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Why does my cat keeping throwing up?

Why does my cat keep throwing up?

 

Cat vomit. It’s part of being a cat owner, right? You put up with it, like scooping the litter box and finding toys under the sofa, because that’s what it means to have a cat in your life.

 

woman kissing her cat

What if I told you that wasn’t true? What if it’s not normal for a cat to keep throwing up?

 

Do a little research on this topic and you’ll find yourself with a lot of misinformation about cat vomiting. One site actually referred to chronic puking in cats as “normal cat vomiting behavior.”[1] Another blamed canned food kept in the refrigerator for the behavior.

 

Professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Ohio State University Tony Buffington told Science Daily, “There is not another mammal on the planet that wouldn’t be hospitalized for throwing up once a week.”[2] Just because this behavior in cats is very common, doesn’t mean it’s normal.

 

Think about it the next time you’re scrubbing a little cat stain from the rug in your bedroom. Ask yourself, should my cat be throwing up this much?

 

There are two kinds of vomiting: acute and chronic

 

While neither kind of vomiting is something you or your cat should have to put up with, it’s important to distinguish whether your cat is experiencing an acute or chronic bout of throwing up. Both types may ultimately require a trip to the vet, but one type may require you to get your cat to the vet immediately.

 

Chronic cat vomiting

If your cat vomits with some regularity, every single day, for example, or once a month, she is probably a “chronic” vomiter. A chronic vomiter tends to only throw up once or twice at a time, before the next round of vomiting starts again tomorrow, next week, or next month.[3]
 

Acute cat vomiting

If your cat is not a “regular” vomiter, but suddenly starts vomiting, especially if he vomits multiple times, he is probably experiencing an acute bout of vomiting. The acute kind is more immediately concerning.

 

Do I need to bring my vomiting cat to the vet right now?

 

If you cat is a chronic vomiter, you are probably not experiencing a cat emergency. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to get to the bottom of why your cat is throwing up, but there is no need to rush out in the middle of the night to the emergency clinic.

 

cat on a person's lap

If your cat is vomiting acutely, you may need to take her in to see a veterinarian sooner rather than later.

 

If your cat has only vomited one to three times, but is then interested in food and does not vomit again after eating, and if she seems comfortable, it’s probably OK if you hold off rushing her to the vet.

 

The only exception would be if you know your cat ate something poisonous, like a plant, or your medication, or an object like a string. In that case, a trip to the veterinarian is an emergency. Do not wait to see if your cat gets better on his own.

 

If your cat has vomited more than three times, cannot keep food down, and seems lethargic, she needs to be seen as soon as possible. If your cat is in severe discomfort, does not want to move, or seems to be deteriorating quickly, do not wait. Rush her to the emergency vet.

 

How to prepare for your visit with your veterinarian if your cat is throwing up

 

siamese cat and veterinarian

Whether your cat has been throwing up regularly for some time, or whether the vomiting just started and you’re bringing your cat to the emergency clinic, there are some things you can do to help your vet get to the bottom of your cat’s problem.

 

Make note of the answers to these questions and be prepared to share them with your vet:

 

  • Did your cat consume something he shouldn’t have, like plants, medications, antifreeze, spoiled food, dangerous human food (such as chocolate or onions), or a dead animal?
  • Has your cat’s diet changed suddenly?
  • When did the vomiting begin?
  • Is your cat allowed outside?
  • Does your cat take any medications?
  • Is your cat having diarrhea, too?
  • Is your cat eating? If not, when was the last time he ate?
  • When does the vomiting occur? (After eating? Only in the morning? After using the litter box?)
  • Is your cat drinking or peeing a lot?

 

cat vomiting

Make a note of what you notice about the quality of your cat’s vomit, too. Color can sometimes direct your vet to the problem. Yellow vomit can be a sign of liver disease (but can also be a sign that your cat has eaten something yellow!). Undigested food in the vomit can point to food intolerances, allergies, irritation in the upper gastrointestinal tract, or an obstruction.

 

Chronic causes of vomiting in cats

 

Just because your cat vomits all the time, doesn’t mean it’s “normal.” If your cat is throwing up regularly, you need to find out why. Here are some possible reasons why your cat may be throwing up on a chronic basis:

 

Stress

Researchers conducting a study on feline interstitial cystitis (FIC), one of the most frustrating chronic diseases in cats, accidentally stumbled onto this revealing cause for chronic vomiting. (Spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with FIC.)
 
