What is it?
Vomiting is defined as ‘the forceful evacuation of stomach contents beyond the mouth’. It can be undigested or part-digested food, or the cat can continue to vomit when the stomach is empty, producing a yellow-brown frothy bile. The cat may show signs of nausea, for example drooling, licking of the lips, swallowing and retching, and hiding away.
It is important to note the difference between vomiting and regurgitation. Vomiting requires contraction of the abdominal muscles. Regurgitation requires little or no effort and the cat may produce a tube shape of undigested food with some mucus. Regurgitation may be caused by disease of the oesophagus such as a widening (megaoesophagus) or narrowing (a stricture or tumour), difficulty breathing, coughing, or a foreign body.
Why do cats vomit?
There are a very wide range of possible causes. To help understand them, we can describe the vomiting as either primary or secondary, and as either acute or chronic.
Primary vomiting is caused by diseases affecting the stomach and gut itself, for example a foreign body, a tumour, or inflammatory bowel disease.
Secondary vomiting means that the cause is not from the stomach and gut itself, for example ingestion of a poisonous substance which stimulates the vomiting centre in the brain.
Acute vomiting develops suddenly and rapidly; and can be very intense. Some common causes include:
Chronic vomiting is vomiting that occurs for 3 weeks or longer. Some common causes include:
When is vomiting an emergency?
Your cat should be seen by a vet as soon as possible if:
Why is it important?Occasional vomiting may be nothing to worry about, however some causes of vomiting can be life threatening, and it is important that the cat receives prompt veterinary attention and treatment.
How does the vet know what is going on?Your vet will talk to you about when the vomiting started, how long it has been going on for, and whether there are any obvious causes. There are many different causes of vomiting, so diagnostics such as blood tests, radiographs (X rays), ultrasound imaging, or urine testing may be required in addition to a full physical examination.
What can be done?
Mild vomiting that lasts for less than 24 hours may not be anything to worry about; withholding food for 12 hours (allowing full access to water) and reintroducing small amounts of easily digestible food (commercially available and specially formulated for sensitive guts, or a good protein source such as white fish or chicken) will usually stop the vomiting in a mild gut upset or gastritis. Sometimes cats may eat their food too quickly resulting in occasional vomiting. Hairballs can be managed with laxatives, regular grooming and a special diet.
More serious vomiting disorders will require more complex treatment, depending on the diagnosis: