When does a cat vomiting need veterinary attention?

Most cat owners have experienced the unpleasant sensation of cat sick between the toes on a nightime bathroom trip, or as a nice addition to your favourite rug. Vomiting is the active expulsion of stomach contents, which in cats can be violent, and may have many causes. It needs to be differentiated from regurgitation: where food is brought up with minimal effort from the oesophagus before ever reaching the stomach.

You may see warnings signs such as drooling, swallowing, licking their lips more, or hiding away. Short-term vomiting consisting of one or two episodes, or lasting less than 24 hours, in an otherwise healthy cat is usually nothing to worry about.

What do I do if my cat is sick?

If your cat is sick once or twice but appears otherwise well, remove their food for a few hours, then feed small amounts of a highly digestible food such as chicken, or a prescription diet from your vet. Allow them constant access to a small amount of water. After 24 hours go back to your usual routine.

When should I be worried?

It is best to contact your vet if your cat:

  • continues to repeatedly vomit.
  • cannot keep water down.
  • is lethargic or listless.
  • has pale, dry, cold or yellow gums.
  • has diarrhoea alongside the the vomiting.
  • could have eaten something unusual.
  • has a known underlying condition such as diabetes or renal disease.
  • has blood in the vomit.

 What could be the reason for the vomiting?

 Occasional vomiting may be caused by:

 furballs. Cats often ingest hair while grooming. If it forms into clumps it may irritate the stomach, eventually being vomited up. If your cat vomits hairballs frequently your vet may suggest treatments or diets to reduce hair build up and grooming your cat regularly to reduce the volume of hair ingested.

  • eating too rapidly. Cats that gobble food too quickly may regurgitate. If you’ve got multiple cats make sure you have separate feeding bowls in seperate locations to reduce competition. Try serving dry food in a used egg carton, or putting kibble in plastic bottles with holes that dispense the food as it rolls. These puzzle feeders slow eating, create mental challenge, combat boredom and increase exercise which combats weight gain.
  • eating too much at once. Cats naturally eat small amounts and often. While not always practical, specialists suggest 5 small meals a day. Dry kibble absorbs fluid in the stomach and swells which may cause vomiting, especially in older cats.
  • eating spoilt food or huntingmay result in irritation of the stomach.

Then there are more serious causes for vomiting.

 Ingestion of foreign bodies. Cats are more particular about what they eat than dogs but we do occasionally see cats with blockages. Cotton or string can cause a blockage or trauma to the gut.

 Ingestion of certain toxins. We see fewer toxicities in cats because of their fussy nature, with a few exceptions.

Some cats like to nibble on grass. If unavailable, or out of boredom, they may eat house plants such as Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane) and lilies which are toxic. Ask your vet before bringing new plants into your house or garden.

Cats like the taste of antifreeze but it’s especially toxic to them. Never use it in ornamental water features, keep bottles secure and labelled, and wipe up spills immediately. Vomiting, increased thirst, lethargy and lack of appetite may be signs of ingestion. Ingestion is usually not witnessed, partly why it’s often fatal. Call your vet immediately if you suspect ingestion.

Food allergies or new foods. Not all foods suit all cats and any diet change should be slow, taking at least a week. It’s also thought some cats may actually be allergic to certain proteins in foods. If your vet suspects this, they may recommend a hypoallergenic diet using hydrolysed proteins. These are proteins which are broken down into very small pieces so are highly unlikely to cause an allergic reaction.

Parasites. Roundworms are the most common intestinal parasite, affecting cats of all ages. Large burdens can be found in kittens resulting in vomiting, diarrhoea and a failure to thrive. Tapeworms are transmitted via hunting or by fleas, so older cats are more prone. There are many ineffective medications for sale so it’s best to speak to your vet before administering a product. Adult cats should be wormed every 1-3 months, and kittens more frequently.

Cats with kidney diseaseor liver diseasemay vomit. Other signs include lethargy, lack of appetite, weight loss and increased thirst. Cats with liver disease may have a yellow discolouration to the skin/gums. Liver disease can occur alongside pancreatic and intestinal disease in a complex known as ‘triaditis’. If your vet suspects underlying medical reasons for vomiting, blood tests and other investigations may be advised. Treatments options will depend on the organs involved and severity of disease.

Gastrointestinal diseases. Infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses or small parasites known as protozoa can cause gastrointestinal signs. Inflammatory bowel diseases are a complex group of disorders caused by an immune reaction and result in persistent or intermittent diarrhoea, and/or vomiting. It may be part of the above mentioned ‘triaditis’ syndrome.