This study included 20 cats suffering from FIC who were given up by owners who had planned to euthanize them, and a dozen healthy cats. FIC causes pain in the bladder and an urgent and frequent need to pee. Cats with FIC vomit frequently, pee and poop outside of their litter box, and often refuse to eat.
 
Judi Stella, a doctoral candidate in veterinary preventative medicine at the time, was the caretaker of this colony of cats. She spent months setting up a very routinized feeding, play, and cleaning schedule based on research about how to reduce stress in cats.
cat owner consults vet about cat 
Suddenly, the sick cats started to look better. Their coats were shinier, their eyes were clearer, and the cats stopped vomiting and missing their litter box. She kept this routine up for 77 weeks.
 
But sometimes Stella went on vacation and the cats had a different caretaker. Whenever she went away, or if the cats’ routine was disrupted in any way, all the cats – both sick and healthy – started vomiting again and peeing and pooping outside their litter boxes.
 
In fact, the healthy cats vomited as often as the sick cats, and the number of vomiting incidents tripled whenever the cats’ routine was changed in any way.
cat and orange ball toy 
What did Stella do that helped keep vomiting to a minimum?
 
 
The study was never meant to uncover a common cause of chronic vomiting, but it did just that. Professor Buffington said, “Vomiting hairballs is not normal. We think that stress changes the motility in their stomach and that leads to vomiting.”[4]
 
Motility, by the way, refers to the way the muscles of the digestive system contract. In other words, stress can cause changes in the way food moves through a cat's digestive system. Stress alone can cause chronic vomiting.
 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Another possible cause of vomiting in cats is chronic inflammation of the small intestine due to Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) or lymphoma.
 
IBD is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the gastrointestinal system. The root cause of IBD is an overactive immune system.
 
Lymphoma is a kind of cancer that affects white blood cells called lymphocytes. It is the most common cancer in older cats (eight to 12 years old). Lymphoma primarily affects the digestive tract.
 cat vomiting on sofa
Both IBD and lymphoma can cause a cat to vomit with some regularity: twice per month to as often as daily. Cats who suffer from inflammatory bowel disease often start to lose weight because their intestinal walls lose the ability to absorb nutrients from their food. Interestingly, because of this, cat owners often notice an increase in their cats’ appetites even as the vomiting increases.[5]
 
Dr. Gary Norsworthy, a veterinarian who runs a feline-only practice in Texas, conducted two retrospective studies. He looked back on the medical records of 100 client-owned cats who were experiencing chronic vomiting, as well as other symptoms such as diarrhea and weight loss. Of the 100 cats, 99 had chronic bowel disease.[6]
 
He conducted another study looking at 300 cats over five years who were suffering from vomiting and other symptoms, who had biopsies of their small intestines. 288 of the 300 cats had chronic bowel disease.[7]
Chronic bowel disease, whether caused by IBD or lymphoma, is likely a very common cause of vomiting in cats.
 

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is caused by a tumor on the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is supposed to regulate the body’s metabolism. But the tumor makes the gland produce too much thyroid hormone, speeding up a cat’s metabolism, which affects every organ in his body.
cat throwing up on grass 
Muscles, including those in the intestinal wall, contract too quickly, speeding food quickly through, causing diarrhea. Sometimes, the muscles contract in reverse, causing vomiting.
 
Luckily, there is an easy blood test to check for hyperthyroidism.
 

Kidney failure

The kidney is designed to clean waste products out of the blood. But in older cats (usually above 12 years), the kidneys start to function less well.
 
As toxins start to build up in a cat’s blood, she may begin to feel nauseous. Vomiting is the result of chronic nausea from kidney disease.
 
Fortunately, many cats can live well with mild kidney disease with proper veterinary care.
 

Liver disease 

There are a variety of diseases of the liver that can cause a cat to vomit.
cat vomiting on pavement 
Hepatic lipidosis is the most common cause of liver disease in cats. It results from an accumulation of fat in the liver, which leads to liver failure.[8] Ironically, a poor appetite for even just a few days can cause hepatic lipidosis. So, if your cat is experiencing an acute bout of vomiting that causes him to feel unwell for a brief period of time, it could turn into a chronic and much more serious problem.
 

