Why Is My Cat Throwing Up?

[This article was written by a qualified veterinarian. For more information please read our About page.]

Why do cats throw up?

Feline creatures are sensitive, and sometimes when they eat their food, their stomachs become irritated, causing the cat to throw up all the food. “Why is my cat throwing up?” is one of the most common questions vets are asked. 

Short-term cat vomiting (less than 24 hours) is generally nothing to worry about, especially if your cat’s health is otherwise fine. However, if the cat vomiting frequency increases in 24 hours, it is a sign of the disease or maybe the irritants present in the cat’s food. It is the most common problem to occur in outdoor cats because you don’t know what they have eaten from outside. So, you have to be extra vigilant for your cats. 

Acute vs Chronic vomiting 

A cat throwing up can be separated into two broad categories acute and chronic vomiting. Acute vomiting is when a cat usually does not vomit but suddenly starts vomiting. In contrast, chronic vomiting is severe and life-threatening. The vomiting can occur multiple times a day and can be daily for an extended period. Most cases of vomiting respond quickly to simple symptomatic treatment. More vital care is required for the acute onset of throw-up because if it is neglected, then the condition can develop into chronic vomiting. 

If the cat vomits more than three times, cannot keep down food and feels tired, your first approach should be to bring the cat to the veterinarian as early as possible. Cats that are not recovering and keep throwing up are prone to many secondary issues such as liver disease. Hairballs can easily pass from the stomach to the gut, but when cats have gastrointestinal problems, they struggle to pass hairballs properly. 

What’s going on in there?

Throwing up or vomiting means that the cat shows displeasure by forcefully contracting and throwing its contents up and out. This phenomenon is different from regurgitation, and it does not involve strenuous muscle contracting. When the cats are about to throw up, the process is much more audible than physical as it involves neck extending with strained gagging. Some cats can do regurgitation, but it usually happens just minutes to hours after eating. 

Outdoor cats can eat undigestible things such as grass, causing the cat to throw up, but the primary culprit is wet food that is too cold. If you serve your cat with refrigerated wet food, try to let it come down to room temperature; otherwise, it will irritate the stomach. Another primary culprit for a cat throwing up is hairballs; they cause immense distress to the lining of the stomach. 

tortoise coloured cat with a cone on its head

Causes of vomiting

The causes of acute and chronic vomiting can be the same. Vomiting is a vague symptom, and the causes can be varied. All felines illness can result in vomiting as it is the first sign that something is going inside the stomach of cats.

  1. Toxins 

Usually anti-freeze poison and Lilies plant act as toxins in cats. But, there are many other types of toxins which may affect your felines such as toxin produced by Cl. Botulinum, mostly present in expired or uncooked canned food. A recent study on Botulinum toxin in cat also proved that it is the world’s deadliest toxin

  1. Diet 

Sudden change in the diet, dietary intolerance to something in the food, or eating wet cat food and hunting 

  1. Hairballs 
  2. Parasites 

Cestodes, Trematodes and Nematodes 

  1. Gastrointestinal condition 

Foreign bodies, ulcers, and inflammation of the stomach can be the possible causes of vomiting

  1. Organ dysfunction 

Liver disease, kidney disease, or pancreatitis 

  1. Heatstroke 
  2. Current medications 
  3. Previous illness 
  4. Other changes such as polyuria, polydipsia, diarrhoea, weight loss 

Signs of a cat throwing up.

Common signs of a cat throwing up are anorexia, excessive drooling, excessive swallowing, lip licking, retching, and contractions of abdominal muscles and diaphragm. Abnormal behaviour or physical abnormalities associated with prolonged vomiting include; lethargy (reluctance to move), weakness, abdominal pain, weight loss, blood in the vomit, or other unexpected physical changes. These signs can indicate your pet has a potentially life-threatening emergency. These signs can be more severe as cats age.

Diagnosing the cause of vomiting 

Sometimes diagnosing the case of vomiting can be very difficult in cats. Cats can recover from acute cases of vomiting quickly with the help of symptomatic treatment and therapy over time. However, chronic vomiting treatment is laborious, and it requires much effort because the underlying condition can be viral diseases such as Feline Leukemia, Feline Panleukopenia, and Feline Calicivirus. This disease causes intermittent vomiting, and prolonged treatment is required for the cats to recover. 

A history of the cats previous illnesses is significant in determining the cause of the cat throwing up. The vet will ask a series of questions to the owner; that way, veterinarians can quickly come to a conclusion point of why the cat has thrown up.

