Why is My Cat Throwing Up?

Orange cat laying down

For first-time cat owners, the vomiting might be a bit of a surprise. But don’t worry: It’s often perfectly normal. Cats throwing up is just another part of the deal for most cat lovers, and most of them would agree the benefits of owning a cat are worth the occasional clean-up. But if the cleaning isn’t so occasional for you or you just want to keep close tabs on your furry friend's health, you’re probably wondering, "Why is my cat throwing up and what should I do about it?" Find out more below.  

Vomiting Versus Other Forms of Regurgitation

Something coming out of your cat’s mouth isn’t necessarily vomiting. Vomiting is a specific form of regurgitation and knowing how to differentiate between throwing up and other forms of regurgitation can help you more accurately identify your cat's issue. The key identifier of vomiting is that it’s forceful. When your cat is throwing up, you’ll notice strong stomach contractions and your cat will probably arch her back. Other forms of regurgitation are more passive and don’t involve contractions. Some signs that your cat may be vomiting or is going to vomit include drool, licking her lips and nose and dramatic or excessive swallowing.

Why Do Cats Throw Up?

Most cats throw up a lot more often than humans do. There are several reasons your cat may be vomiting, and most of them are no cause for alarm. If you're asking, "Why is my cat puking," the answer is usually that there's something in a cat's stomach that shouldn’t be there. However, if your cat is vomiting excessively and regularly, it could be a sign of a more serious condition.

These are some of the more benign and normal reasons cats puke:

  • Hairballs. Sometimes cats swallow too much of their own fur and need to throw it up.
  • Eating too quickly. Some cats like to eat too much too fast, which makes them nauseous and can cause puking. You can usually identify when this is the case because there will likely be chunks of food in the vomit.
  • Eating something they weren’t supposed to. Cats will occasionally swallow small objects like hair ties. Luckily, this usually doesn’t cause any harm because they immediately throw it back up. They also may eat plants they can’t digest, like grass, which leads to regurgitation.
  • Sudden change in diet. A new food could cause a cat to vomit if she isn’t used to it. This is why it’s recommended to gradually switch cat foods, so the cat can get used to the new diet slowly.
  • Intolerance to food. If your cat is vomiting regularly, she could be intolerant or allergic to ingredients in her food.
  • Playing after eating. Cats can puke from exercising and running after eating just like humans at an amusement park. This is more common in kittens.
  • Eating cold wet food. If this is an issue, let wet food warm before serving, because cats may puke if they eat food right out of the refrigerator.

Choosing the Best Food to Avoid Vomiting 

Cats are overall healthier and less prone to vomiting when they're getting the best food for their needs. There are two main things you want to look for in cat food to avoid vomiting. The first is a high-quality ingredient list. Low-quality ingredients can be harder to digest, which makes a cat more likely to throw up. The other is a limited number of protein sources. This reduces the chance of your cat having an allergic reaction or vomiting because of an intolerance to the protein source.

If your cat has a food allergy, she will likely need to be switched to a hypoallergenic diet with hydrolyzed proteins. These proteins are broken down to make them very unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. You can find out if your cat might have a food allergy by consulting your vet. You might also want to ask your vet if probiotic supplements would be a good idea for your feline friend. 

You should also avoid feeding your cat inappropriate foods. 

What to Do When Your Cat Vomits

When your cat vomits, the first thing you should do is check for signs of any diseases. If your cat is listless, has a fever or has diarrhea, you’ll want to investigate further and consider seeing a vet.

You’ll also want to look for any objects your cat might have choked on or ingested and make sure she can’t get it or similar objects again. Then, it’s recommended to keep your cat from eating for an hour or two.

Just like when humans vomit, cats become dehydrated when they throw up because they expel all their fluids. It’s a good idea to make sure your cat has access to water and urge her to drink after vomiting.

After a period of time, have your cat eat a small amount of food and observe her to see if she keeps it down. Continue monitoring for the next day or so and if everything seems fine, it’s probably ok to return to normal. You shouldn't give your cat any human medication or over-the-counter medication unless specifically prescribed by a vet. 

Should You Take Your Cat to the Vet for Vomiting?

While most cat vomiting is no reason to be alarmed, there are some diseases that may be causing your cat’s vomiting that require veterinary attention. Gastrointestinal infections, inflammatory bowel disease, tumours and diseases in certain organs can all cause throw up. So it’s important to monitor your cat when she pukes and make sure she isn't showing signs of more serious conditions. You should take your cat to the vet if she starts showing any of these symptoms:

  • Your cat is dry heaving but unable to vomit.
  • Your cat is showing signs of being in physical pain.
  • Your cat’s gums appear pale or yellow.
  • Your cat’s vomit contains blood.
  • You saw your cat or suspect your cat ate something poisonous or potentially toxic. Learn about plants that are poisonous to cats.
  • Your cat is showing signs of fever.
  • You notice depression or other declines in your cat’s behaviour and mood.

Solving Hairball Vomiting

Hairballs are a common and normal issue for many cats, but they can become excessive — especially if you’re the one doing the cleaning. Luckily, there are a few ways you can help lessen the hairball incidents. Since hairballs are caused by shedding hairs being swallowed, keeping your cat well-groomed can prevent her from ingesting too much. It can also help to add more fibre to your cat’s diet so she passes the hairs more quickly.

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