Cat vomiting problems sometimes scare cat owners and rightly so. An occasional episode of vomiting is normal in most cats, it can also indicate a problem such as cat diabetes, feline food allergies, heartworm, cat skin allergies, feline constipation, cat hairballs, and many other conditions.
Watch the following short video of a cat vomiting and see if you can decide what is causing this kitty to vomit.
I hope that you said you couldn't tell what is making the cat throw up because there's no way you COULD know. In fact, there's no way anyone could know. The unfortunate fact is that we can't tell the difference between vomiting caused by a foreign object or a hairball or just a temporary upset stomach. When cats vomit, they always look the same, regardless of the cause.
The fact that vomiting always looks the same makes it so important that caring cat owners learn as much as possible about cat health and feline illness. It is essential to learn about causes of feline vomiting and learn to ask your veterinarian the right cat health questions.
Vomiting in cats can be caused by a problem in any part of the gastro/intestinal system from the stomach to the small intestines to the colon as well as the mouth and esophagus. Vomiting in pets can also be caused by disorders of other organs in the body as is the case with feline diabetes or feline kidney disease. However, this section of our website focuses on cat vomiting that originates from GI problems such as cat hairballs, feline constipation, feline food allergies, and feline inflammatory bowel disease.
The following email from a reader is accompanied by my answer which includes an in-depth look at the way cat vomiting cases are diagnosed and treated. This should give you a great deal of insight into the possible causes of vomiting in your own cats and help you decide when to call the vet.
"For the past few months, my 3-year-old cat has been throwing up a few times a week, sometimes a few times a day. My vet has tested her blood, done x-rays, changed her to a low residue food but nothing seems to help. My cat also has chewed all the fur off her right shoulder blade. I have her wearing a soft collar for now, until it heals, but I'm afraid it will happen again.
Should I change vets and get a second opinion? Could this be behavioral or stress? We got another cat in December and had a baby in April. She acts fine otherwise...please help!"
You can tell from the way the above email is signed that cat vomiting scares us.
Unfortunately, many (all?) cats vomit from time to time. Some cats vomit every week and yet, there is nothing physically wrong with them. Others vomit once monthly. Some vomit only in the summer months; others, year-round. There is a large range of normal when it comes to the frequency of cat vomiting.
First, let's look at the above question and analyze the various parts of it and decide if we should be seriously concerned about this particular case of cat vomiting or not.
The cat is 3 years old. That's young. What can a young cat have that could cause vomiting that is serious?
(1) Young cats get into things that they may swallow. They are playful and interested in string, yarn, rubber bands, just about anything. They may chew on plants, knock things over, lick or eat things they shouldn't and do other mischievous things. This can lead to cat vomiting from intestinal obstruction.
(2) Cats of any age can get into something poisonous that could cause vomiting. Household cleaners, human medications which can be very different from feline medications and therefore toxic, pesticides, and anti-freeze are a few of the more common toxins.
Those are the two most common causes of cat vomiting in a cat that is only 3 years old. Other less serious causes would include parasites indicating the need for cat worm medicine, a virus, ingestion of grass or a little fabric or plastic, a cat hairball which may be helped with a cat lubricant such as Laxatone and increased brushing by the owner, eating too quickly, feline food allergies, and anxiety.
Lowest on the list of causes of vomiting in a 3 year old cat would be cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and other metabolic diseases.
Of course, not every case fits the norm, so anything is possible. Not probable, but possible.
This 3-year-old kitty has a fairly high frequency of vomiting which is more serious than if it were occurring less often.
Blood has been analyzed and is normal. That rules out such things as diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, and most infections. It also helps to eliminate ingestion of poison.
The kitty had x-rays and I assume nothing remarkable showed up on them. That gives a fairly reliable indication that there are probably no foreign bodies in the stomach or intestinal tract.
The possibility of feline food allergies was addressed by trying a low-residue diet such as a particular type of Wysong cat food or one by Royal Canin, etc. This was tried to see if it was easier to digest or if the problem could be food allergy. It seems not to have helped. What does that leave?
Cancer. Fairly unlikely due to her age.
Irritable bowel. Unlikely at this age plus the low residue diet didn't help.
That leaves parasites, viruses, hairballs, anxiety, and eating too fast -- all of which are common causes of cat vomiting.
By all means, if a fecal sample has not been looked at microscopically, it should be. You wouldn't want to miss something as simple as the need for cat worm medicine.
If it were a virus, it should be over with by now.
Hairballs are always possible, even if you never see hair in the vomit. Historically, there have been many different ways that vets and cat owners have attempted to treat cat hairballs. Lubricants, special foods, adding fiber to the diet ...these are all methods of treating hairballs. My personal favorite is to get to the source of the problem and practice prevention. Rid your cat of the loose undercoat that is ingested and leads to hairballs by brushing regularly with a FURminator.
We're left with anxiety and eating too fast as the most likely causes of this cat vomiting. Is there reason for anxiety in this cat? That's a HUGE "Yes"! A new cat joined the household in December. That alone is tremendously stressful!
Just when the stress from that may have started to subside, a BABY came along in April. Another huge stressor from the cat's point of view. Not only is there this new noisy, strange-sounding, different-smelling creature in the house, but the humans are giving all their attention to the new "creature" and not nearly as much to the cat. Now the original kitty feels "replaced" in two ways: by the addition of another cat and by the arrival of the baby.
It often happens that the addition of a new cat makes the first cat feel a sense of competition for food, even if there is always abundant food there. It can also be that the mere presence of the other cat makes the first kitty nervous while eating. That creates a nervous stomach as well as the desire to eat as quickly as possible and get away.
There's another very obvious sign of anxiety in this cat. She has chewed all the fur off her right shoulder. That makes me think this is a very anxious kitty. Not to mention the extra fur she is ingesting that may be irritating to her stomach.
Obviously, I haven't examined the cat personally and I cannot say definitely that this kitty's vomiting isn't the result of a medical cause and is definitely the result of anxiety. However, that would certainly be the first thing on my list, based on the information I've been given.
Treatment for This Case of Cat Vomiting
(1) I would definitely recommend using a FURminator to regularly brush the cat. I would do this for two reasons: (a) because I recommend that for every cat, and (b) there's still the possibility that this cat's vomiting is caused entirely or partially by the ingested hair.
(2)To decrease stress for the cat, I would make sure she has a private, quiet space where she can go to get away from both the baby and the other cat. A place where her own bowl of food, water, and litter box is readily available.
(3) I would enlist all members of the family to take turns giving her extra attention. Extra affection, more playtime with interactive cat toys, combing, and treats can all help her feel special again.
(4) Feeding small amounts of food more frequently also can help tremendously to decrease the frequency of vomiting, as can elevating the food and water dishes.
(5) If necessary, there are feline medications such as a tranquilizer or anti-anxiety drug that can be prescribed by your vet to be given temporarily. If that helps, it also gives a diagnostic answer as well as some relief. Before resorting to that, you can try a couple of over-the-counter homeopathic cat meds that are safe for cats and relax them. Some of my clients use Bach Rescue Remedy Spray for their cats with great success. Another wonderful tool that all stressed cats, and cats in general, benefit from is Feliway, a cat pheromone product.
If the above measures do not give improvement, then I would suggest repeating bloodwork, fecal and x-rays and possible ultrasound and perhaps get a referral to a GI specialist.
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