Everything you need to know to handle vomiting in cats

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Everything you need to know to handle vomiting in cats - a cat lying in their owner's lap

Feline vomiting is a common complaint among pet owners. While occasional mild vomiting is usually nothing to be worried about, excessive vomiting is never normal for cats. If you are a cat owner, read on to learn:

  • How do I know if my cat is vomiting?
  • Does the appearance of my cat’s vomit mean anything?
  • How is vomiting treated by a vet?
  • Why is my cat vomiting?
  • Can vomiting be prevented in cats?

There are many reasons why a cat’s digestive tract becomes upset or irritated, leading to vomiting. Some of these are benign, while others are signs of a serious problem. Understanding when vomiting warrants a discussion with a veterinarian is an important part of cat ownership.

What is feline vomiting?

Vomiting in cats involves the active involuntary expulsion of contents from the upper gastrointestinal tract through the mouth and nose. When vomiting occurs, a cat’s abdomen actively contracts and may be accompanied by a retching sound. Other clinical signs that often occur when a cat is nauseated include:

What is the difference between cat vomiting and regurgitation?

Regurgitation in cats is a passive process where stomach contents are involuntarily expelled from the esophagus and mouth without abdominal contractions, sometimes accompanied by a small burp or cough. Both regurgitation and vomiting are symptoms of many medical conditions and can be confused with each other.

Are there different presentations of vomiting in cats?

Vomiting can be classified in different ways based on duration, frequency, and severity. These classifications include:

  • Acute vomiting: Has been going on for less than 24 hours
  • Chronic vomiting: Occurs consistently over at least two weeks
  • Intermittent vomiting: Occurs no more than once a month
  • Persistent vomiting: Occurs more often than once a month

“Cats experiencing nausea may throw up any number of times when they have an upset stomach,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a veterinarian on Vetster. “It’s better to focus on the presence of other symptoms rather than the number of times a cat has vomited when determining how serious the situation is.”

Vomit color and consistency

The appearance of cat vomit may vary in both color and consistency, but this variation doesn’t tell a veterinarian much about the underlying cause. Green vomit, light brown vomit, or vomit containing undigested food simply points to what a cat has recently eaten. Many rat baits are green, so green vomit may be cause for alarm, especially in a cat who roams outside. When a cat has an empty stomach at the time of vomiting, yellow bile or white foam may be all that comes up. Large amounts of fresh red blood or any indication of digested blood in the vomit is a medical emergency. Digested blood in vomit looks like coffee grounds. A small amount of red blood, no more than a few drops or a streak, is usually due to throat irritation from forceful retching.

How does a veterinarian treat a cat for vomiting?

Vomiting is a symptom rather than a condition itself. Therefore, diagnostic tests are often recommended to determine the underlying cause. For acute vomiting in an otherwise healthy cat, a vet may recommend symptomatic care like anti-nausea medication, fluids, fasting, or a change in diet. Note: both fasting and sudden diet changes can be dangerous for some cats and should not be attempted without veterinary guidance. Cats vomiting due to an underlying condition are typically treated symptomatically while diagnostic tests are performed. Specific therapy such as medication, special diets, or surgery may be recommended to treat the underlying cause of vomiting once the diagnostic process has determined what is going on.  Note: Do not give a cat medication without a veterinarian’s approval. Human medications are often toxic to cats.

When should I seek veterinary care for my cat’s vomiting?

Cats may experience an occasional, mild bout of vomiting with no serious consequences. This makes it confusing for cat owners to know when to be concerned or not. Seek veterinary attention if:

  • Vomiting has lasted longer than 24 hours
  • Other signs of illness are present, such as diarrhea, lethargy, or lack of appetite
  • The vomit contains digested blood or a large amount of fresh red blood
  • Your cat is retching unproductively
  • A young kitten is vomiting
  • Your vomiting cat has a known underlying health condition
  • Your cat cannot tolerate any food or water
  • You witnessed your cat eat a foreign object

Vomiting can indicate a medical emergency in cats, especially when it’s severe or accompanied by other symptoms such as diarrhea, lethargy, straining to urinate, or lack of appetite. In addition, very bloody vomit or digested blood in the vomit may indicate abnormal bleeding, which also requires immediate veterinary attention. Symptoms such as difficulty breathing, collapse, seizures, changes in pupils, or changes in gum color are always emergencies.

What are the common causes of feline vomiting?

Vomiting is a common symptom of many situations, cat behaviors, and medical issues. These can range from harmless to life-threatening, and pet owners need to know when to seek advice from a veterinary professional.


Hairballs occur when fur from routine grooming is expelled through vomit. Undigested cat food, mucus, or bile may also come up with the hairball. When the digestive tract is healthy, the hair a cat consumes while grooming passes in the stool so hairballs are rare or nonexistent. Frequent hairballs, large hairballs, and hairballs accompanied by other symptoms are abnormal and must be addressed by a veterinarian. Long haired cats are more prone to hairballs since they swallow a larger volume of hair during grooming. Frequent brushing and grooming are the best way to prevent hairballs in an otherwise healthy cat.

Sudden diet change

A sudden change in a cat’s normal diet can cause irritation, resulting in vomiting. To avoid vomiting when changing foods, slowly introduce the new food by mixing it with the old food and gradually increasing the amount. Eating or drinking too much or too quickly can also lead to vomiting or regurgitation in cats. Spoiled food can cause a cat to become ill. Raw diets have a much shorter shelf life than canned wet food or dry kibble. Regularly check the expiration date on your cat’s food for safety and freshness.

Dietary indiscretion, or eating something outside the normal diet, can also cause stomach upset in pets. Cats may ingest houseplants, another pet’s food, table scraps, garbage, or non-food items. Mild vomiting from eating something unusual usually resolves on its own within 24 hours as long as the ingested item is not toxic or does not cause an intestinal obstruction.

Benign causes of feline vomiting

Certain cat behaviors and harmless situations can sometimes lead to vomiting. These behaviors can include:

  • Gagging on long strands of grass or catnip plants
  • Overstimulation or excitement
  • Stress

In these cases, vomiting is situational and resolves after the behavior or situation ends. Vomiting after gagging while consuming long strands of grass is normal, but if your cat routinely becomes nauseated in the car or when overexcited, a discussion with a vet about managing the symptoms can be beneficial.

Food allergies or sensitivities

Just like humans, cats can be allergic or sensitive to ingredients in their food. Food intolerances are difficult to diagnose and require long-term veterinary oversight which may include a food-elimination diet. A veterinarian can assist in identifying the problematic ingredients and curating a nutrition plan for your cat.

Infectious disease and internal parasites

Communicable diseases in cats often have vomiting as a symptom. Young kittens, unvaccinated cats, and outdoor cats in contact with other cats are most at risk for these diseases. They include:

Intestinal parasites are usually asymptomatic in healthy adult cats. However, vomiting can occur in some cats with heavy infestations, young kittens, or cats with other health issues. Internal parasites that may cause vomiting include:

Cats who appear otherwise normal can throw up intestinal worms when infected. Keeping your pets on year round parasite control is the best way to avoid infestations and their associated complications. Many flea, tick, and heartworm products are highly toxic to cats and can cause vomiting, neurological symptoms, and death. A veterinarian can help you choose a safe and effective form of parasite control for your feline friend.

Other medical conditions and causes of vomiting

Non-infectious diseases can also have vomiting as a common symptom in cats. These conditions include:

Nausea and vomiting can also occur as a side effect of medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and chemotherapy that irritate the stomach lining. Discuss potential side effects with a vet and what to do if one occurs.

Can I prevent my cat from vomiting?

Not all vomiting in cats can be prevented, but risks can be minimized. Regular brushing helps to limit the amount of fur cats ingest to prevent hairballs. Avoid suddenly changing a cat’s normal food and introduce new food slowly when a diet change is needed. Keep table scraps, garbage, houseplants, and other tempting items out of reach. Household cleaners, poisons, human medications, and canine parasite control products must be secured so cats cannot reach them. If a food allergy or sensitivity is suspected, consult a veterinarian to help choose the right food for your cat. Keep vaccinations and parasite control current to prevent common diseases and parasitic infections. Finally, receive routine wellness exams and testing to help catch underlying conditions early. Elderly cats are more susceptible to chronic diseases such as kidney disease that can cause vomiting and require more frequent wellness checks to get ahead of complications before they develop.

If your cat experiences occasional vomiting or if you need veterinary guidance to fast your cat or change their diet, you can chat with an online vet for expert advice through Vetster.

FAQ - Everything you need to know to handle vomiting in cats

When should I be concerned about my cat’s vomiting?

An occasional upset stomach is common in cats. Consult a vet if vomiting lasts for more than 24 hours, there are signs of digested blood in the vomit, there is a large amount of fresh blood in the vomit, other symptoms are present, or when the cat is a young kitten or has a known underlying health condition.

Are frequent hairballs normal in cats?

Infrequent hairballs, no more than once a month, may be normal for some cats. However, it is important not to assume your cat’s vomiting is from a hairball. Acute vomiting that lasts longer than 24 hours or frequent hairballs needs to be addressed by a veterinarian. Frequent hairballs are not normal in cats.

What does the color of my cat’s vomit mean?

The color and consistency of a cat’s vomit does not usually indicate much about what caused it other than what was in the cat’s digestive tract at the time. However, vomit that is black and tarry, has a consistency similar to coffee grounds, or contains large amounts of red blood is an emergency and needs to be treated immediately.