Your Complete Guide to Vomiting in Cats
One of the most common health concerns for cat owners is vomiting. While it may be as simple as a hairball or an upset stomach, your cat’s vomiting could also be something more serious that requires veterinary care. We’re here to help you determine when your cat needs to see the vet and how to manage your cat at home in mild cases. Learn more about the signs, causes, and treatment of vomiting in cats in the article below.
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Common Reasons Why Cats Vomit
- Infectious disease such as feline panleukopenia virus
- Dietary indiscretion (when a cat eats something inappropriate)
- Swallowing an object that causes stomach or intestinal obstruction (foreign body)
- Sudden diet change
- Intestinal parasites
- Motion sickness
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Side effects from medications
- Chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or kidney disease
- Stress due to boarding or other change in their environment/routine
- Sudden onset of kidney disease/failure
- Diabetes mellitus
- Hyperthyroid disease
- Urinary obstructive disease
- Food Allergy
- Heat Stroke
Like children, kittens are often susceptible to many types of infections, especially if they do not receive the proper vaccines at a young age. These infections, such as feline panleukopenia virus, can cause vomiting in kittens and cats. Feline panleukopenia virus is highly contagious and can be fatal especially in young kittens. Kittens should be vaccinated beginning at 6-8 weeks and then every 3 weeks until they reach 16-18 weeks of age. Once they’re adults they will need to continue to receive vaccine boosters to protect them from these infectious diseases.
Read more about vaccinating your cat or kitten here!
When a cat eats something inappropriate such as dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream), grass, dog food, and more, it can make the cat nauseous and sometimes vomit. Read more about foods we have in our home that could make your cat vomit in the below articles:
Cats are predators by nature and enjoy the hunt. This even includes inanimate objects such as string, yarn, and thread. If a cat chews and begins swallowing any form of string, they’ll often continue swallowing the entire length. This causes stomach or intestinal obstruction with signs of vomiting.
Cats will eat chicken bones or other animal bones which can perforate (puncture) the stomach or intestines and be a life-threatening foreign body. If you know or suspect that your cat or kitten has eaten any form of string, chicken or other bone, and/or is vomiting, contact your vet right away. Do NOT try to pull the thread out as this can cause further damage to the intestinal tract!
Sudden Diet Change
Changing your cat’s brand of food from one day to the next often causes vomiting. It’s important when changing diets that you blend the old food with the new food over 7-14 days, slowly increasing the amount of the new food each day and slowly decreasing the amount of the old food.
If your cat regularly catches birds, mice, or other rodents, they are exposed to intestinal worms that often cause vomiting as well as other symptoms such as diarrhea and weight loss. Kittens often have roundworms in their stool, and you may even observe roundworms their vomit. Your vet will likely recommend a fecal test and regular deworming medication during new and follow-up kitten exams.
Cats tend to get nauseous and may vomit during a car ride. Talk to your vet about medications to manage your cat’s nausea and vomiting, especially if you’ll be taking an extended car trip.
Cats are particularly sensitive to many ordinary plants and household products. Read more about potential plant and household toxins in cats in the below articles:
Signs of illnesses like pancreatitis can often be subtle and mild in cats. Other times, your cat may become suddenly and severely ill. Unfortunately, the cause is often unknown. It’s important to monitor and keep a written record of your cat’s diet, how often your cat vomits (daily, weekly, monthly), and if your cat has episodes of not wanting to eat. After thoroughly examining your cat and getting a complete history, your vet will recommend specific tests to rule out pancreatitis or other diseases and prescribe appropriate treatment.
Cats like routine. Any change in their daily routine often leads to stress and symptoms such as vomiting. Changes can be environmental, such as moving or home renovations, or changes in routine, such as a new daily schedule or boarding. Read more about kitty stress and anxiety in the following articles:
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), chronic liver disease, chronic kidney disease (CKD), hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and more often include symptoms of nausea and vomiting in cats. Cats with symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, and decreased appetite need to be examined by a vet to determine the cause and recommended treatment options.
Do not wait more than 12-24 hours to contact a vet from the time you first notice your cat not eating, vomiting experiencing weight loss.
Urinary Obstructive Disease
Cats with urinary problems will often vomit. Read more about urinary obstructive disease in cats here.
If you notice your cat dribbling urine, visiting the litter box frequently but producing little to no urine, you should contact your vet or the nearest pet emergency hospital right away. This could be a life-threatening problem needing immediate veterinary care.