Cancers. The two most common tumours affecting the stomach and intestines are lymphoma and adenocarcinoma. They may cause a partial blockage resulting in vomiting, weight loss, diarrhoea and appetite loss. The cat’s age, condition, the tumour location, the severity of disease and your wishes will affect treatment options. Surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be options once diagnosed. Sadly, sometimes euthanasia may have to be considered.

What will my vet do?

After taking a history and examining your cat your vet may advise dietary adjustments and medical treatments alone if the symptoms are mild. With more severe symptoms, investigations such as blood tests, x-rays, urine samples or ultrasound may be discussed. Treatment may include intravenous fluids, antiemetics (anti-vomiting drugs) and stomach protectants. If a blockage is suspected then surgery may be discussed. The most appropriate treatment is the one that will address the underlying cause, whatever that may be, and your vet is perfectly placed to determine that and then to get your cat on the mend.


51 thoughts on “When does a cat vomiting need veterinary attention?

    1. There are several possible causes of the symptoms you’ve described, but the most common are probably Cat Flu and a foreign body stuck up the nose. It would be best to get him checked out by your vet, as these conditions can sometimes be quite serious if not treated appropriately.

  1. My cat Wimperlie had kittens about two months ago. I kept two of the kittens but today she was acting funny. She’s thrown up twice with dark brown throw up and has had diarrhea. But there was blood in her diarrhea. She doesn’t act lethargic but she acts like her stomach might hurt I don’t know what to do

    1. I would strongly advise you get her seen by your veterinarian as soon as possible. These signs are suggestive of a serious intestinal bleed – e.g. a ruptured stomach ulcer, or poisoning with blood-thinners. While it might be something relatively innocuous, it might also be life threatening without treatment.

  2. My cat, who is notorious for eating too fast, has thrown up every time he has eaten today. He isn’t acting different other than he wants to be fed again. I’m concerned because even when he has just a few kibbles of dry food, he has vomited that too. The vomit is just mucus and kibble, with no smell, foam, or color. At what point do I make the trip to the emergency vet?

    1. As a general rule, if they’ve been being sick for 24 hours, if they can’t keep water down, of if they’ve vomited more than 3 times in quick succession.
      Just so you know, if you’re worried in the evenings or weekends when your normal vet is shut, or when we’re all offline (we’re based on UK time!), you can always use our online Symptom Checker to see whether something’s an emergency – go to https://vethelpdirect.com/interactive-pet-symptom-checker/

  3. Hi, I think my cat has a hair all problem. He was constipated for 4 day so I gave him some lactulose twice on Monday (2ml), on Tuesday only once 5ml of paraffin oil and again lactulose on Wednesday and Thursday 2x2ml. He also was getting half of spoon of salmon oil with his wet food in the morning and some probiotics at the evening. Wednesday and Thursday he got portion of anti hairball paste. After paraffin oil he passed a huge poop on Wednesday morning and today (Friday morning). There was a lot of hair in his poo. Also, today in the morning he vomited a huge hairball 10cm long and 2 cm wide. After an hour he vomited two more times but this time only water. For few hours now he is sleeping and seems to be tired. Should I take him to the vat or is he clearing himself from hair in digestive system?

    1. While he was passing hairballs, I wouldn’t have been so worried, but if he seems unusually tired or sleepy, a vet check is probably a good idea, in case there’s something more serious going on.

  4. Hi, I have a question regarding my two month old kitten. I noticed some spats of dry heaving last night, but she quickly recovered and meowed until I picked her up and played. Today, not too long ago, she threw up some white foamy substance. I carried her over to the water bowl and she sat there for a while, drinking little sips of water. She is now sleeping. She was recently spayed at an animal shelter two days before I adopted her (I adopted her on June 22nd) and I am concerned that the violent heaving could affect her incision. Is this something I should be worried about, or am I just being overly paranoid?

    1. It is unlikely to be a problem; cats are usually spayed using a very small incision (quite like keyhole surgery in humans), and these heal up very fast. I’d check the wounds and make sure they aren’t reddened, painful, swollen, or bulging, and if not, just keep an eye on things. Of course, if the retching continues, contact your veterinarian for advice.

  5. My cat was spayed on Monday and was doing okay but now is vomiting. Is this normal? Its been almost a week and she is not back to her normal self. Should I be worried?

    1. Not necessarily worried, but I would strongly advise you to get her checked out by your vet. She might have had a bad reaction to the painkillers after surgery, or a minor surgical complication, for example.

