How to prevent an upset stomach and vomiting in cats

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How to prevent an upset stomach and vomiting in cats - a cat crouched on the floor playing

Vomiting is a common symptom among cats, much to the chagrin of many pet parents. However, cat owners need to know when vomiting requires a trip to the vet. Read on to learn:

  • What are some causes of cat vomiting?
  • Can vomiting be prevented in cats?
  • When does my cat need to see a vet for vomiting?
  • Can I help my cat’s vomiting?

There are ways for owners to help with their cat’s vomiting. However, frequent vomiting, or vomiting accompanied by other symptoms, requires a vet consultation.

What causes a cat’s upset stomach?

Vomiting is a common symptom of many medical conditions. Some are more serious than others and require medical intervention. Causes of vomiting in cats include:

This list is not exhaustive. Dozens of different conditions in cats can cause vomiting, sometimes making it difficult to pinpoint the reason for the vomiting without diagnostic testing. A cat’s vomit can often have a strong smell and contain varying amounts of mucus, undigested food, or wads of fur.

Acute vomiting vs. chronic vomiting

Vomiting is classified as acute or chronic. A cat that does not regularly vomit and has a bout of vomiting that lasts less than two days is considered acute. Mild, acute vomiting is generally not considered an emergency when it is not accompanied by other symptoms and resolves on its own within 24 hours. Vomiting is considered chronic when the frequency of vomiting occurs regularly over at least two weeks. If not addressed, chronic, excessive vomiting in cats can lead to other, more serious conditions.

Vomiting vs. regurgitation

Vomiting is different from regurgitation, and it’s important for cat owners to recognize the difference as it can help a veterinarian with a diagnosis. When a cat vomits, they experience abdominal contractions as well as a retching sound as they expel food and other stomach contents. Regurgitation is more passive as food or other material is brought back up with little effort. This can be accompanied by a burp or cough.

Can I prevent my cat from vomiting?

Not all vomiting in cats can be prevented, but there are steps cat owners can take to avoid common causes. “Stay on a nutritionally complete diet and avoid changing foods,” advises Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. “If a food change is needed, allow your cat to adjust by slowly incorporating the new food with their normal diet.”

Some other steps pet parents can take to avoid vomiting in their cats include:

  • Table scraps: Avoid offering table scraps and excessive treats.
  • Houseplants: Some cats are curious and lick or bite houseplants or toxic chemicals. Keep houseplants and all toxic chemicals, such as ethylene glycol, out of your cat’s reach.
  • Foreign objects: Harmful objects or foreign materials that can be ingested, such as hair ties and paper clips, must be kept off the floor. Ingesting foreign objects can lead to digestive tract obstructions.
  • Vaccinations: Stay up-to-date on vaccinations and parasite control to prevent common parasites and infectious diseases.
  • Wellness checks: Get routine wellness checks and fecal examinations to detect parasites and other medical conditions and start treatment early.
  • Medications: If your cat requires medications that may irritate the digestive tract, give the medication with food as directed by your veterinarian.
  • Hairballs: If your cat gets frequent hairballs, groom them regularly to help prevent excess hair ingestion. This is especially important if you have a long-haired cat.
  • Spoiled food: Check the expiration date on your cat’s dry kibble and wet food. Raw diets have a much shorter shelf life than other cat food options.

When should my cat see a vet for vomiting?

If an acute episode of vomiting lasts longer than 24 hours, it’s time to visit a veterinarian. Frequent or severe vomiting also needs to be addressed by a vet. Likewise, if you have a cat with a chronic disease, such as diabetes or kidney disease, check in with your vet if they begin vomiting. If other symptoms, such as lethargy, diarrhea, weight loss, or appetite loss, accompany vomiting, it can be a sign that your cat is ill and needs veterinary care. Finally, if the vomit has digested blood in it, which resembles coffee grounds, visit a veterinarian immediately. It is not necessarily abnormal to see a small amount of fresh blood in vomit as the esophagus and digestive tract become irritated and inflamed, but significant amounts of blood in vomit may indicate a more serious situation that can escalate quickly.

How do vets treat a cat for vomiting?

Because so many conditions can cause feline vomiting, veterinarians need to understand why a cat is vomiting in the first place before they can make any recommendations. Diagnostic testing, such as blood tests, fecal exams, urinalysis, and imaging, is a tool to help veterinarians provide an accurate diagnosis of the underlying cause of vomiting. Once a diagnosis is made, treatments may include:

  • Fluid therapy
  • Anti-nausea medication
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Diet change
  • Treatment for specific medical conditions

In some cases, diagnostics do not provide enough information for a definitive diagnosis of why your cat is vomiting. In these cases, supportive care and feeding easily digestible or bland food may be recommended. Always discuss a diet change with your veterinarian, and never give human medications to your cat.

How can I help prevent my cat from vomiting?

Cats do best on a consistent, nutritionally complete diet, either a dry food formula or wet food depending on your cat’s preference. Offering table scraps, human foods, or excessive treats can cause stomach upset. Keep dangerous items out of reach, including houseplants, chemicals, hair ties, and string. Vaccinations and parasite prevention can help prevent communicable diseases and intestinal parasites that cause feline vomiting. Brush and groom cats regularly to reduce hairballs. Finally, give any needed medications with food (unless otherwise indicated by the label or prescribing veterinarian) to help prevent stomach upset when directed to do so by your veterinarian.

If you have questions about your feline friend’s chronic or acute vomiting or need advice on food changes, you can consult an online vet from the comfort of your home with Vetster.

FAQ - How to prevent vomiting in cats

Why do cats vomit undigested food?

Vomiting undigested food indicates the food never had a chance to get digested. Some examples of conditions that cause such rapid vomiting include a food allergy, foreign bodies or intestinal obstruction, or an irritation in the gastrointestinal tract. If vomiting continues longer than 24 hours or is accompanied by other symptoms, consult a veterinarian.

What cat food is best for cats that throw up?

All cats require consistent, nutritionally complete food. If a cat is regularly vomiting, consult a veterinarian to rule out underlying health issues. A change in diet shouldn’t be the default solution for trying to fix chronic vomiting and medical intervention is indicated. Special diets are available for cats with chronic kidney disease, frequent hairballs, and diabetes—all health conditions that can cause feline vomiting. Cats with food allergies may also need a change in diet and a careful examination of the ingredient list.

What is the main reason cats throw up?

Common causes of acute vomiting in cats include hairballs, a sudden change in diet, new treats or table scraps, and consuming house plants. Chronic feline vomiting can be caused by more serious underlying issues such as diabetes, kidney disease, or a condition that affects the intestinal tract. Additional testing may be needed to find the underlying cause of chronic vomiting.

What is the difference between vomiting and regurgitation?

The main difference between vomiting and regurgitation is heaving with abdominal muscle contractions and hacking noises. Vomiting requires effort for the evacuation of food and other contents of the stomach. Regurgitation is more passive and is usually caused by esophageal issues.