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Cat Vomiting: How To Tell If It's Serious

Your four-legged friend means the world to you. Trust us, we get it.

We also understand that you would do just about anything to ensure your cat's health and happiness.

That's why when your beloved fur baby starts vomiting out of nowhere it can be worrying.

You make sure they are fed the best food available, monitor their health, and do everything you can to keep them out of harm's way... so why are they throwing up?

In this article, we'll explain the multitude of reason why your cat may be vomiting as well as let you know when it's time to take your feline friend to the vet.

Not all vomiting should be cause for total panic, but it's important for pet owners to know when they should act quickly as vomiting is often a sign that something more serious needs to be addressed.

Let's get started!

cat vomiting

Types of Vomiting

First, there are two types of vomiting that will help your veterinarian determine the underlying cause and best way to treat.

These two types are referred to as acute vomiting and chronic vomiting.

Acute vomiting refers to a sudden episode of vomiting.

Chronic vomiting refers to ongoing vomiting.  

Causes of Acute Cat Vomiting

The underlying causes of acute vomiting range from minor to severe.

Therefore, it is important for pet owners to be able to know the differences in order to act accordingly.

Dietary Reasons for Cat Vomiting

One of the most common reasons behind vomiting is diet. Many cat foods are considered to be rendered. In other words, they are not approved for human consumption.

You may be wondering what exactly your cat is eating that isn't safe for humans. Unfortunately, many rendered foods contain things like the feathers and beaks of birds and animal skin, hooves, heads, and eyes.

While these are all considered to be "proteins," they are incredibly difficult for your cat to digest which therefore leads to vomiting.

A sudden dietary change can also be a reason for cat vomiting (as well as diarrhea). When switching your cat's food it is important to go slowly.

Again, feeding your feline friend a high quality, human grade diet is key but making a sudden change can greatly upset your cat's stomach.

Treats & Milk

Many cat owners go above and beyond when it comes to feeding their feline friends quality, well-balanced meals (and we applaud you for it).

However, it is important to recognize that cat treats are equally important when it comes to maintaining quality.

Take a look at the bag of cat treats you have in your cabinet. Read off the ingredients. Things such as emulsifiers, surfactants, dyes, propylene glycol, FDC red #4 (and more) shouldn't be in your cat's diet.

The overflow of additives, preservatives (and whatever else is in there) all consequently lead to inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract and thus, vomiting.

Finally, milk. Most pets will gobble up milk if it's placed in front of them, but it's important that it's milk from their same species.

Your cat doesn't have the necessary enzymes needed for breaking down the milk sugars in cow's milk. Therefore, secondary gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting are likely to develop.

Eating Too Fast

Cats that eat as if it's their last meal on earth are much more prone to vomiting. This is because your cat is a quadruped. In other words, their esophagus is horizontal, not vertical.

Even after several minutes have passed, your cat may experience the regurgitation of whole, undigested food if the meal is consumed too quickly.

The key is helping your cat slow down when it comes to eating. Only give your cat small portions of food at a time. This will inhibit them from consuming their whole meal in one bite.

Additionally, if you have multiple cats, watch them at mealtime to make sure that one cat isn't eating for 4 cats. If this is the case, you will be better off feeding your felines in separate rooms.

Allowing each cat to have around 20 minutes of relaxed eating will also help slow their habits because they won't feel that if they don't eat their food, someone else will.

Portion control will also help prevent obesity which in turn helps prevent a slew of additional issues from arising.

obese cat

Consuming Foreign Bodies

If cats aren't able to digest milk from a different species then you can be sure they aren't able to digest foreign bodies such as toys and hairballs entering their system.

Luckily, most cats aren't like dogs who will eat just about anything in sight (although some still do). However, cats are known to constantly clean themselves.

If your kitty has beautiful long fur, you'll need to step in and help out with the grooming.

Additionally, if you have a multi-cat household, it is important to make sure that one cat isn't grooming everyone else.

The constant hair licking results in hairballs. Your feline's gastrointestinal tract isn't equipped to handle all the fur and thus, vomiting occurs.

If you're unsure if your cat is vomiting from hairballs, check the vomit for cylindrical plugs. In the majority of cases, you'll be able to see the culprit of the vomiting if it is in fact hairballs.

Pet parents can help with preventing hairballs by adding a bit of fiber to the cat's diet. This will help move the hair that is consumed through the GI tract more swiftly.

Additionally, brushing and shaving down cats that are especially hairy can drastically reduce the amount of hair consumed when they clean themselves.

Toxins or Chemicals

Another reason behind cat vomiting is the ingestion of toxins or chemicals. Poisoning is a common cause of sudden, severe vomiting in cats.

Many felines vomit from time to time, some more than others. However, if your cat doesn't typically throw up often and is suddenly vomiting, you should consider the possibility.

