Vomiting in Cats: Prevention and Treatment

By Dr Sarah-Jane Molier MRCVS of We’re All About Pets

It is not unusual for cats to vomit (throw up) every now and then. Vomiting itself is not a disease, but rather a symptom. This means that there is always an underlying cause for a cat vomiting. There are many potential reasons why your cat might be throwing up. Many of them are harmless, while some are more serious. So, how can I stop my cat from vomiting?

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

What can cause vomiting in cats?

Cats have fairly sensitive stomachs and it doesn’t take much for a cat to be sick; meaning there are many causes of vomiting in cats. Here are some of the most common reasons for cats to throw up:

Hairballs: are one of the most common causes of vomiting in cats, especially in long haired breeds.

Eating too fast: bringing the food back up soon after. Many of our feline friends are guilty of this!

Poisoning: from eating spoiled food, or eating something poisonous to cats.

Food allergies or intolerances: which often go hand-in-hand with skin problems.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): chronic inflammation (irritation) of the stomach and intestines, with many possible causes.

Parasites: such as roundworms are a fairly common cause of vomiting in kittens.

Infection: such as a stomach bug or a urinary tract (water) infection.

Foreign body: where something becomes lodged in the stomach or intestines, causing a blockage.

Endocrine (hormonal) disorders: such as an over-active thyroid (hyperthyroidism) and diabetes.

Organ disease: including liver, pancreas, heart or kidney disease.

Cancer: of the food pipe, stomach or intestines commonly cause vomiting; but any cancer has the potential to cause sickness.

How to Treat Vomiting in Cats

Occasional vomiting in an otherwise healthy cat is not usually cause for concern. However, it is always best to err on the side of caution and seek advice from your veterinarian.

‘Acute’ vomiting, which comes on suddenly and only lasts a couple of days, can often resolve without medical treatment. If your cat throws up once or twice, but appears well otherwise, you could try withholding food for two hours and then offering a small amount of wet food. You should NEVER withhold water. It is wrong to starve a vomiting cat — this can quickly lead to dehydration and the stomach needs food to be able to heal. You can buy prescription diets specially designed for cats with digestive upsets. Feed little and often for 24 hours (a tablespoon at a time).

If your cat continues to be sick, is sick with blood, or seems unwell then you should see your veterinarian. Cats can become dehydrated very quickly and their electrolytes will become imbalanced.

Also, if a cat doesn’t eat for more than 24-48 hours, this can cause serious problems for their liver.

Your veterinarian will examine your cat for evidence of more serious causes of vomiting. If the exam is normal, they will likely give ‘symptomatic’ treatment. This could include an injection to prevent vomiting, antacids, and bland food. Antibiotics are rarely indicated, since these can upset the guts further.

For more serious cases, your cat may need to be hospitalized for a fluid drip and investigations. Further treatment would then depend on the underlying cause.

How can I prevent my cat from vomiting?

While many of the causes of vomiting in cats cannot be prevented, there are some things you can do to reduce the chances of your cat throwing up.

  • If your kitty is long-haired, or is prone to hairballs, then regular brushing can decrease the amount of hair they swallow while grooming themselves. There are also special hairball diets available to aid digestion, as well as pastes to help your cat to pass the hairball. Your veterinarian will be able to advise on the best hairball preventative for your cat.
  • If your cat throws up from eating too fast you could try feeding smaller meals more frequently. You can also buy special food bowls, such as puzzle feeders, which are designed to help your cat eat more slowly.
  • While it’s hard to fully control what outdoor cats are eating; you can minimize the risks indoors. Keep all chemicals, plants, and foodstuffs (including the food bin!) out of reach of your feline friend.
  • If your cat has a food allergy or intolerance, your veterinarian may advise a diet trial to find out which foods your cat can’t tolerate. A prescription, or tailor-made, diet excluding these foods can help to reduce vomiting.
  • Keeping your cat or kitten up to date with their worming medicine can reduce their chances of vomiting due to worms.

Final thoughts

So, how can I stop my cat vomiting? The simple answer is that often you can’t. However, there are a few things you can do to try to reduce the amount your cat throws up. You should always seek veterinary advice before trying preventatives at home, to be sure there isn’t an underlying cause that needs treatment.

Dr Sarah Jane Molier BVM&S MRCVS BSc

Sarah-Jane Molier wanted to be a veterinarian from around the age of ten. After much hard work she realised this dream and graduated in 2009. She has been working in small animal clinics ever since. She’s been involved in a mixture of charity, private and clinic managerial work. Sarah lives in the countryside with her husband, two children, cat and two dogs. She loves gardening with the kids, especially growing her own vegetables.

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