The veterinarian may ask the following questions: 

  1. When did the vomiting start?
  2. What food are you offering to the cat?
  3. What was in the vomit?
  4. Does the cat go outside? If so, does the cat hunt?
  5. Did you give you cat the wet refrigerated food?
  6. Is the cat drinking or urinating a lot?
  7. What do you give a cat in food?
  8. Does the cat eat anything before she vomited?
  9. What is the frequency of vomiting?
  10. Does your cat have diarrhoea?
  11. Are there any other cats in the household showing similar signs?
  12. What is the relationship between vomiting to feeding?
  13. Is there any pain or distress significantly affecting the abdomen?
  14. Is there has been any blood in the vomit?

These questions vary from vet to vet, but when the vet asks these questions, he will get a better idea of what sort of things implicated the cat’s vomiting.

Diagnosis based on the colour of vomit

Based on the colour of vomit, the vet can get the know-how about the cat’s organs.

  1. Clear vomit

It can be regurgitation from the oesophagus or an unfilled stomach 

  1. White, foamy vomit

White, foamy vomit can also result due to regurgitation from the oesophagus or the empty stomach 

  1. Yellow vomit 

It can be bile, which can be the sign of liver disease, but it often occurs with an empty stomach, and also it means the cat has eaten anything yellow 

  1. Blood in vomit

Blood can be from the mouth, oesophagus, or stomach, depending upon the underlying condition 

  1. Coffee-ground vomit

Coffee-ground vomit occurs as a result of a type of bleeding that is associated with ulcers 

  1. Brown colour vomit

It can be due to the bleeding from the upper gastrointestinal tract, or maybe the cat has eaten something brown and smelly. 

  1. Undigested food particles 

It can be due to obstruction or motility disorders in the gastrointestinal tract.

A study by Fox RA, Keil LC, Daunton NG, Crampton GH, Lucot J also suggests that Vasopressin is used to determine the level of motion sickness in cats by measuring the plasma Vasopressin level which is dramatically elevated (up to 27 times resting levels) in cats having severe vomiting due to any cause.

brown and white cat laying down with a cone on his head

Physical exam and diagnostics 

The following are the essential questions that you should keep in mind while having a history. The veterinarian will conduct a physical exam on the abdomen to try and determine the cause of the vomiting. They are looking for any foreign body or string under the tongue, any pain or discomfort whilst applying pressure to the abdomen, evidence of weight loss, checking heart murmur, checking the thyroid gland, and a fever. The following are commonly or routinely performed diagnostics in cats. 

  1. Blood tests

It can show the evidence of infections, kidney and liver problems, thyroid disease and may provide clues leading to a diagnosis

  1. Abdominal x-ray

Can show abnormalities of the oesophagus and stomach 

  1. Ultrasound 

It can identify the blockages/obstructions tumours as well as inflammation in the stomach and intestinal lining

  1. Endoscopy 

An endoscope can directly view the stomach to see if there are any abnormalities. The procedure can also be used to obtain biopsy samples. This procedure requires general anaesthesia. 

Treatment strategies 

  1. Fluids 

ats can quickly dehydrated due to the vomiting, so to increase the level of hydration, we can take advantage of parenteral fluids to overcome the dehydration factor in cats. Commonly, the fluids are passed through a subcutaneous route, but the vet can administer the fluids through the IV route if the cats are weak. It involves placing a catheter in a vein and giving fluids through the catheter. The downside of this method is that the cat stays in the hospital. 

  1. Anti-vomiting medication 

Locally available antiemetic drugs are prescribed by the veterinarian to decrease the episodes of vomiting. Some homoeopathic products are available in the market, which is offered to cats in vomiting cases that happens 20 minutes after the meal. HomeoPet feline digestive upset is one of them, and has good antiemetic properties and serve as a relief from the digestive disturbances in cats.

  1. Diet changes 

It is one of the most critical factors in controlling episodes of vomiting. In acute vomiting, the cat’s owner should temporarily change the diet to something simple and easy to digest; blended soft human food can also be given or boiled chicken. For chronic vomiting, a diet change can be therapeutic, as well as a diagnostic. 

  1. Antibiotics

Veterinarians prescribe medications such as famotidine or metronidazole as a short-term symptomatic treatment for cats. 

Prevention strategies 

  1. By removing potential harmful foods from cats environment 
  2. By giving a balanced diet 
  3. Ensure they get enough water 
  4. Transition to a sensitive stomach cat food 
  5. Avoid rich treats and snacks 


Rochelle is a self-claimed crazy cat lady and proud cat mum to Owlie! She has owned, rescued, and fostered cats throughout her whole life. Rochelle created Cats On My Mind as a hub for likeminded cat parents to get all the information they will ever need to give their fur babies their best life!

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