Should You Be worried When Your Cat Throws Up?

Cute grey cat sleeping in a wooden crate

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Cat vomiting is usually benign. It occurs occasionally due to the ingestion of fireballs or mild stomach issues. However, in other instances, it can indicate a chronic medical problem due to various underlying factors, and the treatment depends on the cause. 

Most cat owners are familiar with the occasional retching in cats. But, it does not mean it should be a regular occurrence, as puking can often be an early sign of illness. So, it is advisable not to overlook this change.  It is normal for cats to upchuck hairballs because of their fastidious grooming behaviour. However, chronic gaging or anything not related to it signals a grave health problem in your cat seeking medical attention. For example, if your cat kecks multiple times in a day or there is an increase in the frequency of hurling, then it is better to discuss the problem with your veterinarian.

Disgorging in cats can be due to numerous causes, and it's appearance varies depending on the cause. One of the frequent causes is when the cat downs large quantities of hair during their typical tidy-up process. This hair is not digested and is emitted out of the digestive tract in the form of vomit. If the chuck is accompanied by mucus, blood, bile or partially digested food, then it is a matter of concern and should be discussed with your vet. The appearance, timing and frequency of the gag should also be considered while discussing the same.

It is, therefore, important for pet parents to understand the difference between vomiting and regurgitation. 

Vomiting is an active process lasting several minutes involving forceful expulsion of contents upper intestines and stomach. During this, the cat may drool, retch, look unwell, display abdominal heaving, and finally upchuck.

On the flip side, Regurgitation happens very quickly without any warning. The cat appears normal one time, then suddenly spews without heaving or retching. Therefore, it is important to identify what your cat is experiencing as it can help you and your vet to cream off the possible causes of the problem.

Different vomit colors and what do they indicate?

Cat parents should try to establish the cause of their feline's vomiting based on its consistency and color. It is not a simple task as the color of the chunder varies on what the cat has ingested (which includes any non-food items), color dyes used in the food or treats, and several other factors. Therefore, color is not a staunch reason to conclude. However, it can help underline the possible causes behind it. Below are the possible conclusions based on the color of the vomit, which can help cat parents ascertain the difficulties and precisely communicate them to the vet.

  • Black/Brown: This vomit in the disguise of coffee grounds is a sign of bleeding in the digestive tract and should be addressed immediately by the vet.
  • Red/Pink: This indicates the presence of blood due to devouring foreign materials or the dyes used in the cat food materials or treats.
  • Green: It can be due to the existence of bile or because it has downed green foreign material or foods using green dyes.
  • Clear/White: It can happen when the cat vomits with an empty stomach or regurgitation saliva from the esophagus.
  • Yellow/Orange/Brown: It may indicate the presence of bile or undigested food materials in the stomach.

Common reasons why your cat vomits

Just like humans, cats also vomit sometimes for various reasons. While some of them may be innoxious, others can be more critical. Below are some of the common reasons why a cat vomits.

Hairballs: Cats are pernickety about grooming which involves pulling loose fur out of their coats with their rough tongues and swallowing it. The continuous action leads to the accumulation of a large quantity of furball in the stomach, and as it was undigested, the result is throwing up. This type of vomit is common in cats and can be ignored. However, if it happens frequently, you should address it with your vet as it can be an early sign of a gastro problem.

Systemic Illness: Chronic vomiting can also result from chronic illnesses such as pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, and kidney disease. It is crucial to identify the underlying condition and address it appropriately with the guidance of a vet, as most of it requires life-long care and maintenance.

Allergies: This is quite common in cats. But, it can lead to vomiting and, in some cases, diarrhoea when your cat consumes an allergic food which triggers and causes inflammation of the digestive tract.

Parasites: In this scenario, pet owners sometimes can see worms in the vomit. This can be treated easily by getting rid of the parasites by taking proper medication, which resolves the vomiting.

Foreign Objects: Do take care of what your cat consumes as ingestion of any foreign materials such as plastic, string, toxins, or any other objects can cause damage and blockage in the gastrointestinal tract. This leads to vomiting which can be considered fatal and should be addressed immediately by the vet.

Gastroenteritis: It is a medical term used to indicate upset stomach, which results from side effects of medicines, toxins, and dietary indiscretion. They are often mild and can be resolved easily. But, in some cases, it requires a vet's immediate attention.

Cancer: Cancer in the digestive tract or any other parts of the body interferes with normal digestion, thereby, leading to chronic vomiting, nausea, malaise and discomfort.

What symptoms are serious and need to look out for?

To sum it up, vomiting in cats is alarming especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Change in litter box habits
  • Change in health and behaviour
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • In case, you stumble upon these instances, seek medical attention from your veterinarian.

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