Cat vomitting: Sick or just missing me?

by Stephanie
(Hicksville, NY)

I think I may be making my cats sick. I have two cats, a boy and a girl, that I adopted together last year. They love each other so much and are very mushy towards me always. I do work a lot and when I get home I try to give all my attention to them.

Last weekend, I went away for 4 days and my landlord, who was looking in on them, said they threw up 4 times. They have been to the vet and everything seems fine. It's not hairballs, just food they puke up. I am not even sure if it's one or both of them.

I change their food, brush them, and give them so much love and attention, but when I go away, I always come home to puke spots. I have them on natural foods and it happens less but still happens.

Are they eating too fast because they are sad or do they just miss me too much? Any advice you have for me would help.

Dear Stephanie,

It's not uncommon for cats to vomit, especially during times of stress. If your kitties have had thorough exams and have received clean bills of health, there is likely little to worry about, but I am happy to provide some ideas and advice.

You didn't mention whether your cats are eating canned or dry food, regularly and while you are away. If you allow your cats to free-feed dry food and leave down extra food for them while you are away, this could very well be part of the problem. Your cats may overeat while you are not home and regurgitate the food. Similarly, if you allow free-feeding while you are at home, but switch to using a timed feeder while you are away, your cats may eat too quickly because they don’t know they’ll be getting more. Or, if your landlord doesn't follow your same bowl-filling routine, the same may happen!

A good solution to this problem is to have someone come in to feed your cats every day, having them place down the normal amount of food you would give your cats when you were home. The same is true for canned food feeding as well. If your cat sitter can feed your cats on a similar feeding schedule to what you follow while you are home, regurgitation of the cat food can potentially be reduced.

That being said, however, most cats eat less when they are stressed and their owners are away from home. So, if amount and speed of eating isn’t really causing the problem, it is possible that it's simply stress. When cats are stressed, just as when people are stressed, they can have a general feeling of illness or upset stomachs.

As another way of coping with stress, some cats may groom themselves more. Although you have not seen hair in the vomit, this does not mean that your cats aren't vomiting because of hairballs! In fact, it's often the worst hairballs, the ones that can lead to intestinal obstructions, that cause vomiting in cats, and you will rarely see hair in this vomit. So, keep in mind, if your cats are nervous groomers, hairballs are a very real possibility even without seeing hair in the vomit.

As long as your kitties return to their normal behavior when you get home, continue eating and drinking both when you are home and while you are away, and use their litter boxes normally, occasional bouts of vomiting, especially at times of stress, are generally nothing to worry about. But, when in doubt, following up with your veterinarian is always a wise choice!

All the best,
Dr. Neely

Return to Comments about Cat Behavior.