic gastropathy
  • Severe constipation
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Chronic colitis

My Cat Is Vomiting Fluid, Blood, Worms, Bile—What Does This Mean?

Take note of the frequency and characteristics of your cat's vomiting and relay this information to your veterinarian:

  • How and when does your cat vomit?
  • Does your cat vomit repeatedly, sporadically or persistently?
  • Does the vomiting occur after eating?
  • Is there blood, feces or foreign objects in the vomit?

What if my cat is vomiting frothy, clear fluid?

If your cat vomits frothy, clear fluid, your cat may have ingested spoiled food, grass or have a hairball. Similarly, your cat's stomach lining may be irritated by a condition or disease such as infectious enteritis.

What if my cat is vomiting off and on for a period of days or weeks?

An unpalatable diet may cause your cat to vomit off and on over a period of time; lethargy and anorexia may also be noted. Liver and kidney disease may also cause this type of vomiting as well as chronic gastritis, IBD, hairballs or foreign material, parasitic infestations and diabetes mellitus. In older cats, gastric or intestinal tumours may be suspected, too.

What if my cat is vomiting blood?

Bright red blood in the vomit indicates active bleeding somewhere between the mouth and the upper part of small intestine. This is commonly caused by a foreign body that is stuck and irritating or eroding the walls of the gastrointestinal tract. The presence of blood in vomit is serious; go to the veterinarian right away.

What if my cat is vomiting feces?

If your cat is vomiting fecal material or foul material, they may be suffering from an intestinal obstruction, peritonitis or abdominal trauma. This requires emergency intervention.

What if my cat is projectile vomiting?

Projectile vomiting occurs when the contents of the stomach are expelled violently. This condition indicates a complete blockage of the upper gastrointestinal tract.
Possible causes of projectile vomiting are hairballs or foreign objects, tumours and the narrowing of the GI tract. Brain diseases that cause increased intracranial pressure, brain tumours, encephalitis and blood clots can also cause projectile vomiting.

What if my cat is vomiting worms?

Physaloptera praeputialis and Ollulanus tricuspis are two species of stomach parasites that affect cats. Cats acquire these parasites by eating intermediate hosts or by ingesting infested soil. Persistent vomiting is often noted and worms may be visibly present in the vomit. Dewormers such as tetramisole (for Ollulanus species) and ivermectin or levamisole (for Physaloptera species) are effective.

Kittens, older cats and cats with pre-existing health conditions are less able to tolerate dehydration and should be treated by a vet only.

Home Care and Treatment for Vomiting and Diarrhea in Cats

Cats become dehydrated from vomiting when body fluids and electrolytes are lost. Dehydration becomes more severe if the vomiting is accompanied by diarrhea.

How to Test for Dehyrdation in Cats

If a cat is dehydrated, its skin will become less elastic. Test the hydration level as follows:

  1. Loosley pinch the skin on the scruff of the cat's neck.
  2. The skin should bounce back into place when it is released if the cat is hydrated.
  3. In a dehydrated cat, the skin will remain tented and be slow to return.

Another sign of dehydration is dryness of the mouth. Gums should be moist, but in the event of dehydration, they may appear dry and tacky. Severe dehydration is indicated by sunken eyeballs and the onset of shock.

How to Reintroduce Food to Your Cat

  1. In most cases of vomiting, the foreign material is expelled. Gently reintroduce food and water over the next 12 hours after the episode.
  2. If your cat seems to tolerate water, you can offer meat baby food (no onion or garlic powder). You can also offer boiled and unseasoned skinless chicken.
  3. Offer 4 to 6 small meals a day for the next 2 days and then return to the normal diet.
  4. Always offer clean water.

When in doubt, take your cat to the nearest veterinarian.
When in doubt, take your cat to the nearest veterinarian. | Source

When Is Vomiting Considered an Emergency?

Stop all food and water and call the veterinarian when:

  • Vomiting persists for more than 24 hours and the cat is neither eating or drinking.
  • Vomiting occurs when the cat attempts to eat or drink.
  • Vomiting is accompanied by diarrhea.
  • Cat is vomiting fresh blood or brown material (partially digested blood).
  • Cat is weak, lethargic or shows signs of illness.

Common Drugs Used to Treat Vomiting in Cats

Your veterinarian may recommend that you offer your dehydrated cat an oral electrolyte solution via bottle or syringe such as oral Lactated Ringer's solution with 5% dextrose or unflavored Pedialyte.

Antiemetics

Antiemetics are drugs that are commonly prescribed to control vomiting. Common drugs used for cats include:

  • Maropitant citrate (Cerenia®) given IV and SQ
  • Metoclopramide (Metoclopramide®) SQ or PO (this dosage should be reduced in cats with acute or chronic renal disease)
  • Chlorpromazine (Thorazine®)
  • Prochlorperazine (Compazine®)

GI Protectants

These common gastrointestinal protectants may be given to cats when vomiting stops:

  • Famotidine (Famotidine®) IV
  • Ranitidine HCl (Zantac®) IV or PO

These drugs may be useful for severe or persistent vomiting, where secondary reflux and oesophagitis are present.

The information in this article is not meant as a substitute for veterinary advice. Always consult your vet if your cat is dull, lethargic, dehydrated or showing signs of illness.

Medication should always be given under veterinary supervision. Over-the-counter medication manufactured for human consumption should not be given to cats.

References

  • Vetbook.org Vomiting in Cats
  • Hickman, MA et al (2008) Safety, pharmacokinetics and use of novel NK-1 receptor antagonist maropitant (Cerenia) for the prevention of emesis and motion sickness in cats. J Vet Pharmacol Ther 31:220-229
  • de Brito Galvao, JF & Trepanier, LA (2008) Risk of hemolytic anemia with intravenous administration of famotidine to hospitalised cats. J Vet Intern Med 22:325-329
  • Duran, S et al (1991) Pharmacokinetics of oral and intravenous ranitidine in cats. 9th Annual ACVIM Forum. pp:902
  • Lehmann, CR et al (1985) Metoclopramide kinetics in patients with impaired renal function and clearance by hemodialysis. Clin Pharmacol Ther 37:284-289
  • Petplace.com Vomiting in Cats

Questions & Answers

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      • Sherry H profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Haynes 

        2 months ago

        Thanks, Kenneth.

      • kenneth avery profile image

        Kenneth Avery 

        3 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

        Hi, Sherry -- very in-depth and helpful hub. Great advice. Keep up the fine work.

      • Sherry H profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Haynes 

        4 months ago

        I see. It should mean they are allergic to raw fish. Its always good to check with a vet.

        Awww cats are smart, they know what they are upto lol.

      • dredcuan profile image

        Dred Cuan 

        4 months ago from California

        They are good with cooked ones. It's just that every time we prepare the fish, they've wanted to get some of it! Lol It happened couple of times lately so we needed to stop it. We're not really into feeding them with catfoods that are available in the mark because they would prefer to eat almost same foods like ours.

      • Sherry H profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Haynes 

        4 months ago

        I see you are a lovely caretaker of your cats. Your cats could be allergic or intolerable to fish or could be perfectly normal which I hope they are.

        If its allergy it won't show up straight away but may develop over time after many ingestions.

        I would stop feeding fish for some time to see if its fish causing vomiting. Are they fine eating cooked fish?

      • dredcuan profile image

        Dred Cuan 

        4 months ago from California

        I love taking care of cats. Actually, I do have 4 right now. There are times that some of them throw up. My mom said maybe it's because of them eating flesh innards of a fish as their stomach can't handle it. So what she usually does is cook it before letting them eat it. Do you think it maybe the reason?

      • Sherry H profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Haynes 

        5 months ago

        Hairballs is no doubt almost always the reason causing longhaired cats to vomit. It is still good to be convinced about it through a check up by vet.

        Thanks for reading it!

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        5 months ago from Sunny Florida

        We have had our long haired car for 11 years, and he has always occasionally vomited occasionally. Even though we feed him food for hairballs we know that is the cause. The vet ruled other things out; This is a very thourough article!

      • Sherry H profile imageAUTHOR

        Sherry Haynes 

        5 months ago

        While we are sure hairballs are harmless, it is upsetting to see the cats uncomfortable. I am glad it is only hairballs your cat suffers from. I hope she's doing fine now. Longhaired cats are beautiful.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        5 months ago from Houston, Texas

        The reason our older cat occasionally vomits is always because of a hairball that is being expelled. She is long haired and it happens despite my brushing her every day.

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