If you have a cat, you’re familiar with vomit. Cats are well known for leaving a hairball or a pile of regurgitated food where you can conveniently step in it. But why does your cat vomit and when do you know if it’s a medical problem?
Hairballs: Cats have barbed tongues, which they use to remove dirt, dander and excess hair from their coats. Inevitably, this excess hair gets swallowed, and sometimes returns in the shape of a hairball. Hairballs are usually tubular in shape and dry, consisting mostly of hair. Longhaired cats are at a higher risk for hairballs and other factors can contribute to the frequency and severity of the vomiting.
Read More: Hairballs: Causes and Prevention
Intestinal Parasites: The most common symptom of intestinal parasites is usually diarrhea, but cats infected with worms can also vomit. Eggs are microscopic, but adult roundworms will sometimes appear in vomit. If this happens, your cat needs an exam and medication to remove the parasite.
Eating Grass/Plants: Cats who are feeling nauseated sometimes eat grass. Since cats lack the enzymes needed to digest a large amount of grass, it usually comes back up, along with whatever offending item was causing distress in the first place. Grass eating is harmless, but if your kitty likes to chew on other plants, make sure you keep any of the toxic variety out of his reach.
Acute Gastritis (“garbage gut”): Along the lines of eating grass, some cats will nibble on food items that they don’t normally eat or that don’t sit quite right. Outdoor cats that hunt might feel unwell after eating a rodent or a bird, especially since they tend to eat these small prey animals whole, bones, fur and all. Or if your cat ate people food or junk food, his belly might bother him. Repeated episodes of vomiting due to gastritis can lead to dehydration, so schedule an exam for your cat if he doesn’t stop vomiting and is acting lethargic or will not eat his regular food.
Food Allergy: Cats can develop hypersensitivities to foods that cause vomiting and itching. Even if your cat has been eating the same food his entire life, it’s still possible for him to become allergic to a protein, grain or dye in the food. There is no test for food allergies, so the only way to determine if this is the issue is with a food trial.
Poisoning: Ingesting something toxic can make your cat vomit. A common winter hazard is antifreeze, which has a sweet smell and taste. As little as a teaspoon is enough to cause kidney damage and failure in cats. Other risks are human over the counter or prescription drugs, household cleaners, poisonous plants, flea treatments meant for dogs, and rodent poison. If you suspect your cat has ingested any of these toxins, your cat needs to be seen right away. Many of these poisons have no cure and supportive care is important.
Hyperthyroidism: Older cats are especially prone to developing thyroid disease, in which certain hormones related to metabolism are overproduced. Among the symptoms are weight loss, voracious appetite and vomiting.
Read More: The Older Cat And Thyroid Disease
Foreign Body: If a cat eats a non food item that gets stuck in the intestinal tract, he might vomit. Foreign bodies can cause complete obstruction of the GI tract and can even lacerate the intestines, so if you suspect your cat has eaten something and it might be stuck, bring him in for an exam. Ribbon, string, elastic hair ties, and tinsel are all common foreign bodies removed from cats.
Cancer: A developing tumor in the intestinal tract can cause vomiting and other GI issues. Large tumors in the abdomen that press on the intestinal tract can cause the same issue. Imaging is usually required to diagnose cancer of this type.
Viral or Bacterial Infection: Various viruses or bacterial infections can cause vomiting. Vaccines are available for the most common feline viruses, so make sure your cat stays up to date on his immunizations. Outdoor cats, older cats and cats living in multiple cat households are more likely to be exposed to viruses. Most viruses are species specific, so your cat is unlikely to catch a cold from you or another human family member.
Urinary Blockage (male cats): Male cats are at risk for developing a urinary blockage, which is an emergency condition. Cats that have been blocked for a day or longer will sometimes vomit, along with straining in the litter box and acting lethargic. If you suspect your cat has a urinary blockage, he needs to be seen immediately. This condition is treatable, but the outcome is highly dependent on how quickly your cat gets treatment.
Sometimes cats vomit for no easily discernible reason. An occasional hairball or pile of vomit is usually nothing to worry about, but if the vomiting is a new symptom, has increased significantly or is accompanied by other symptoms (such as diarrhea, loss of appetite or lethargy), make an appointment to be seen.