Why Is My Cat Throwing Up?

Mychelle Blake
Contributor Charlotte Gerber
Vet examines a cat

When you see your normally healthy cat throwing up, it is a cause for concern. A cat may throw up for any number of reasons, some of which are to be expected and others that may require a trip to the vet. The key to knowing how to care for an animal that has just thrown up is to understand what is normal and what isn't.

Cats Vomiting Blood

One of the most frightening sights for a cat owner is the appearance of blood in the pet's vomit.

  • If the vomit resembles dark red to brown coffee grounds, take the animal immediately to the vet since he may have suffered internal injuries. This condition is known as hematemesis and the cause is usually either a gastrointestinal problem or internal bleeding.
  • Another instance where you may see blood in a cat's vomit that looks like bright red flecks of blood in the vomit. This is not as serious as means your cat may have some irritated tissue that ruptured from the action of vomiting or during chronic vomiting. It can also happen if a cat accidentally swallowed something like a small toy that scratched the esophagus.
  • Cats can also vomit blood due to bloody gums from dental disease, respiratory disease, internal parasites such as heartworms, poisoning, and some types of cancer that cause internal bleeding of tumors. Cats with a blood clotting disorder may also vomit blood.
  • Whether your cat appears to have the less serious type of blood in their vomit or the darker, more concerning kind, you should take them to the vet right away as any type of blood is a sign of an internal condition that needs to be addressed right away.

Constant Vomiting

The cat will vomit almost constantly, and the liquid is clear and frothy.

  • This can be caused by ingesting grass to eliminate hairballs, since the grass can irritate the stomach lining. The cat may have already thrown up the grass earlier, but his stomach is still irritated.
  • Another reason may be from eating spoiled food. If the vomiting doesn't stop within 24 hours and it is accompanied by diarrhea, seek medical care for the animal.
  • A cat can vomit constantly for more serious reasons, such as an obstruction in their esophagus like a toy or piece of string they swallowed by accident. You might see small bits of bright red blood in this type of vomit.
  • Excessive bile in vomit can mean that cat has pancreatitis or is suffering from an inflammatory bowel disease.
  • If the vomit has a lot of mucus in it, your cat may have a serious irritation in their intestines.
  • Constant vomiting that includes a lot of food may be due to poisoning or can indicate an anxiety disorder. Your cat may also be eating too fast and too much which could also be related to anxiety.
  • In all cases, your cat should be examined by a veterinarian who can determine the underlying cause and prescribe treatment, which could include surgery if it's an obstruction, medication for anxiety or other diseases or IV fluids for poisoning.
  • If the veterinarian determines hairballs is the cause, you may need to change your grooming routine with your cat, provide a hairball laxative paste, and increase their dietary fiber.

Sporadic Vomiting

It's not unusual for a cat to vomit every once in a while over a period of days or weeks.

  • It is not always associated with eating (cats that overeat may vomit soon after they have eaten).
  • A cat that is vomiting sporadically may become listless and tired, neglect grooming, and lose interest in eating. This may be a sign of intestinal parasites, liver or kidney disease, acute metritis, or severe hairballs. All of these scenarios require a visit to the veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis.
  • If your cat vomits every once in a while but otherwise displays no other symptoms, he may have simply had a sour stomach which usually resolves itself on its own within a few hours.

Vomiting Feces

A cat that is vomiting feces most often has suffered a serious internal injury or has feline infectious peritonitis.

  • The animal may also have an obstruction in either his stomach or small intestines. This can happen if the cat swallowed a piece of a toy or other inedible object that then becomes stuck in their system.
  • Cats can also develop a bowel obstruction from tumors, intestinal hernias, gastric torsion, inflammations of the entire digestive tract, and infestations from roundworms.
  • In addition to vomiting, your cat may also appear dehydrated, have a swollen belly that is sensitive to the touch, lethargy, poor appetite, and possibly either diarrhea or inability to defecate at all.
  • Your veterinarian will need to see your cat right away to perform x-ray, ultrasound, or endoscopic tests to determine where the blockage is and how to clear it. This may include surgery as well as supportive care such as IV fluids and medication. A bowel obstruction can lead to death if not treated so do not delay in reaching out to your veterinarian.

Vomiting Worms and Intestinal Parasites

A cat that is vomiting worms has internal parasites such as roundworms. This is often observed in kittens.

  • Other symptoms may include inability to gain weight and weight loss, fur appears unhealthy, a swollen belly and coughing. You may also see worms in their feces in addition to their vomit.
  • While not as common as roundworms in vomit, it's possible to see pieces of tapeworm in a cat's vomit. More often they are visible in the feces. The symptoms of a tapeworm include weight loss, diarrhea, and a swollen belly just as with roundworms.
  • It's best to bring a kitten to the veterinarian to treat worms. Giving a kitten the adult dose of cat wormer will cause extreme pain in the animal and it's critical to get the dosage right. Your veterinarian will also discuss a preventative worming medication with you for the future.

