Why Does My Cat Keep Throwing Up?
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It’s 3 AM. You wake from a peaceful slumber to the sound of your cat gagging and retching. Staggering out of bed, you hope you don’t step in anything you shouldn’t––because you know your cat just puked. What’s a pet parent to do?
When a cat gets sick to their stomach, there isn’t much time to react. It’s a messy business that means discomfort for your pet and stress for you. We’ll help you understand why cats throw up, what the symptoms look like, how to troubleshoot the issue at home––and when to enlist your vet for help!
Why does my cat keep throwing up?
Eating too fast
Why does my cat keep throwing up her food? Age, changes in metabolism, and energy output can affect your cat’s appetite. Cats can eat too fast when hungry, territorial, or anxious––inhaling food more quickly than their stomach can digest will lead to cat vomiting.
Veterinarian and member of Vetnique’s Team of Vet Experts, Dr. Patrick Mahaney, advises that eating dry kibble too fast could also cause vomiting. “When cats eat commercially available diets like kibble, the pieces of food may not be appropriately chewed when consumed. Whole pieces of kibble are harder for the stomach to break down than chewed kibble and are more likely to contribute to vomiting.”
When your cat vomits, one of the first suspicions you might have is that they ate something terrible––a dangerous piece of people's food, a toxic plant, or a dangerous chemical. Chemicals in the environment can be found in household cleaners, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), and more.
Has your cat eaten a new food or started reacting poorly to their regular food? Skin irritation is the most common sign of food allergies in cats, but 10-15% might display vomiting, diarrhea, or reduced appetite as a sign that they’ve eaten something that doesn’t agree with them.
Roundworms are one of the many types of gastrointestinal parasites that can cause vomiting in cats, weight loss, and a pot bellied appearance if left untreated.
Chronic kidney disease
Chronic Kidney disease (CKD) is one of the most common internal organ abnormalities of cats of any life stage, but most often it will affect adult and senior cats. CKD can cause vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, and other clinical signs of illness in cats.
Inflammatory bowel disease
Feline inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) occurs when there is acute (sudden) or chronic (recurring) irritation to the lining of the intestinal tract. IBD can cause trouble digesting food and more frequent vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.
Feline Hyperthyroidism is a common glandular disease of adult and senior cats where non-cancerous nodules in the thyroid glands produce excess thyroid hormone. Excess thyroid hormones increase the body's metabolism and can cause increased appetite, vomiting, vocalizing, weight loss, and more.
Why does my cat keep gagging but not throwing up? A cat gagging or dry heaving might be trying to cough up a hairball––a mass of fur that accumulates in the digestive system after a cat self-grooms. Hairballs aren’t usually very ‘ball’-shaped, either; look for sausage-shaped ‘vomit’ that holds its form when you clean it up.
In rare cases, vomiting could signify a blockage or obstruction in your cat’s gastrointestinal tract anywhere between the esophagus and the intestines. In the case of a partial or complete blockage, new food your cat tries to digest might reach the obstruction and be forced back up the digestive tract, causing vomiting.
How to treat cat vomiting
6 ways to prevent cat vomiting
Not all causes of cat vomiting can be prevented. Chronic Kidney Disease, for example, doesn’t always have a clear cause and therefore isn’t entirely preventable. The good news is that for the most part, your cat’s vomiting can be prevented or vastly reduced by taking a few precautions in your home.
1. Feed smaller meals
Cats vomiting due to overeating or eating too fast should have their access to food limited between meals. If your cat is grazing on kibble or treats, talk to your veterinarian about adjusting their portion sizes at mealtime.
2. Get rid of household toxins
If you’re worried that poisoning could cause your cat’s vomiting, do a walkthrough of your house and yard to see what’s accessible. Some plants are toxic if chewed on by your cat, so keep those out of the house–ficus, monstera, and poinsettias, just to name a few. You’ll also want to make sure puddles of antifreeze don't collect in your parking area or places your cat may spend time outside.
3. Investigate ingredients
Keeping food allergies under control might require a limited-ingredient diet, as advised by your veterinarian. It’s tough to rule out allergies on your own, but your vet can share step-by-step directions on how to do so at home.
4. Get chronic illnesses diagnosed early
Chronic diseases related to the digestive tract (and kidneys, thyroid glands, and other organ systems) may require medication, which only your vet can prescribe. If you’ve ruled out other causes of vomiting, you may want to discuss your cat’s overall health with a veterinarian to pinpoint the best treatment plan based on their symptoms and test results.
5. Try a daily probiotic for cats
Mixing a powder probiotic into your cat’s wet food or as a topper over dry food is a great way to support and maintain their digestive health. Promoting the microbiota that lives in your cat’s gut can help ease nausea, temper the effects of food sensitivities, and support a healthy immune response to allergies––all of which can help prevent vomiting in cats.
6. Keep hairballs under control
Hairballs aren’t usually cause for concern. Most cats–especially long-hair or indoor cats–can cough up hairballs as frequently as once a month. If you notice your cat is struggling with more constant hairballs, help by brushing their coat regularly and managing stress and anxiety that can sometimes lead to over-grooming.
When to call your veterinarian
When should you tell your veterinarian about your cat’s vomiting? Two days of vomiting is the recommended timeline to call your local vet clinic, but don’t be afraid to call before if you suspect something more sinister. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you know when to seek help from your vet:
- Lethargy (unusually low energy)
- Muscle weakness
- Dry mucous membranes, which can be checked by pulling lips back to check the gums or pulling down the eyelid
- Signs of dehydration, which can include any of the above
- Signs of weight loss (e.g., seeing or feeling bony areas along the back and hips)
- Vomiting blood or other unusual substances
- Vomiting undigested food
Seeing your cat throw up can send you into a tailspin of stress and worry. The digestive system is central to your feline’s overall health, so don’t hesitate to seek guidance in helping them recover––because when your furry friend is feeling better, you will too!
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