Pancreatitis

 
Inflammation of the tiny pancreas can be serious and even life-threatening, but, unfortunately, is challenging for veterinarians to diagnose. About 50% of cats suffering from pancreatitis will suffer from weight loss and vomiting.[9]
 

Other gastro-intestinal diseases

 
Many diseases of the stomach and intestines, including parasites, viral or bacterial infections, cancer, and constipation, can cause a cat to vomit. There are too many possible gastro-intestinal diseases that cause vomiting to mention them all here.

 

If your cat vomits regularly, you need to find out why

 

woman holding a large orange and white cat

This is far from an exhaustive list. There are too many diseases that can cause a cat to vomit. But the main point is that chronic vomiting may be a sign that your cat is unwell and not a “behavior” that you should simply accept.

 

Start by keeping a log of your cat’s vomiting. After a month or two, you may be surprised to see a pattern, or to see how frequently your cat throws up. This kind of hard data will be very helpful to your vet in pinpointing the cause of your cat’s vomiting.

 

Think about how to apply the lessons of the FIC study to your cat’s life. Cat stress is real. A cat may not have a mortgage to pay, or an angry boss to deal with, but their “things” cause them as much stress as yours. Is there something you can do to make your cat’s life more predictable and also more enriching?

 

Pursue your concerns with your vet. Don’t let anyone tell you that “all cats vomit” and that you should ignore what could be a serious underlying medical problem.

 

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 why does my cat keeping throwing up? Pinterest-friendly pin

 

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FOOTNOTES

 

[1] Peters, Lucia. “Why Does My Cat Throw Up All The Time? Here's What Might Be Making Your Feline Friend Sick.” Bustle, Bustle, 8 June 2018, www.bustle.com/p/why-does-my-cat-throw-up-all-the-time-heres-what-might-be-making-your-feline-friend-sick-9258616.

 

[2] “Even Healthy Cats Act Sick When Their Routine Is Disrupted.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 4 Jan. 2011, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110103110357.htm.

 

[3] “Cat Vomiting: Types, Causes and Treatments.” Best Friends Animal Society, resources.bestfriends.org/article/cat-vomiting-types-causes-and-treatments.

 

[4] ScienceDaily

 

[5] “Why Is Your Senior Cat Throwing Up? 3 Common Causes.” BeChewy, Chewy, 3 Nov. 2020, be.chewy.com/vomiting-in-senior-cats/.

 

[6] Norsworthy, Gary D, et al. “Diagnosis of Chronic Small Bowel Disease in Cats: 100 Cases (2008-2012).” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Nov. 2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24171376/.

 

[7] Norsworthy, Gary D, et al. “Prevalence and Underlying Causes of Histologic Abnormalities in Cats Suspected to Have Chronic Small Bowel Disease: 300 Cases (2008-2013).” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Sept. 2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26331421/.

 

[8] Center, Sharon A. “Disorders of the Liver and Gallbladder in Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, Aug. 2018, www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/digestive-disorders-of-cats/disorders-of-the-liver-and-gallbladder-in-cats.

 

[9] “Feline Pancreatitis: Serious.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 19 Apr. 2021, www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-pancreatitis-serious.

 

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2 comments

  • Lynn – You raise a good point about hairballs (which is a topic for another blog post!). Regurgitating a hairball is not the same thing as vomiting, although the two are easily confused. You are right that regular grooming and hairball remedies can reduce the accumulation of fur that results in a hairball. Note that just because a puddle of vomit contains hair, doesn’t mean it’s a hairball and should be viewed as such. It’s still not “normal” for a cat to regurgitating a hairball daily or even weekly.

    Dawn LaFontaine
  • Certain Cats due to their particular type of fur are very susceptible to “Hair Bails” from self grooming. Owners may attempt daily combings, remedies to assist in the passing of the ingested hair and even the application of “Vaseline” to the Cat’s paws for them to lick and ingest to readily pass the hair in their stool. It is annoying to the owner and the pet, but just the nature of the beast.

    Lynn Bryant DeSpain

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