Cats can develop a food allergy to an ingredient that they have been eating for months to years. Vomiting can be a sign and often is intermittent. Other signs of food allergy include weight loss, intermittent abdominal pain, soft stool, diarrhea, flatulence, increased number of stools produced (more than 3 times per day), itching/licking around the anus, and recurrent anal gland inflammation. If you’re concerned about a possible food allergy, contact our vets for an initial evaluation of your cat.
Cats like the heat and often seek a warm spot in the sun to sleep and relax. However, like humans, they can suffer from heat stroke if exposed to extreme temperatures for too long. One of the symptoms of heat stroke is vomiting.
Click on the following link to read more about the signs and symptoms of heat stroke in cats and how to prevent it.
Signs of Severe Nausea and Vomiting in Cats
- Nausea: drooling, licking lips, excessive swallowing
- Vomiting: strong abdominal contractions and head nodding. Take note of the
- color, amount, how often, and when your cat last ate.
- Pale or cold gums, occasionally their gums or the whites of their eyes might look yellow
- Quiet or lethargic
- Weight loss
- Decreased appetite or refusing to eat
Why does my cat throw up undigested food?
Cats sometimes eat their kibble too quickly, and this results in regurgitation of undigested food. If you have more than 1 cat, consider feeding them in different areas to decrease competition for food. Consider getting a cat activity feeder or slow feeder that allows cats to “hunt” for their food. This also helps them to get smaller portions of food throughout the day and provides an activity to decrease boredom.
Why does my cat keep throwing up?
If your cat vomits more than once in a 24-hour period, it’s time to call your vet for an appointment. Your vet will assess your cat and recommend tests to determine what’s causing the vomiting. Your cat may also need supportive care such as IV (intravenous) or SQ (subcutaneous) fluids as well as other medications for dehydration, nausea, and pain.
Home Remedies for Vomiting in Cats
For cats that appear otherwise healthy, still behaving normally, and are not vomiting blood, you can begin with supportive treatment at home. (Recipes and feeding instructions below)
1. Your cat should always have access to fresh water. The average cat drinks about 1 ounce of water (⅛ cup) per pound of body weight daily. For example, a 4-pound cat will typically drink 4 ounces or ½ cup of water in a 24-hour period. Cats and kittens that experience vomiting require much more water to remain hydrated.
2. Give your cat quiet time to rest and fully recover.
3. If your cat has been diagnosed with a disease that is potentially contagious to other cats, be sure to keep your cat isolated and away from other cats until
he/she has recovered.
Continue reading here for recipes and feeding instructions:
4. Withhold food for 12-24 hours.
5. Cats weighing less than 8 pounds and kittens should NOT be fasted at all as they will be at high risk of developing severely low blood sugar levels.
6. Offer a home-made bland diet in small portions and be sure to include good
sources of high-quality protein and carbohydrates or a prescription intestinal diet recommended by a veterinarian.
Suitable protein sources include:
- Cooked chicken breast
- Cooked white fish
- Cooked turkey
- Cooked egg
Carbohydrate options include:
- Boiled white rice
- Cooked pasta
Once cooked, cool and serve the home-made diet in small portions. The liquid from the rice cooker can be included in the food to add extra fluid intake for your cat. Always store home-made food in the fridge and try not to prepare more than what is needed in one day so that it stays fresh and tasty for your cat. Warm the food to room temperature before offering it to your cat (when microwaving be sure to check that it isn’t too hot before offering it to your cat).
Begin by feeding ⅓ protein portion to ⅔ carbohydrate portion in small meals. Feed 3-5 small meals evenly distributed throughout the day. The amount of the portions depends on how much your cat weighs. Talk to your vet about the amount of home-made diet that is right for your cat.
As your cat improves, their meals can slowly get larger and less frequent.
Once your cat has completely returned to normal for a few days, you can gradually re-introduce them to their regular food. It’s important to do this slowly to decrease the risk of stomach upset recurring.
When should I take my cat to the vet?
If you notice any of the following symptoms, your cat needs to be seen by a vet:
- Vomiting several times in an hour or continued vomiting despite withholding food for 12-24 hours. It is important to note that cats should not be fasted (withhold food) for more than 24 hours as this can lead to a life-threatening liver condition called hepatic lipidosis.
- Cannot keep water down
- Blood in vomit
- Becoming weaker and less active
- Painful abdomen (stomach area)
- Refusing food and/or not drinking for more than 24 hours
- Dehydrated (dry, sticky gums) and cannot hold down water
- If you know or suspect your cat has swallowed something that could damage the stomach or intestines, such as a ribbon, thread, or chicken bone
- If your cat does not improve despite being given supportive care at home for 1-2 days (young kittens, cats over 10 years old, and cats with chronic illnesses should see a vet sooner).
- Cats that experience chronic vomiting (once or twice a month), even if you suspect hairballs