High quality, compassionate veterinary care in Austin TX | info@atxanimalclinic.com | 512-338-4300

Vomiting in Cats: Why Does it Happen?

A cat in the process of vomiting

The Many Causes of why Cats Vomit

If you have cats, then you’ve probably seen them vomit occasionally. Some causes of vomiting in cats include hairballs, overeating, dietary changes, underlying health issues, and even behavioral reasons. It’s important to understand that vomiting in cats can be a natural and necessary part of their well-being, but it can also be a sign of a more serious problem.

Different Types of Vomiting in Cats

There are two types of vomiting associated with cats: acute and chronic. Acute vomiting refers to sudden episodes that last for a short period of time, usually less than one day. It’s often caused by dietary indiscretion, such as eating spoiled food or foreign objects. Acute vomiting can also be a sign of an infection, toxin ingestion, or gastrointestinal obstruction.

Chronic vomiting is defined as persistent or recurrent episodes that last for more than three weeks. This type of vomiting is usually indicative of an underlying health issue, such as kidney disease, liver disease, cancer, or inflammatory bowel disease. Chronic vomiting can also be a symptom of other diseases in cats and should always be taken seriously.

One way to differentiate between acute and chronic vomiting is by observing the frequency and consistency of episodes. Acute vomiting usually occurs sporadically and the vomit may contain recently ingested food or foreign objects. In contrast, chronic vomiting episodes are more frequent and may contain blood, bile, or partially digested food.

If your cat is experiencing acute vomiting, you can try withholding food for 12-24 hours and then gradually reintroduce a bland diet. However, if your cat shows signs of dehydration or the vomiting persists, it’s important to seek veterinary care immediately. Chronic vomiting in cats requires a thorough examination and diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause.

What Causes Vomiting in Cats

Causes of vomiting can be attributed to a plethora of things, including drugs, toxins, diet, gastric and intestinal issues, neurological problems, organ failure, endocrine issues, and even cancer.

Hairballs are a common and usually harmless cause of vomiting in cats. As they groom, cats ingest loose hairs which can accumulate in their stomachs and form hairballs. These typically pass through the digestive system without causing any issues, but occasionally they may need help being expelled through vomiting.

Overeating is another common cause of vomiting in cats, especially if they eat too quickly or consume food that is not easily digestible. It can also lead to gastrointestinal upset and discomfort. Additionally, sudden dietary changes can also result in vomiting as cats may have trouble adjusting to the new food or might be allergic to certain ingredients. In some cases, underlying health issues such as infections, diseases, or digestive problems can also cause vomiting in cats.

The following are some of the common causes of vomiting in cats:

  • Cancer: Intestinal cancer and mast cell tumors
  • Diet: An inappropriate diet can cause vomiting in cats. This can include a sudden change in diet, eating food that may be spoiled or toxic, as well as overeating. Cats also have sensitive stomachs and may vomit if they eat too fast. They can also experience issues from eating dead mice or birds
  • Drugs: Medicines such as chemotherapy, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories
  • Endocrine: Thyroid problems such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes and elevated calcium.
  • Gastric Issues: Cats can suffer from various gastrointestinal diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, and gastritis. These conditions can cause vomiting as a symptom
  • Infectious: Infections such as feline infectious peritonitis, feline panleukopenia, and heartworm
  • Intestinal Problems: This may include foreign bodies, acute inflammation, cancer, constipation and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Neurological: Vestibular disease, cancer and encephalitis.
  • Organ dysfunction: The liver, kidney and pancreas may be affected.
  • Parasites: Intestinal parasites such as roundworms and tapeworms can cause vomiting in cats. These parasites can irritate the stomach lining, leading to vomiting
  • Toxins: Plants such as lilies, azaleas, daffodils, and tulips are extremely toxic to cats as they contain compounds that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and even more severe symptoms such as kidney failure. Antifreeze is also extremely dangerous if ingested

How to Diagnose the Cause of Vomiting in Cats

The first step in diagnosing the cause of your cat’s vomiting is to take note of the frequency and consistency of their vomit. If this occurs multiple times a day or if the vomit is persistent for more than 24 hours, it’s recommended to seek immediate veterinary attention. You’ll need to observe and be aware of issues such as:

  • Has your cat eaten any plants or other toxins?
  • How long has the cat been vomiting?
  • Does the cat go outdoors, and does it hunt?
  • Keep track of any medications your cat may be taking and if he or she is losing weight, has diarrhea and is drinking and urinating excessively

Additionally, pay attention to the color and texture of the vomit – this can provide valuable insights into potential causes. For example, yellow or clear vomit may indicate a stomach irritation, while green or brown vomit may suggest a more serious issue in the digestive tract:

  • Blood: This usually derives from the mouth, the esophagus or the stomach.The blood is from the mouth, esophagus or stomach.
  • Brown: This usually stinky type can originate in the gastrointestinal tract, or it could be due to the cat having eaten something brown with a foul odor.
  • Clear: Clear vomit is usually a form of regurgitation from the esophagus and/or n empty stomach.
  • Granules: A type of vomit that may resemble coffee grounds, this is usually associated with stomach ulcers.
  • Non-digested food: This is where the food has never moved beyond the stomach. It’s often due to food intolerance, obstructions and even allergies. It’s often a sign of an upper gastrointestinal tract irritation.
  • White and foamy: Another indication of esophageal regurgitation.
  • Yellow: Yellow vomit often tends to be bile. This can signify liver issues, and this mainly occurs when the cat has an empty stomach.

Have your Cat Examined if they’re Vomiting

If the vomiting continues, your veterinarian can investigate for abdomen masses, abdominal pain, weight loss, thyroid issues and possible foreign bodies, such as string, yarn, and paper.

X-rays and blood work are very likely to follow, which will show any kinds of abnormalities, tumors, and possible constipation that can’t be diagnosed in a physical exam.

Blood tests will help determine any type of dysfunctional organs and help in diagnosing issues such as diabetes and thyroid problems as well as any possible exposure to any toxins. A urinalysis may also be required, if your vet feels that a urinary tract infection of kidney disease are possible culprits.

Testing with Barium, Ultrasounds and Endoscopies

Additional tests can help diagnose vomiting in cats if x-rays are unable to.

Some veterinarians use barium studies (a radiographic contrast medium that coats the inside of the stomach and gastrointestinal tract when ingested). This can help pinpoint if any foreign objects exits in the intestines, or if the cat is experiencing motility issues.

An ultrasound may also be used to explore your cats’s other organs, such as the kidneys and liver to help find possible tumors and cysts for an accurate diagnosis.

Endoscopies can search the stomach lining and upper intestines for abnormal items that do not appear on x-rays. They can also help to remove any foreign objects that may be inside your cat.

Exploratory Surgery

If it becomes difficult in determining the cause of your cat’s vomiting, exploratory surgery may be an option. This is especially helpful if your cat has digested a foreign object that just won’t come out. Biopsies of the intestines, liver, pancreas, and stomach can also be performed determine any type of cancer or inflammatory bowel disease

Surgery allows for a full examination of your cat’s intestinal tract in addition to other related organs, such as the stomach. The recovery time is quite lengthy after surgery (usually a few weeks) compared to the recovery rate of an endoscopy, which can last from a few hours to a day.

Different Treatments for a Cat who is Vomiting

Fluids to Help with Vomiting

If your cat’s physical examination shows nothing out of the ordinary, then your vet may choose to use subcutaneous fluids (which are injected underneath the skin). The fluid is absorbed into the cat’s body and blood and will help to keep them hydrated while flushing out. A vomiting cat is likely somewhat dehydrated as they generally lose fluids due to vomiting. This approach may help to stop any excessing vomiting.

If your cat is extremely weak and dehydrated, your vet may suggest intravenous (IV) fluids. These fluids are normally used to help with dehydration and other issues such as kidney disease, urinary obstruction and diarrhea.

Subcutaneous fluids are easier to administer; it’s basically one shot and then you can go home. However, intravenous fluids will normally require a stay in the hospital, so the fluids can be monitored.

Medications to Help Vomiting in Cats

Anti-emetics are sometimes used to help stop vomiting and prevent fluid loss.They are also used to help with abdominal discomfort and can help stimulate eating. This is usually a liquid that be administered into the mouth with a small syringe. Medications such as maropitant, ondansetron, and dolasetron are considered among the most effective medications to help stop vomiting.

Cats, Vomiting and Diet

A change in diet is recommended if your cat is suffering from chronic and/or acute vomiting. Therefore, you may want to try skipping a meal but give them plenty of fresh water at all times. Consider cutting back on portions, for example, giving them about 1/4 of what they would normally eat. It’s best to give them food that they can easily digest and will not harm their stomach. Avoid anything that is rich or very fatty. Bland, digestible protein is usually the best option, such as boiled chicken (minus the skin), turkey or fish. Meat based baby food (just straight, without any additives) and even canned pumpkin are valid food options.

Avoid dry food completely. Wet food is better as it has a higher moisture content, making it easier to digest than dry food. If you try any of these options and your cat has no problem keeping it down, then slowly increase the volume of food over time.

Cats are known to be self-sufficient creatures, but when it comes to their health, they rely on us. Should your cat show any of the aforementioned symptoms and is experiencing abnormal vomiting, please contact ATX Animal Clinic. Our team is dedicated to providing the best care for your cat during this time. We will thoroughly examine and diagnose the underlying cause of their vomiting, whether it be a simple upset stomach or a more serious health issue.