Let’s talk about…cat barf. After all, it’s a regular thing when you share your life with a cat and pretty much every cat owner is intimately familiar with “that sound” when one is on the way…hork, hork, hork. But when should you worry about your cat vomiting?
When to Worry About a Cat Vomiting
First off, it is normal for a cat to hurl up a hairball every once in a while but it is not normal for a cat to be vomiting on a regular basis. “Although some cat owners might think that vomiting is a normal part of feline behavior, it’s not,” says Richard Goldstein, DVM, an associate professor of small animal medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Any episode of a cat’s vomiting that occurs more than once a week should certainly be brought to the attention of a veterinarian. And if it happens routinely—even less often than once a week—it should be investigated.”
If your kitty seems to be having trouble keeping things down, gagging, or is throwing up green, yellow or even clear bile, you’ll want to make an appointment with your vet right away.
Common Reasons Cats Vomit
As previously mentioned, the occasional hairball is the most common reason cats vomit. These little packages are simply made up of excess hair that kitty has ingested in her tidying up routine and may sometimes be accompanied by some food or bile.
Many plants commonly kept indoors or found outdoors are toxic to cats. If your kitty is vomiting up pieces of green you may want to examine the plants around his space and make efforts to get them out of his reach or remove them altogether. While many plants just cause some vomiting others can be extremely dangerous to your cat.
An exception to this rule is grass. Cats do love to eat it and once they do, they sometimes vomit soon after. Why would you eat something that makes you vomit? Well, scientists had the same question. Their conclusions? One, it is a way to dislodge hairballs; two, “grass munching helps animals expel intestinal parasites,” reports Science Magazine. Either way, grass eating and any resulting grass vomiting are pretty normal for cats.
Ingestion of a foreign body
Rubber bands, dental floss, string from cat toys, paper clips, and even little doll shoes are not things cats should eat–yet they can, and will. Though many things can pass relatively safely through a cats GI tract, the presence of a foreign body in a kitty belly can be irritating enough to cause vomiting or even a blockage. These can also cause serious injuries such as perforations or bunching up of the intestines so if you have seen, or suspect, your cat eating something it shouldn’t get in touch with your vet right away.
Eating people food
Many human foods are poisonous to cats. Garlic, onions, seasoned meats, chocolate, and sugar are all toxic to cats and can cause vomiting but also more serious things such as heart arrhythmia, seizures, and even death. These scarier things all depend on the amount eaten so if you know your cat has gotten into some human food this would be another time to give your vet a call.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Yup, it’s a thing for cats too–and a common one. If your kitty is repeatedly vomiting/gagging, looks hungry but is avoiding food, and seems lethargic, this could be a reason. Despite the name, this condition is actually an inflammation of a kitty’s gastrointestinal tract and is a bit complex to diagnose so get your kitty to the vet as soon as possible so the sleuthing can begin.
Hairballs, foreign objects, and more can cause intestinal blockages which keep kitty’s food from going down. Like anything else that makes your kitty vomit, get them to the vet.
Other serious conditions
Hyperthyroidism, cancer, kidney disease, parasites, diabetes and other serious conditions can cause vomiting in cats. Many of these can be treated with prescription medicines, a change in diet, or surgery so the sooner you can catch them and start treatment the better.
What About a Cat Who is Throwing up Bile or Making Gagging Sounds?
If your kitty has a singular episode where she vomits up nothing but some stomach juice, it’s probably because she has eaten something that has irritated her empty stomach. Vomiting bile is not normal though so if your kitty’s episode is not a one-off you should get in touch with your veterinarian straight away. This also goes for kitties that seem to be gagging. Something could be stuck in their throat or it could be a sign of something more serious.
A very real concern for cats who aren’t eating is a condition called hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease which can occur quite quickly. “Cats have high nutritional requirements for proteins, as they are strictly meat eaters, so that a lack of protein or inability to process proteins will quickly develop into malnutrition,” note the experts at PetMD. “This condition also frequently occurs in conjunction with illness, periods of stress, changes in diet, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, aggressive weight loss attempts by owners, and being lost (away from home and meals).”
As always it is better to be safe than sorry so definitely call your vet if you have concerns.
When it comes down to it, vomiting in cats is something we sometimes laugh about but if your cat is vomiting on a regular basis or multiple times a day, it’s likely not a laughing matter. Get your kitty to the vet as soon as possible so you can get to the root of the problem–and make you both feel better.