  6. I have 2 cats they are brother (Snickers) and sister (Shadow), they are about 7 years old. They often throw up their food and clear liquid, at least 2-3 times per week sometimes more often. Neither of them act different before or after but I’m concerned that it might be a bigger problem. The vets by me are very expensive so I can’t just take them in because I’m overthinking the problem. It would be minimally $400 and that’s before they do any testing. Snickers and Shadow both sneeze with projectile boogers as well as this vomiting problem. I’m wondering if you have any advice that could help me before taking them to the vet.

    1. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to diagnose the causes of vomiting in a cat over the internet! If they’re long-haired, then it might perhaps be furballs, but usually you’ll see those in the vomit. Sadly, I think veterinary examination of at least one of them is probably the best way forward.

  7. My older cat has been throwing up all morning. She’ll normally throw up from eating too fast or not drinking water after eating dry food but she hasn’t eaten all day. She has most likely taken a few bits of our ZZ plant (toxic.) Her gums are dark purple and no apparent blood in the vomit. Is this an emergency?

    1. Any animal with purple gums is likely to need emergency veterinary attention – it’s usually a sign of shock or cardiorespiratory failure.

  8. My kitten has suddenly gotten very lethargic and wont eat or drink. She has been throwing up and I’m not sure what is happening. She was fine a couple of days ago.

  9. My cat has been excessively vomiting all day. He usually vomits 2-3 times one day out of the month and today it’s been quite a lot more than that. He seems to be normal after. There are some pieces of food in it and sometimes it’s clear with a white “foam” he doesn’t seem to be eating too fast or too much? So I’m not sure what’s causing it and idk if I should be alarmed or not.

    1. I think if it’s that regular, it’s probably something he’s eating, but without seeing him it’s impossible to be certain. If the pattern hadn’t changed, I would be inclined to make an appointment to get him checked out by your vet, just to be sure there isn’t anything sinister going on.
      However, continual vomiting all day is potentially dangerous as they can easily become dehydrated; it may also represent a more serious health issue, so a phonecall to the vet would be recommended if it hasn’t settled down.

  10. So he has slowed with the vomiting so far it’s been 1-2 times a day but we took him over to my friends house and I’m convinced it’s the food because he doesn’t throw up after eating any other food. But we have sensitive stomach food for him that he was fine on for a couple of months now. But now it’s been making him vomit

    1. It may be that that particular food doesn’t agree with him any more – the intestine’s tolerance can change. However, there might be something else going on – for example, something he isn’t exposed to at your friend’s house. It can be difficult to determine exactly what’s going on! However, trying him on a different (but still nutritionally complete) diet may help.

  11. Hi my 7year old cat has thrown up grass and some pink looking liquid. She seems completely normal, and is eating and drinking normally, she’s quite a Greedy little thing so I was wondering if she’s just eaten too much? She does have problems with certain cat foods, they can make her stomach funny and I have changed her food recently , I can’t check her stools as she poops outside so not sure what it could be? Tia

    1. Unless her food is pink – some cat foods contain food dyes – pink vomit is quite worrying, as it may suggest bleeding in the gullet or stomach. I think a call to your vets for advice is indicated here!

  12. I didn’t realize that your cat might be throwing up if they have ingested a certain toxin. My cat has been throwing up all week, and I am worried that there is something wrong with him. I’ll speak to a vet that can help me take care of the problem.

  13. My cat Joey passed away suddenly after saddle thrombosis. He started throwing up dinner & he’s a puker so I thought it was the food. Next morning it was bile & hos back legs have put. Rushed him to emergency vet it was Sunday morning & had to put him down. I’m questioning if I took him to vet that night could he have been saved. Could the vet have stopped the clot & I could have saved him. I’m beating myself up wondering. I feel like a terrible cat Mom.

    1. Don’t beat yourself up Heather, there’s no way you could have known with the initial vomiting and you took him for treatment as soon as you realised there was a problem and that it wasn’t just a digestive upset. It can be very difficult to pick up on certain conditions. Please just remember all the happy times with Joey, I know it will be difficult for a while and we never quite get over losing our much=loved pets, but it sounds as though you did everything you could for him.

  14. I know it is a silly question, but do cats ever throw up for attention? I have a female cat that is 2 years and healthy as a horse. She never threw up her whole first year and now throws up maybe once a week ALWAYS at the same time – 10 or 20 minutes before I wake up and feed her breakfast. The throw up is really just water or bile it looks like. No other symptoms as mentioned in the article.

