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Why is my cat vomiting? And what can I do about it?

By Nick Whittle Author

Updated on the

Cat vomiting is usually nothing to worry about, but when the vomiting doesn’t go away it’s time to take action. Learn how best to look after a cat that is vomiting.

Cats vomit. Dogs vomit. Humans vomit. It is a way to get rid of something in our stomach that irritates us or that will cause us harm if it goes any further through our gut.

Vomiting is brought on by a series of nerve impulses and muscle contractions that start after our brain receives word that we have inadvertently eaten a nasty substance.

Most of the time it is nothing to worry about, but:

Has your cat vomited consistently for 24 hours? Does he vomit blood or bile? Is his vomiting accompanied by bouts of diarrhoea? If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions then your cat is poorly and will only get better with medical intervention.

‘Vomiting’ or ‘regurgitation’?

True vomiting is the forceful ejection of the stomach contents. Regurgitation is the return of undigested food (which has not reached the stomach).

Vomiting is also a symptom of an underlying illness (which can include poisoning and vitamin toxicosis). We will look at the exact causes of cat vomiting in a moment.

Regurgitation is a natural and conscious return of undigested food. Wild animals will regurgitate food in order to feed their young offspring. It does not tend to be a symptom of an illness but is sometimes linked to abnormalities of the oesophagus or the presence of a foreign body in the upper part of the gut.

In this article we cover cat vomiting.

What are the signs of vomiting in cats?

Although animals don’t tend to make a fuss about feeling unwell they won’t hide the fact that they are about to vomit. You will notice your cat begins to pad around the room; he may also drool excessively, lick his lips and swallow numerous times.

Just before he projects the vomit he retches several times and his stomach muscles contract. Some cats may hide at this point in an attempt to find somewhere quiet to be sick.

What are the main causes of cat vomiting?

Unlike dogs cats don’t assume that everything they encounter is edible. But they are just as prone to pick up something they shouldn’t. The commonest causes of a cat's vomiting include:

• Eating human foods (especially things like chocolate and onions)
• Eating poisonous plants
• Ingesting poisons (such as cleaning products and chemicals)
• Swallowing a foreign object (string, clothing)

Vomiting is also caused by underlying medical conditions both acute (sudden) and chronic (long-lasting). These will either cause your cat to feel nauseated or affect the stomach’s ability to retain food. Such medical causes of cat vomiting include:

• Blockage of intestine
• Dietary changes and allergies
• Diseases and cancers
• Eating too much or too quickly
• Hair balls
• Heat stroke
• Intestinal parasites

First response to cat vomiting

What should you do when your cat has a bout of vomiting? If your cat has been sick a handful of times but in all other respects appears well and alert you may want to consider the following regimen to aid his recovery:

1. Fast the cat for two hours but provide a bowl of water
2. Offer him a small amount of his usual food every couple of hours
3. If the cat keeps down the food return to normal feeding

If after a day of controlled diet your cat is still vomiting you must contact your vet.

Do not fast a kitten. If your kitten is vomiting you should arrange an appointment with the vet as soon as possible.

Reasons for urgent action

If your cat's vomiting is accompanied by diarrhoea, fever or listlessness or your cat’s vomit contains bile or blood you must act fast, because these are the symptoms of a much more serious illness.

Here we will look at the causes of your cat’s vomiting in more detail and what underlying conditions may be present:

Vomiting bile

Bile is made in the liver. It then passes to the gall bladder, a little sack that sits below the liver and which is also connected to the first part of the cat’s intestine. When food passes from the stomach into the intestine the gall bladder is ‘told’ to squeeze out some of its stored bile. Bile helps to break down food but it also leaks into the stomach during an excessive bout of vomiting.

Why might your cat have bile in his vomit?

• Gastro-intestinal diseases or inflammations
• Intestinal blockages
• Pancreatitis
• Parasitic infections

Vomiting blood

If blood in your cat’s vomit is bright red it is fresh and undigested,and its presence may be due to a trauma of the upper part of the gut; your cat may even have swallowed a sharp object. Darker blood has been partly digested and points to a problem of the lower gut.

Why might your cat have blood in his vomit?

• Side-effect of medication
• Gum disease
• Internal trauma
• Ulcers of the oesophagus
• Respiratory disease (from the lung)
• Cancer

Vomiting and diarrhoea

There are many possible causes for your cat’s vomiting and diarrhoea. Sometimes it is difficult to pinpoint exactly why he is so poorly and only a check-up at a vet's practice can provide answers.

Why might your cat have vomiting and diarrhoea?

• Inflamed stomach
• Parasitic infections
• Poisoning
• Bacterial or fungal infections
• Heat stroke

The treatment of your cat’s vomiting is determined by the underlying problem. What is causing the vomiting is something your vet will try to find out. Once a cause is identified the vet can then administer a treatment accordingly.

In the meantime, your cat may be prescribed some anti-emetic drugs to stop him feeling sick, and if the sickness is especially violent he will be fed electrolytes through a drip to prevent dehydration.

There are some things you can do to prevent your cat from becoming sick in the first place (keep harmful products out of reach, ensure worming treatments and vaccinations are up to date) but if he is diagnosed with an underlying disease your sole duty will be to support and nurse him back to health.

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