Pet owners may not realize that many common household plants are actually extremely toxic for cats. If your cat is particularly fond of getting into your plants, consider purchasing wheatgrass (cat grass) which can provide your kitty with nutritional benefits that come from consuming living things.

Additionally, research which plants are poisonous for cats and be sure to remove them from your home.

Finally, the chemicals found in herbicides, pesticides, and household cleaners can cause immediate, acute vomiting if ingested.

If your cat has consumed any of these products, no matter how small, it is imperative that you call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at 1-888-426-4435.

A representative will be able to help you through the next steps.

Intestinal Parasite

Acute vomiting can also be a sign of an intestinal parasite. Intestinal parasites are transmitted through a contaminated water or food source.

Intestinal parasites are regarded as being common, with prevalence rates being as high as 45% in certain populations.

The parasitic infestation will also cause diarrhea, anemia, weakness which makes the cat more susceptible to other viral and bacterial infections.

Finally, there are some GI parasites found in cats that can also affect humans. Therefore, a proper diagnosis and treatment plan is extremely important in order to prevent the possibility of the parasites being transmitted to the cat owner.

Intestinal parasites include:

  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Whipworms
  • Stomach Worms
  • Isospora sp. (coccidia)
  • Giardia
  • Toxoplasma

Again, a timely diagnosis and appropriate medication are paramount when it comes to treating intestinal parasites.

worms in cats

Acute Kidney Failure & Acute Liver Failure

Another possible reason why your cat may be vomiting is due to the dysfunction or failure of a detoxification organ such as the liver or kidney. In these cases, vomiting is often considered a non-specific symptom.

In other words, vomiting alone (or vomiting without any other symptoms) is rarely directly tired to kidney or liver failure.

However, due to the severity of such failure, it is important for your veterinarian to test for organ function and make sure they rule out any potential problems.

Gastrointestinal Inflammation

When you look at the root of the majority of diseases you'll find they all have one major thing in common: inflammation. Inflammation of major organs, including the gallbladder, small intestine, and colon can all result in vomiting.

However, vomiting and diarrhea are typically only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to inflammation. Inflammation is directly linked to diseases such as cancer.

It is important for pet owners to figure out the underlying cause of the inflammation in order to prevent the development of more severe issues.

Bacterial Infection of the Gastrointestinal Tract

Another potential reason for acute vomiting is a bacterial infection in the gastrointestinal tract.  Some bacteria in the cat's small intestine is completely normal.

However, when there are bacterial overgrowth and infection, the normal intestinal functions are greatly affected. This infection can cause diarrhea and acute vomiting to occur.

While many bacterial infections of the gastrointestinal tract clear up in about a week's time, we recommend seeking veterinary treatment for the underlying cause of the infection as it may likely resurface if not handled appropriately.

Also, it is important to monitor your cat's weight and hydration as the infection clears.

Cat Vomiting Bile

The yellow, foamy vomit that you may find is referred to as bile. Vomiting bile may be due to a hairball, but can also be a sign of something more serious such as a kidney issue, viral infection, or endocrine issue.

If bile vomiting occurs once, it's likely not a cause for alarm. However, if your cat's vomit continues and is yellow and foamy, it is recommended that you see your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis in order to rule out kidney issues or infection.


Acute cat vomiting is also a symptom of inflammation of the pancreas (or pancreatitis). Pancreatitis can often progress quite rapidly but if caught early, it can be treated without any permanent damage to the organ.

Again, this is yet another reason why an accurate diagnosis for why the vomiting is occurring is so important.

Post-Operative Nausea

After surgery, many cats will experience nausea and acute vomiting. In these cases, both nausea and vomiting will subside as the medications in your cat's system continue to flush out.

Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-nausea medications in order to help your cat heal faster and maintain a healthy appetite. There are also holistic ways to ease postoperative nausea and associated vomiting. More on that in a minute!

Certain Medications

Finally, certain medications that are prescribed to treat a slew of ailments can consequently cause acute vomiting.

If the medication that is causing the vomiting is for a chronic condition, you may want to speak to your vet regarding possible alternatives.

Continued vomiting can lead to the development of other conditions such as inflammation of the esophagus and gastrointestinal tract.

Causes of Chronic Cat Vomiting

We want to make sure our readers understand that any kind of vomiting is not considered to be normal, despite what you may have heard. Some reasons behind the vomiting are less severe than others, not no vomiting should be overlooked entirely.

In cases of chronic vomiting, pet owners should be on high alert has continued vomiting also means a continued condition that has gone without being resolved.

Dietary Causes

A food intolerance, as well as food allergies, can also lead to vomiting. Pet owners may not realize that their beloved cats and dogs can develop allergies just like people.

In fact, food allergies are often the underlying cause of cat vomiting that occurs intermittently over a long period of time.

