Cats throw up more times than we'd like. They may throw up hairballs, undigested food, or some clear foamy liquid. There are many possible reasons why cats vomit and some of these reasons are more serious than others. Vomiting is a clinical sign that can occur with many problems, but it is not a specific disease or diagnosis itself. As a pawrent, it is important to know the reasons for your cat's vomiting and when this warrants a visit to the veterinarian.
Cat vomiting or regurgitation
These are very different conditions and come with different possible causes. So, it is important to try and differentiate between them. If possible, take a video to show your veterinarian. They can help you determine whether it is vomiting or regurgitation.
Vomiting is an active process. It involves forceful contractions of the abdominal muscles, leading to the expulsion of fluid, froth, or food. Often, vomiting begins with a stage of nausea and the cat will appear to be restless, constantly licking its lips, salivating, and repeatedly swallowing. On the other hand, regurgitation is a passive motion without stomach contractions. It happens quickly, often without warning, right after eating or drinking. The cat is typically fine one minute, then suddenly “spits up” food or liquid without retching or heaving.
Regurgitation often happens when a cat eats too fast. This can occur if your cat really loves his food or competes with other pets in your home at mealtime. The cat will swallow food without chewing and at the same time ingests a lot of air. Large pieces of food and air in the stomach will regurgitate back up. If this is the main problem with your feline kid, try using a Kong Wobbler Treat Dispensing Cat Toy to slow down his rapid eating.
Common causes of cat vomiting
Here are a few common reasons why cats throw up.
As cats groom themselves, their rough tongues pull loose fur out of their coat. They swallow the fur and large volumes of hair can accumulate in the stomach. Fur is not easily digestible and eventually, the cat will throw up the hairball.
This cause of cat hairball vomiting is usually nothing to worry about, but if your cat has hairballs frequently, you may want to address this by helping your cat to remove excess loose fur with brushing. Use a gentle grooming brush like the Petz Route Rectangle Slicker Brush For Cats & Dogs, and give kitty a full body brushing once or twice weekly.
In some cases, frequent hairball vomiting can be an early sign of a gastrointestinal problem. Even with the extra grooming sessions, if your cat is still vomiting hairballs frequently, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.
The first sign of foreign obstruction is usually vomiting. If your cat accidentally ingests a foreign material such as a broken piece of toy, this may cause blockage and damage to the digestive tract. This cause of vomiting is serious and requires immediate veterinary attention.
Cat Food Allergies
Unlike dogs, food allergies are less common in cats. If a food allergy is present, it can cause inflammation in the digestive tract and vomiting when the cat eats the trigger food. Some cats may also experience chronic diarrhoea and itching. Itching can be overall skin itching or itching around the rectum which often leads to scooting.
If you suspect your cat is allergic to his food, it is usually a reaction to the protein source, grains, or other additives found in the cat food. Your veterinarian may recommend a prescription diet. But, if buying a commercial diet, apart from avoiding the known food allergen, get a diet that is closest to the cat’s natural diet; a recipe formulated to mirror a cat’s ancestral diet like the Stella & Chewy's (Tummy Ticklin Turkey) Dinner Morsels Freeze Dried Cat Food.
Feline allergies are typical to mainstream proteins like chicken, beef, and fish. As such, it can help to switch to a novel protein diet; a protein that your cat has never eaten as this will help to control allergic flare-ups. Here's a novel protein, limited ingredient cat food, formulated for cats of all breeds, especially those with allergy sensitivities - PetCubes Wild Kangaroo Premium Raw Cat Food.
Gastroenteritis refers to inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It is commonly caused by infection with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. It can also be caused by selected medications or foods that your cat is allergic to. Gastroenteritis is common in cats and most often characterized by vomiting and diarrhoea. Feline probiotics may be able to help minimise the risk of gastroenteritis by strengthening your cat's gut health. Sprinkle about a ¼ teaspoon of this cat probiotic powder into your cat’s meal, once daily - NaturVet Digestive Enzymes Prebiotics Plus Probiotic Powder Cat & Dog Supplement. This cat probiotic supplement will help with digestion and replenish kitty's gut with healthy microorganism.
Chronic illnesses such as kidney disease, pancreatitis, and hyperthyroidism can all cause nausea and chronic vomiting. Symptoms like unexplained weight and appetite changes, lethargy, and others are often observed in these illnesses. These conditions require immediate attention from your veterinarian and may require lifelong management.
This cause of vomiting is more common in kittens but can occur in cats of any age. Sometimes, live worms can be seen in the cat’s vomit. The good news is that treating the parasites is easy and will often resolve the vomiting.
Cancers of the digestive tract often interfere with normal digestion leading to vomiting. Cancers in other areas of the body can also cause feelings of nausea, discomfort, and malaise which can also lead to vomiting.
Cat vomit colour chart
Looking at the colour of your cat’s vomit will indicate the possible reasons, but this is not a reliable way to diagnose the cause of throwing up. You should talk to your veterinarian if your cat is throwing up frequently, more than once monthly.
Yellow vomit: This is bile, and it often occurs with an empty stomach. Cats who haven’t eaten for more than 12 hours may throw up yellowish bile liquid.
Clear liquid: If your cat is vomiting clear liquid, it can be the fluid contents of the stomach, or your cat might have drunk too much water.
White foam: Often happens when the stomach or intestinal lining is inflamed. This inflammation can be due to many possible reasons and is best diagnosed by a professional.
Blood in the vomit: Blood can be caused by stomach ulcerations. The blood can also be from an irritated stomach or oesophagus lining if your cat vomits several times in a row. Blood can also be present if there is a clotting abnormality, which can be seen with certain diseases and some toxins (rat poisoning, for example).
Brown vomit: This is usually seen when there’s injury further down the intestinal tract like in the case of intestinal ulcerations, foreign bodies, or even hairballs in the intestines.
Undigested food in the vomit: Cats who eat too much or too fast can vomit food. They can also vomit food if they become nauseous shortly after eating, or if there is a foreign body obstructing the food from moving into the small intestines. Food allergy is another possible reason.
Worms in the vomit: The most common type of worm seen in cat vomit is roundworms. If you find worms in your cat’s vomit, it is important to bring this to your veterinarian so they can treat the issue appropriately.
Hairballs: Cats can occasionally vomit hairballs, especially one who overgrooms.
When to worry
Vomiting in cats is especially concerning if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as:
Change in appetite
Change in weight
Change in litter box habits
Change in behaviour
If you notice these symptoms in your pet, contact your veterinarian for further guidance. In summary, all cats are going to throw up occasionally, and cats do tend to do this more than dogs. However, it is a misconception that vomiting is normal behaviour for cats. If your cat is throwing up several times a month, it is time to make an appointment with your veterinarian. Frequent or repeated vomiting is not normal behaviour for your cat.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.