Other Reasons for Cats Throwing Up

If your cat has been throwing up hairballs and grass, there is little cause for alarm. A cat will eat grass to help him throw up hair that has accumulated in his stomach from grooming since it isn't easily digested. It is usually easy to discern this type of vomit, since the green grass the cat has eaten is visible.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

There are several types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that can lead to a cat vomiting, including:

  • Gastritis - an inflammation of the stomach
  • Enteritis - an inflammation of the small intestines
  • Colitis - an inflammation of the large intestine

If your cat vomits often, is losing weight, has chronic diarrhea and bloody stools, lethargy, and a lack of appetite, this is a strong indication they are suffering from a form of IBD. A veterinary examination can lead to treatment which includes dietary change, prebiotic supplements, and medications such as metronidazole and corticosteroids.

Acute Metritis

A bacterial infection of the uterus can happen shortly after a cat gives birth to kittens. If your new mother cat is vomiting along with symptoms such as dehydration, fever, dark red-colored gums, poor appetite, and a foul-smelling discharge from her vulva, she needs veterinary treatment right away. If not treated, the infection can not only cause her to be sterile but can also lead to sepsis and death.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis

Vomiting is one of the symptoms of this pernicious disease that unfortunately has no cure and is fatal. FIP requires an examination by a veterinarian to make a diagnosis as it can match the symptoms of several other diseases. Your veterinarian will prescribe supportive care and medications to help your cat feel better but a cat's prognosis with FIP will lead ultimately to euthanasia.

Liver and Kidney Disease

Both liver and kidney disease in cat include vomiting has one of the significant symptoms. This type of vomiting can include blood if the cat has tumors in either organ. Thankfully in liver disease your veterinarian has a good chance of removing the tumors through surgery. With kidney disease, the prognosis is less certain and some cats can regain full kidney function if the disease is related to a temporary obstruction or a bacterial infection.

Chronic Renal Failure

In cases of chronic renal failure due to kidney disease, your cat will vomit due to nausea brought on by the malfunctioning kidneys. Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe anti-nausea and antacid medication to help your cat feel better during the end stages of this disease which ultimately will mean euthanasia. Oral and IV fluids are also given to prevent dehydration and steroids and vitamin injections can help stimulate their appetite.

Hyperthyroidism

About 44% of cats who suffer from hyperthyroidism will experience persistent vomiting along with diarrhea. This will also be accompanied by weight loss, a dull coat, hair loss, and excessive drinking and urination. Although this condition usually occurs in older cats, cats as young as two years old can have it and all ages of cats will need to see a veterinarian to treat this condition. Your veterinarian may prescribe radioactive iodine therapy, surgery, or the antithyroid medication methimazole.

Ingestion of Toxic Plants or Other Substances

Vomiting a clear liquid or a white foamy substance are a common sign of poisoning among cats. Since you can also see this type of vomit for things as simple as hairballs, it's important to look for other symptoms. If you know your cat has eaten something they shouldn't, or if you observe them appearing disoriented, drooling, refusing to eat, lethargic, or drinking excessively, and their gums appear pale or a yellow-tinged color, get them to a veterinarian ASAP.

Feline Panleukopenia

Also known as cat distemper, feline panleukopenia has no cure, and about 90% of cats who get it will die if they do not get treatment. One of the signs of distemper is vomiting, which is usually a clear liquid and is often mistaken for less serious conditions. If you see this type of vomiting in conjunction with other symptoms such as severe diarrhea, dehydration, a dull coat, jaundice around their ears, and the appearance of a third eyelid, seek veterinary treatment right away. If caught in time, your veterinarian can prescribe antibiotics, anti-nausea medication, and supportive care to help your cat beat this serious infection.

Care for a Vomiting Cat

If you have a sick cat that needs expert care, keep him limited to one room so that you can observe him.

Sleeping grey kitten
  • If you have a large cage that has plenty of room for a bed and litter box, this may be the best place to keep the animal temporarily.
  • A cat that has been vomiting frequently can become dehydrated quickly. This is especially true of kittens and older cats.
  • Visiting a veterinarian may be required sooner than 24 hours if the animal has become limp and listless. An animal in this condition will require intravenous fluids as quickly as possible to help him survive.
  • Animals that are vomiting frequently should have their food withheld until the vomiting subsides. If the animal has persistent vomiting, even after his food has been withheld for 12 to 24 hours, he should be taken to a veterinarian for examination.

Treating Vomiting in Cats

While vomiting here and there is perfectly normal for cat know the signs and symptoms of when it indicates a much more serious condition. If you see your cat vomiting in conjunction with any other symptoms discussed here, do not delay in seeking medical attention. It is always better to err on the side of caution than to wait until a condition has reached an emergency stage. A quick phone call to the vet may be all that it takes to save the life of your pet.

Why Is My Cat Throwing Up?