Cat Vomiting: Don’t Let Your Vet Tell You This is Normal Behavior

One of the most common feline health issues is a tendency to vomit. Many kitties throw up on a more-or-less routine basis. It happens so frequently that their humans and even sometimes veterinarians assume chronic vomiting is completely normal for cats.

Typical excuses vets and cat parents offer for regular vomiting include: “He eats too fast,” “She has a sensitive stomach,” or “Maybe it’s just hairballs.”

Unless you’re a vulture, vomiting a lot is not normal. It’s important to remember that big cats in the wild don’t routinely vomit, and neither should your cat. Common causes of vomiting in cats include a poor diet, food intolerances, eating too fast and too much time in between meals.

Other causes include enzyme deficiencies, gastrointestinal (GI) problems that manifest hairballs, toxin ingestion, and underlying medical conditions like kidney disease and GI cancer.

Reason No. 1: Poor Diet

If your kitty is eating a processed cat food that contains rendered ingredients, it could be contributing to vomiting. Rendered ingredients are leftovers from the human food industry, and can included animal pieces and parts like bird feathers, snouts, beaks, eyes, hooves, and nails.

These poor-quality ingredients with low-to-no bioavailability are difficult for cats to ingest and can cause GI upset, which causes vomiting. Dogs typically have lower GI issues, and more likely to develop diarrhea instead.

If your kitty has a healthy weight and normal energy level, but throws up occasionally, food sensitivity could be the culprit. Sensitivities develop when the same foods are fed over and over, which is a common occurrence for cats.

The quality of the protein you’re feeding your cat is important, but it is also important to switch proteins frequently to prevent GI inflammation and food sensitivities.

Reason No. 2: Eating Too Fast

Another common reason cats throw up is because they eat too fast. Your cat’s esophagus is horizontal and flat. Everything he eats has to travel horizontally before it moves into the stomach.

In cats with a tendency to eat quickly, the food backs up in the esophagus and pushes against the lower esophageal sphincter. This can result in regurgitation of all or part of the meal, undigested, within moments of swallowing.

This happens more commonly in multi-cat households, when all cats are fed in the same area at the same time, it can spark competition. If this is happening at your house, try feeding your kitties in separate areas so they can’t see or hear others eat. Try splitting meals into smaller portions and feed more often if you must.

Reason No. 3: Too Much Time Between Meals

Cats fed on a regular schedule, say, at 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM each day, tend to start looking for their meal an hour or so early. Around that time, your cat’s stomach will start releasing digestive substances like hydrochloric acid, gastric juices and bile, in anticipation of the upcoming meal. If you’re late with her breakfast or dinner, there’s a good chance your cat will throw up a white foamy liquid mixed with some yellow bile.

This occurs because the digestive substances irritate the lining of the stomach when there’s nothing in there for them to work on, so your cat’s body gets rid of some of the acid to prevent further irritation. If this is happening with your kitty, it’s best to give her a little something to snack on before you feed her, like a treat or small bite of a meal. This will give her stomach something to digest and should alleviate vomiting.

Reason No. 4: Enzyme Deficiencies

In some cats, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough digestive enzymes, which can result in acute or chronic pancreatitis. Pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas, is very common in cats, and even if there are no other observable symptoms, can be an underlying cause of intermittent vomiting.

Cats evolved to eat an entirely fresh food diet, primarily mice, which is a very rich source of digestive enzymes that is missing entirely from processed cat food. Dr. Becker recommends adding a digestive enzyme to your cat’s diet to prevent this issue. It can help reduce vomiting and the potential for pancreatitis.

Reason No. 5: Hairballs

If your kitty is vomiting hairballs, you’ll see cylindrical wads of hair and debris, some undigested bits of food, and a little phlegm to bind the mess together. Sometimes hairballs can look like feces. Long-haired cats who are regularly grooming themselves typically have more hairball issues than normal. Brushing your cat regularly can prevent this problem.

If your cat is eating dry food, this could mean she is not getting enough moisture in her diet. Since cats don’t make up the deficiency by drinking lots of water, they often end up chronically mildly dehydrated. Dr. Becker recommends adding bone broth to her dry food and a bit of fiber to each meal. Kibble fed cats need additional GI lubrication to help ingested hair pass through the digestive tract.

Reason No. 6: Toxin Ingestion

Sadly, poisoning is also a cuse of acute vomiting in cats. It’s rare, but it can happen. If you have a cat that is otherwise healthy, especially an indoor-outdoor cat, and he suddenly starts vomiting, you should be concerned that he’s ingested something toxic.

Even for indoor only cats, there are many toxic products that may be in your house that you haven’t considered. Switch to non-toxic organic household cleaners and beware of pesticides, herbicides, and poisonous houseplants.

Reason No. 7: Underlying Medical Conditions

Many cats today have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which causes intermittent vomiting. IBD can progress to GI lymphoma in cats, which is another reason chronic vomiting should be investigated medically.

In addition to lymphoma, other types of GI cancers can also cause vomiting, as can metabolic disorders like hyperthyroidism, organ disease, or malfunction of the liver or kidney can also cause vomiting.

Where to seek Help for a Vomiting Cat

To summarize, it’s important to know that chronic vomiting is not normal for cats. It’s a sign of a problem that needs to be diagnosed and treated. Your veterinarian should first rule out all the scariest reasons for vomiting, including kidney failure, liver failure, hyperthyroidism, or GI cancer.

If you believe your cat may have a food hypersensitivity or allergy, we recommend Glacier Peak’s Wellness Assessment Kit, which can provide help in choosing a diet that’s less reactive for your kitty based on her sensitivities.

For more on cats & vomiting, please visit Dr. Becker’s blog.