Cat World > Cat Health > Vomiting in Cats

Cat Vomiting - Causes and Treatment of Vomiting in Cats

Medically known as emesis, vomiting is a chain of events of which the end result is the forceful ejection of the stomach contents. It is one of the most common reasons cat owners take their cat to the veterinarian.  

There are a number of possible causes  of vomiting cats.  It may be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (over a period of time). Acute vomiting is defined as vomiting which has been present for less than one week and is usually the result of a single insult to the stomach and is self limiting,  chronic vomiting lasts longer than a week, can be intermittent or persistent in nature.

The most common cause of vomiting is swallowing hair or other indigestible products (such as grass) which cause irritation to the stomach, this is known as irritative gastritis. Eating food too fast is another common reason why cats vomit. You may notice your cat race to eat his food only to vomits it back up thirty seconds later.

Vomiting can very loosely be divided into four groups.

Gastrointestinal disorders

  • Acute metritis - Inflammation of the lining of the uterus in cats post birth.

  • Cancer.
  • Coccidiosis - Infection with a protazoa (single celled organism) known as coccidia.
  • Feline panleukopenia - Viral infection caused by the parvovirus.
  • Gastritis - Inflammation of the stomach.
  • Giardia - Protazoal infection.
  • Hairballs.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease - A number of related diseases caused by different types of inflammatory cells invading the intestinal wall.
  • Intestinal obstruction and foreign bodies. Cats aren't as prone to swallowing miscellaneous objects as dogs are, however accidental ingestion may occur when playing. Common objects include hair bands, string, sewing thread etc.
  • Salmonella - Bacterial infection caused by salmonella.
  • Worms - Parasitic worms, usually roundworms can cause vomiting in cats.

Hormonal (endocrine) diseases

  • Addison's disease - Deficiency of corticosteroids.

  • Feline diabetes - Endocrine disorder caused when the body doesn't produce enough insulin or the cells are unable to respond to insulin, starving the cells of glucose.

  • Hyperthyroidism - Usually caused by a hormone producing benign tumour of the thyroid gland.

Systemic diseases

Miscellaneous

  • Foreign body.

  • Certain medications (NSAIDS, antimicrobials and other medications).

  • Heat stroke.

  • Morning sickness.

  • Motion sickness.

  • Poisoning.

  • Ruptured bladder - Usually caused by trauma or urinary blockage.

  • Twisted or obstructed bowel.

When should my cat be taken to a veterinarian?

An isolated incident of vomiting where the cat shows no other signs of illness is not uncommon and generally doesn't necessitate a trip to the vet.

If the vomiting is more than an isolated incident, or if you notice other symptoms along with the vomiting, then a trip to the veterinarian is necessary.

You should seek veterinary attention:

  • If your cat vomits repeatedly.

  • If your cat has diarrhea.

  • If the vomit is foul smelling.

  • If your cat acts lethargic.

  • If your cat has ingested a poison or toxin.

  • If the vomit contains blood (hematamesis).

  • If the cat appears listless and unwell.

  • If the abdomen is bloated.

  • If your cat is drooling.

If possible, when you take your cat to the veterinarian, bring along a sample of the vomit. This will assist the vet to determine the underlying cause of the vomiting.

How is vomiting diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history, including possible exposure to toxins and dietary history (including possible dietary indiscretions) any medications your cat may be on. The type of material vomited, frequency, and other clinical signs your cat is displaying can all help your veterinarian. He will also need to differentiate between vomiting, regurgitation and coughing, all of which can be similar.

Being able to assess the vomiting will assist your veterinarian. He may ask about the type of vomiting your cat has been experiencing, such as:

Repeated vomiting - This could suggest a number of problems, such as consumption of food that has spoiled or the ingestion of a non-food item, such as grass or hairballs. It could also suggest an infectious disease.

Sporadic vomiting - This is occasional vomiting that is not related to eating. The cat vomits on and off; there may be other symptoms, such as loss of appetite, lethargy, and listlessness. Sporadic vomiting may suggest kidney or liver disease, heavy worm infestation, diabetes, or gastritis.

Vomiting blood - This could indicate a break in the intestinal lining, often caused by a foreign body. Tumours and ulcers are other causes of blood in the vomit.

Fecal vomiting - This suggests an intestinal obstruction.

Projectile vomiting - This is the forceful ejection of vomit which goes a considerable distance. It could suggest an intestinal blockage or tumour.

Vomiting fluids - This may suggest an intestinal obstruction.

Vomiting foreign objects - Hairballs, pieces of cloth, etc.

Motion sickness - Vomiting only occurs when the cat is travelling.

He will wish to perform some tests, some of which may include:

  • Complete blood count to check for parasites, anemia, or infection.

  • Biochemical profile to evaluate organ function and levels of potassium in the blood.

  • Urinalysis to evaluate kidney function and look for signs of infection.

  • Fecal examination to check for parasites.

  • Total T4 may be performed on an older cat to evaluate for hyperthyroidism.

  • FeLV/FIV tests.

  • Abdominal X-rays or ultrasound to check for gastrointestinal obstruction, cancer, and organ size.

  • Heartworm testing.

Treating vomiting in cats:

Treatment is aimed at finding and treating the underlying cause of the vomiting.

Your veterinarian may wish to correct a fluid and electrolyte imbalance by feeding the cat a low-fat, easily digestible diet.

Other treatments may include:

  • Anti nausea medication to control the vomiting.

  • Antibiotics to treat bacterial infection such as salmonella.

  • Medications to treat protazoal infections.

  • Addison's disease requires life long administration of the deficient corticosteroids.

  • Pancreatitis - Finding and treating the underlying cause (where possible). Painkillers, anti-nausea medication and supportive care.

  • Surgery to remove any foreign objects your cat may have digested.

  • Surgery to remove tumours and chemotherapy.

  • Hyperthyroidism is usually treated with radioactive iodine which is taken up by the thyroid tumour and destroys it.

  • Liver disease - Supportive care with IV fluids & nutrients, anti-nausea medications (where necessary).

  • Kidney disease is managed with a low protein diet, phosphorous binders and anti-nausea medication (if necessary).

  • If poisoning is the cause, your veterinarian may pump the stomach, give your cat activated charcoal to absorb some of the toxins, or administer ethanol (for antifreeze poisoning).

  • Supportive care for cats with viral infection while the body fights off the infection.  He may possibly require antibiotics if he develops a secondary bacterial infection.

  • De-worming medications to treat parasitic worms.

  • Eating too fast is an extremely common cause of vomiting in cats and is generally not harmful. Try to feed your cat smaller meals but more frequently.

  • Food allergies or intolerances can be managed by switching to a hypoallergenic diet.

Also read:

Diarrhea in cats   Constipation in cats   Drooling in cats

Last reviewed 19/5/2013.