Cat allergies develop when pet owners feed their furry friend the same diet over and over. If your cat has normal energy levels, is a healthy weight, and doesn't appear ill but throws up from time to time, you may want to look into whether or not they have developed a food allergy.  

It is important for cat owners to understand that feeding the same protein over and over (even if it is high quality, human grade protein) will commonly result in inflammation of the digestive tract and the development of food allergies.

Finding creative ways to switch up their proteins frequently (preferably every 3 months) is the best way to prevent GI inflammation, food allergies, and thus, cat vomiting.

Finally, many holistic experts on the topic recommend first switching to human grade cat food and then a species appropriate raw food diet if possible. We recommend talking to your vet regarding your individual cat's specific needs.

what to eat to prevent cat vomiting

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Another reason why your cat may be vomiting intermittently over an extended period of time is due to inflammatory bowel disease. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) includes conditions like gastritis, pancreatitis, enteritis, and colitis.

These reasons for chronic vomiting can have much more serious consequences if not treated appropriately. The aforementioned conditions are directly linked to chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and can cause GI lymphoma.

Cat vomiting is also a symptom of gastrointestinal cancer. You can see why it is so important to pinpoint the exact cause of the chronic vomiting. Early recognition and diagnosis can save your cat's life.

Chronic Toxicity Poisoning

Like acute vomiting, chronic vomiting can also be caused by toxicity poisoning. However, with chronic vomiting, the underlying cause can be more difficult to pinpoint.

With acute vomiting from toxicity, the toxic element is consumed only a short time before the vomiting ensues. With chronic vomiting from toxicity, the toxic element is consumed (or inhaled) in small amounts over an extended time.

A common cause of chronic toxicity poisoning comes from lead, which affects humans and pets alike.

Intestinal obstruction

Intestinal obstruction is the result of the accumulation of ingested solids and fluids in the intestinal tract. In order to relieve the accumulation, your cat may intermittently vomit over an extended period of time.

Intestinal obstruction can occur for several reasons from the ingestion of a foreign body to more severe causes such as a tumor, hernias, or mesenteric torsion.

Neurological Disorders

Neurological disorders in cats can develop from a number of issues including injury and infection. While there are several types of neurological disorders, many have one main symptom in common: chronic vomiting.

Cats with neurological disorders have the potential to live long lives, but only if a proper diagnosis is made and a treatment plan is developed.


Also comparable to acute vomiting, if a parasitic infestation is not diagnosed and treated straight away, chronic vomiting will develop.

Parasites must be diagnosed and treated by your vet. If left untreated, chronic vomiting may be the least of your worries.

Additional Symptoms to Look For

In many cases, vomiting is considered to be a non-specific symptom. In other words, it is a symptom of a slew of conditions, making it nearly impossible to diagnose a disorder solely on whether the cat is vomiting.

Thankfully, there are other clinical signs to look for in conjunction with cat vomiting.

  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Bloody vomit and/or diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Change in appetite
  • Fluctuation in water intake

Furthermore, pet owners should monitor the frequency of the vomit and when it occurs, i.e. after eating, being outdoors, etc.

When to Make a Vet Appointment

If you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, there are a few things you should consider.

How old is your cat? How is your cat's overall health? Is there any chance they may have ingested something poisonous? How often is the vomiting occurring or was it a one-time occurrence?

We firmly believe that it is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your beloved four-legged companion. Again, no vomiting should be considered "normal."

If you have any reason to believe that your cat's vomiting is a sign of something more severe, make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Treatment for Cat Vomiting

Typically, treatment for cat vomiting will involve withholding food and water until the vomiting has stopped for 2 hours. Then, pet parents will be advised to slowly reintroduce water and then a bland diet.

This treatment, however, is solely for vomiting. It is imperative that pet owners get to the bottom of what is causing the vomit so that the primary issue can be treated as well.

Preventing Cat Vomiting

In many cases, cat vomiting can be prevented. Simple changes such as switching to human grade cat food and making sure that any poisonous plants and chemicals are removed from your home are great ways to start.

Again, preventing the vomiting will depend on what is causing it to occur in the first place.

CBD Oil for Cats

Speaking of prevention, there is one supplement we highly recommend: CBD oil. CBD oil is a digestive aid that helps support proper digestion and bowel health. It can aid in occasional gastric distress, support a healthy gut and normal stomach pH. 

While CBD oil certainly can't undo poisoning, it's a great supplement to consider to boost overall wellness in your kitty and potentially avoid a mess on the carpet.

We recommend our all-natural, non-GMO, soy-free, lab-tested CBD oil for cats!

cbd for cats

Cat Vomiting: The Bottom Line

We know that your feline companion means the world to you and realizing that something isn't quite right can be extremely nerve-racking for a doting pet parent.

The first step is recognizing any change as soon as possible. The sooner a symptom like vomiting is noticed, the sooner a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan can begin. We sincerely hope your four-legged friend feels better soon! 


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