Yes, there are many causes of cat vomiting. And yet, everybody out there (you know who you are) wants to make it all about hairballs.
Yes, hairballs can absolutely cause vomiting in cats. But, so can a myriad of other issues. Some causes will give you plenty of time to figure it out and deal with it. Other causes must be addressed quickly, and are life-threatening if left untreated, within just a few days time. Sometimes even less.
So, what is THE WORST CASE Cat Vomiting Scenarios?
Some of the life threatening causes of vomiting in cats is GI foreign bodies, diabetes which has progressed or gone undiagnosed until the cat is now ketotic, urinary obstruction, and toxin (poison) ingestion.
You may have 24 hours or less to help these vomiting cats.
Most commonly, kitties with these problems are vomiting frequently, and for protracted periods of time (greater than 4-6 hours or so). Sometimes the vomiting will be “sudden onset”, like with a gastrointestinal obstruction or a toxin, but sometimes it is a slowly growing problem.
Just because it’s been a slowly building problem, doesn’t mean that it can’t be fatal soon! This would be the case, for example, with an undiagnosed or untreated diabetic cat, who has progressed into keto-acidosis, or a cat that is experiencing “fatty liver disease” (a reversible form of liver failure, caused by a sudden decrease in food intake).
What About Less Scary Causes of Cat Vomiting?
There are so many things that can cause vomiting in cats.
* grass stuck in the back of the throat
* inflammatory bowel disease (inflammation of the intestines)
* hepatitis/cholangitis (inflammation of the liver and gall bladder)
* pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
* cancer, in almost any abdominal organ
* feline hyperthyroidism
* feline gastrointestinal viruses
* food intolerance
* food allergies
* and yes, even hairballs!
How Do I Know if My Cat Needs to Go to the Vet?
Well, I would say if you are worried enough to be here reading this, then it may be worth your while to get a medical opinion on the problem.
The odds are very, very good that your vet will want to do diagnostics of some type on your vomiting cat. Blood work is very helpful in diagnosing those cat vomiting problems with medical (ie those not requiring surgery) causes – diabetes, hepatitis/cholangitis, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and pancreatitis would be good examples.
X-rays would be recommended if a structural problem is suspected – GI foreign bodies and some cancers could be in this group.
Some causes of cat vomiting don’t have an easy test to diagnose them – food issues, viral infections, and inflammatory bowel disease would be good examples of these.
If you are concerned, or your cat has been vomiting repeatedly for more than 4-6 hours, you should visit your vet!
What Can be Done to Help?
Treatment would be directed at the cause of the vomiting. Hence, the need for an accurate and timely diagnosis.
Depending on how sick the cat was, treatment could also include supportive care (rehydration of dehydrated individuals, stabilizing electrolyte levels), and symptomatic care (give them something to help them to stop vomiting).
Some of these conditions would require surgery to “fix”, some would require a hospitalized stay for initial stabilizing treatment, some would be medications that you could start at home, some would be diet changes only, some could likely be resolved with only over-the-counter hairball remedies or diets.
If the vomiting problem is infrequent, low grade, and chronic, then sometimes a hairball remedy or a probiotic can help.
Another way to sort of organizing information about cat vomiting would be to separate the causes into groups that would cause different amounts or types of vomiting. We’ll do this, and list them from the most concerning to the least concerning.
Can’t Stop Vomiting
If your cat is experiencing unrelenting vomiting, where they can’t stop vomiting and can’t keep either food and/or water down, then you need to visit your vet, and soon.
Conditions that can cause this type of vomiting include (but are likely not limited to): intestinal obstruction, toxin exposure, pharyngeal foreign body (like grass stuck in the back of the nose or throat), diabetic ketoacidosis, hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease), and severe drug or vaccine reactions.
All of these conditions will likely require hospitalization, diagnostics, and some kind of medical therapy (from surgery to aggressive medical care).
Cat Vomiting After Eating or Drinking, Multiple Times a Day
Well, the good news is that your cat still has an appetite. The bad news is that there may well be an obstruction, full or partial, somewhere in your cat’s digestive system. Surgery is required if an obstruction is found.
A pharyngeal foreign body is still a possibility. Severe food intolerance or allergy is possible, as is inflammatory bowel disease or a milder case of drug reaction.
Cat Vomiting Multiple Times a Day and Not Eating or Not Wanting to Eat
I think of these as signs of a more chronic disease process, meaning it is not a new situation, although it can appear as if it is to an owner.
Conditions like chronic renal failure, hepatic lipidosis, cancer, acute renal failure, urinary obstruction (which is actually an acute problem, not a chronic one), and diabetic ketoacidosis again are all high on the list of possibilities for these kitties.
Again, you need veterinary care to help these cats.
Urinary obstruction is actually a life-threatening emergency – 99% of the time this will be in male cats.
Please take your cat to see your vet if you are seeing any of the above types of feline vomiting!
Cat vomiting Once Daily to Every Few Days
Sometimes these cats will vomit food, sometimes it is liquid or bile, sometimes hairballs. This “class” of vomiting can mean that a bigger problem is brewing (see all of the above discussions) or could mean that a lesser problem is present.
Conditions like a less severe inflammatory bowel disease, or milder food intolerance, or bilious vomiting syndrome are all both possible and common.
Sometimes a cat will gobble food down very quickly – this causes rapid distension of the stomach and often leads to vomiting. Preventing the cat from eating this quickly will help in these cases. Techniques for slowing down a very fast eater include:
* scattering the food over the floor, so that one kibble must be found and eaten at a time.
* placing a single large rock in the center of the bowl, to keep large mouthfuls of food from being picked up all at once.
* purchasing a bowl designed for these types of cats. These bowls typically have plastic pillars sticking up from the bottom of the bowl, again to prevent the cat from picking up mouth fulls of food at a time.
Cat Vomiting Occasionally, Unrelated to Eating or Drinking
These can be the toughest to figure out, but these are also the cases that will give you the most time to figure it out.
This “class” of vomiting in cats can also mean that larger problems are coming, or it may be as simple as needing a new food (they are intolerant to the one they are on) or needing a hairball remedy. Some cats will vomit if they are stressed (by their definition, not yours!).