Cat Vomiting: Causes, Types, and What to Do

Updated May 6, 2024
human wiping up cat vomit next to cat while tabby watches

In cats, it can be difficult to tell the difference between retching/vomiting, regurgitation, and coughing. These are all different and come with different possible causes, so it’s important to try and differentiate between them.

Vomiting in cats can be due to many underlying health issues, so it’s important to make note of what additional symptoms your cat is showing, the cat vomit color, and when it’s time to call your veterinarian.

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Why Is My Cat Throwing Up?

Your veterinarian will ask a variety of questions to determine why your cat is vomiting. These include:

  • Have you switched your cat’s diet recently?

  • Have you started any prescribed or over-the-counter medications?

  • What diet, including all treats, is your cat on?

  • Do you have other cats in the house, and if so, are they also vomiting?

  • Is your cat indoor and/or outdoor?

  • How often is your cat vomiting, and what does the vomit look like?

  • Is your cat still eating?

  • Is your cat having other symptoms, such as diarrhea and/or weight loss?

  • How long has your cat been vomiting?

There are several possible causes of cat vomiting, and these questions will help guide your veterinarian in the right direction. Possible reasons why cats throw up can be broken into two categories—gastrointestinal causes and non-gastrointestinal causes.

Cat Regurgitation vs. Vomiting

Vomiting is the active motion of ejecting contents from a cat’s stomach and small intestines out through their mouth. This is different than regurgitation, which is a passive motion where no force is needed to eject contents through the cat’s mouth.

Regurgitation can happen if a cat eats too quickly or if they have a hairball, whereas vomiting is usually due to an underlying illness. Vomited contents will appear digested, while regurgitated material is undigested. You might also mistake these for coughing if you didn’t witness anything coming out.

If you can’t determine if your cat is coughing or if cat is regurgitating, the best thing to do is to take a video, to show your veterinarian. They can help you determine whether it really is vomiting, and if so, why your cat is throwing up.

Here’s some helpful information on cat vomiting causes and possible treatments.

Acute vs. Chronic Vomiting in Cats

Acute vomiting refers to a sudden onset of vomiting due to eating something they shouldn’t have, intestinal parasites, pancreatitis, or a bacterial or viral Infection, just to name a few possible causes.

Once the cause is treated, acute vomiting quickly resolves. Chronic vomiting generally occurs in cats with underlying diseases that must be managed over time. For example, cats with inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism may experience bouts of vomiting off and on for weeks to months simply due to their chronic illnesses.

Causes of Cat Vomiting

There are various possible causes of vomiting in cats, which may include the following

What Does Your Cat’s Vomit Look Like?

Knowing what your cat’s vomit looks like is very important, as different diseases can cause the vomit to have a more distinct appearance. Here are some examples of vomit color/consistency and possible causes for each.

  • Bile/Yellow. Cats will vomit bile when they have an empty stomach. This can happen if you are only feeding your cat in the morning and they go 24 hours without food, or it can happen when cats are anorexic.

  • Blood. Cats may vomit blood if they have ulcerations, or if your cat vomits several times in a row, this can cause an irritation of the stomach lining and esophagus because of the increased acid.

  • White Foam. White foam in cat vomit is often seen because the lining of the stomach and/or small intestines is inflamed from an underlying issue.

  • Water/Clear Liquid. If your cat is vomiting clear liquid, it can be the fluid contents of the stomach, or your cat might have drunk too much water.

  • Worms. The most common type of worm seen in cat vomit is roundworms. If your cat vomits a worm, it is important to bring this to your veterinarian so they can treat the issue appropriately.

  • Food. Cats who eat too much or too fast can vomit food, and it typically it appears in a tubular shape. 

  • Hairballs. Cats can occasionally vomit hairballs, especially cats who overgroom or cats with long hair.

  • Black Liquid. Black vomit in cats is usually indicative of digested blood further down the intestinal tract and can be seen with ulcerations, foreign bodies, or even inflammation in the intestines.

  • Green Vomit. If your cat is throwing up green vomit, this usually indicates that the food or substance was brought up from the small intestines. The mixture of the vomitus with bile can turn it green.

  • Mucus. Mucus is typically seen if your cat is regurgitating and not vomiting. If you see mucus, it is very important to determine if your cat is actually vomiting or if they are regurgitating.

Cat Vomiting Symptoms to Look Out For

When cats vomit, they have other symptoms. Describing all your cat’s symptoms to your veterinarian will be important in determining the right diagnostics or treatments. Additional cat vomiting symptoms may include:

  • Your cat is vomiting and not eating

  • Your cat is vomiting and constipated

  • Your cat is vomiting and having diarrhea

  • Your cat is vomiting and sneezing

  • Your cat is vomiting and drinking a lot

  • Your cat is vomiting and pooping on the floor

When To Worry About Vomiting in Cats

Call your veterinarian right away if:

  • Your cat vomits more than two to three times in a row.

  • Your cat has other symptoms, such as not eating and diarrhea. If your cat is also having diarrhea, it will be difficult to keep them hydrated without seeing your veterinarian.

  • Your cat does not eat or drink for 12 hours and has vomited several times in a row.

  • Your cat has already been diagnosed with an illnesses (such as diabetes, kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism). This is an emergency, and your cat should be seen immediately, as this could mean that their disease is progressing. Early medical intervention is necessary in these patients, as they can become dehydrated very quickly.

  • Your cat has vomited a worm. You need to deworm your cat and any other animals in the household as soon as possible. It is also important to keep the environment clean and scoop the litter boxes several times a day to ensure that your pets do not get reinfected.

Home Remedies for Cat Vomiting

Unfortunately, there are not many over-the-counter medications that will help cats not vomit. If your cat does start to vomit, do not give them anything by mouth (including water or food) until you speak with a veterinarian for guidance.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Vomiting in Cats

A veterinarian will want to determine what is causing the cat to vomit by performing a few tests. Starting with a physical exam, the veterinarian will identify obvious abnormalities, such as a tender belly or dry gums.

The veterinarian will ask the pet parent when symptoms started and if the cat ate anything unusual. Testing may include blood work, urinalysis, fecal exam, and imaging, such as X-rays or ultrasound.

Additional testing will vary case by case depending on the suspected underlying cause. 

Cat Vomiting Treatment

Treatment for vomiting in cats varies depending on the underlying cause. In some cases, a dietary change may be all that is necessary. Cats who have sensitive stomachs may benefit from a specially formulated diet, such as Royal Canin® Gastrointestinal Diet.

Cats who are diagnosed with underlying health issues, such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism, can be started on appropriate medications to resolve the vomiting.

Cats with mild cases of vomiting can be treated on an outpatient basis with fluids, a bland diet and supportive care, while cats experiencing dehydration or severe illness generally need to be hospitalized and given intravenous fluids.

Some medications and supplements given to cats who are vomiting include the following:


Cathy Meeks, MS, DVM, DACVIM

WRITTEN BY

Cathy Meeks, MS, DVM, DACVIM

Veterinarian

Dr. Cathy Meeks started her veterinary career as a veterinary technician while getting her Master's degree in Veterinary Medicine, Forensic...


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