Cat Throwing Up: Causes & Signs of Serious Issues

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/14/20242-4 minutes
Why is my cat throwing up

Cats may throw up for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they simply ate too much of their cat food or ate it too quickly.  

In other cases, they may have eaten something they shouldn’t or could be sick. Unfortunately, vomiting is something cats may do occasionally and hopefully not while in the presence of dinner guests. However, that doesn’t mean you should reach for the carpet shampoo and forget it ever happened. It’s important to know why cats throw up and when you might need to consult your veterinarian.  

Why is My Cat Vomiting?

When your cat vomits, it’s a sign their stomach has decided it wants to eliminate something they swallowed—immediately. It then forcefully contracts and throws its contents up and out (hence the term “throwing up”). 

If a cat throws up, it involves lots of neck extending and strained gagging. At this point, your cat might seek you out. The cause of this behavior often involves gastric irritation. This can happen if your cat eats too much food or eats it too quickly.  

When kittens dash off to play after a big meal, the activity can sometimes result in vomiting. If you have more than one kitten, feeding them separately or giving them smaller meals usually takes care of the problem.  

Sometimes cats eat things they can’t digest, such as grass, which can cause vomiting. Spoiled cat food is another culprit (refrigerated wet food is good for 24 hours), as is wet cat food that is too cold. If you serve your cat refrigerated wet food, let it come to room temperature first before offering it to your feline friend.  

Of course, one of the most common culprits of cat vomit is hairballs, which result in a backed-up GI tract.  

Common Causes of Cat Vomiting

  • Gastric irritation 
  • Too much exercise directly after eating (most common in kittens) 
  • Eating too much food too quickly 
  • Hairballs 
  • Reaction to medication 
  • Kidney disease (most common in older cats) 
  • Hyperthyroidism 
  • Cancer 
  • Worms 
  • Ingested non-food items such as toys or plants, such as grass 

Difference Between Vomiting & Regurgitation

Vomiting is not the same as regurgitation. Regurgitation doesn’t involve strenuous muscle contracting and usually happens minutes to hours after eating or drinking. This issue is caused by a problem with the esophagus, such as a blockage or inflammation, or issues with the gastric sphincter. Less commonly, it can result from a hiatal hernia. As a result, the food, liquids or mucus come back up.  

Cat vomit usually pools on the floor and appears watery with bile in it. Regurgitated cat food, on the other hand, will contain undigested food and mucus without the presence of bile. It often comes out in a tubular shape, as it has just come from the esophagus.  

Common Causes of Cat Regurgitation

  • Inflammation of the esophagus 
  • Esophageal constrictions 
  • Masses in the esophagus 
  • Presence of a foreign body 
  • Megaesophagus 
  • Botulism 
  • Lead toxicity 
  • Reflux disease 
  • Problems with the gastric sphincter 
  • Hiatal hernia 

When Cat Vomiting is a Sign of Concern

If your cat throws up only once or twice and appears to behave normally before and after, it’s probably not a serious issue. Call your veterinarian immediately if your cat has eaten something dangerous like a poisonous house plant, toxic food or drug. 

Another reason for you to get your veterinarian on the line is if your cat keeps throwing up and appears lethargic or unsteady. These symptoms can be a sign of illness, disease or a possible parasite and may need immediate attention. 

If you see blood in your cat’s vomit, it’s a sign of bleeding between the mouth and the upper small bowel. Also, if your cat’s vomit looks or smells different or if it looks or smells like feces, it could be a sign of something serious. A cat throwing up bile or blood is another reason to make an immediate emergency call to your veterinarian. 

Signs You Should Call Your Veterinarian

  • Vomiting that lasts for more than 24 hours 
  • A lethargic appearance 
  • Unsteady gait 
  • Vomit with blood in it 
  • Fairly constant vomiting (once or twice a week) 
  • Vomiting accompanied by a refusal to eat 
  • If your cat’s stomach becomes painful to the touch 

Remember, if you’re concerned about your cat’s health, it never hurts to reach out to your veterinarian to get some advice.  

The good news is that a lot of the time, vomiting stems from something simple and treatable. While this doesn’t make it any more pleasant, it does mean that with the help of your veterinarian, your cat will bounce back quickly.  

Visit our Pet Expertise page to get some valuable cat insights from our pet experts.  

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