    1. It’s not something I’ve come across before, but I suppose in theory it might happen! Some cats are very social animals, and very good at manipulating people; however, I’d suggest you mention it to your vet and get her checked out if it keeps on happening, just to make sure there’s nothing else going on.

  15. I have a 14 year old cat who I have owned since I adopted him as a baby. the last few weeks I’ve found throw up here and there with days in between but nothing major figured hes an old cat and with age comes problems. Yesterday i noticed his stomach was tight when i felt it although he didnt show signs of pain by biting at my hand or anything but he never bites even if hes in pain so I’m not sure if hes in pain or not. Then today just about 20 minutes ago he projectile vomited across my living room and I’m extremely worried. I did some research and most sites says it’s fine or normal I worry because he is so old. Should I be worried and take him to the vet or should I just keep an eye on him? Hes 14 so I’m always so worried.

    1. From what you’ve said, I think that needs seeing by your vet sooner rather than later – a tight stomach and projectile vomiting may suggest a foreign body or a blockage in the intestine, which would be an emergency. It might of course be nothing serious (a bad mouse perhaps?!), but if it is, the sooner its seen the better.

  16. I woke up this morning at 5am and noticed about 7 little piles of foamy throw up. My cat is one and pretty energetic. She has been pretty sleepy all day since I got home at 5pm. She ate a little food and drank a little water ( also ate a couple treats ). I have not.noticed any throw up since this morning. What should I do if she does not start acting normal soon?

    1. If she’s thrown up 7 times, and is definitely off colour, sleepy or lethargic, then I would suggest getting her checked by your veterinarian. It’s probably “just” a stomach upset, but this can lead to serious and even life-threatening dehydration if it carries on, especially if she can’t get much water down.

  17. Hi! My cat Tiger just recently passed away. He cannot walk anymore after what we thought was an unfortunate accident/injury or fall. Since he usually stayed with other cats outside (still inside our house and no strays can enter), he developed bedsores then the wound got infected. To cut it short, we recently got the vet to flush out maggots that infected his wounds. As he was recuperating inside our home, 8 days ago, he accidentally bit my hand. It was shallow but I got myself some booster. I already got at ID and ERIG shots 2 years prior. Then on the 8th day (this morning) he was feeling a little lethargic. He was still eating and drinking. I was monitoring him for changes but he seemed fine. Hours later, he started panting and then vomiting. I did not think it was an emergency since, he had panted like that before during summer. Also, we had a fan directed at him. We also changed his food temporarily (last night and a small portion today) after my father bought the wrong brand, which I assumed before that he may have a tiny allergy. I say this because last summer, he also vomited this same feeds. After that (panting) he did vomit some of the feeds and was pooping. I thought he was doing good since he is flushing it out. Then all of a sudden, he is hypersalivating then it seemed that he was having a hard time breathing or was choking from his saliva. He was also violently jerking his body. The last that I saw was he was uncontrollably moving his head as if wanting to vomit more and then he died.
    Could the situation be because of food allergy/poison? Or could it be rabies? He never had a anti rabies shot before. Also in the 8 days since he bit me, there was absolutely no change is behavior. He wasn’t aggressive or suddenly hiding. He was also OK with petting. It was only this morning. Just this morning when he looked lethargic then things went downhill. I must also note that after eating his last small portion of the new feeds, I noticed slight bloating on his stomach and thought that he must have been constipated since he hasn’t pooped since last night. It was precisely the reason why when he vomit and pooped, that I was glad since it seems he was expelling the food if he was allergic to it.
    I don’t know what happened? Is it food allergy or rabies? Should I be concerned, if it is rabies, even if I had my shot already?
    I just really want to know what are the possible reasons for his death. He was so healthy just last night.

    1. I’m really sorry to hear that, it’s really shocking when they go downhill so suddenly. Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to tell what the cause of death is from a list of symptoms like this – to be certain, an autopsy would be needed. I would say that rabies is a distinct possibility, and even though you are vaccinated I would advise you to seek (human!) medical advice – I am not permitted to advise you on human health issues. The other likely issue would be tetanus or some other infection from the open wound. Other possibilities would include poisoning, a blood clot (e.g. a stroke), or some sort of abdominal catastrophe (e.g. a foreign body blocking the bowel); I would think a food allergy is pretty unlikely as they are very rarely fatal like this.
      I hope that helps; again, though, if you want a definitive answer, contact your vet for an autopsy or a check of any other in-contact cats; and seek medical advice regarding the bite wound.

  18. I have a 15 year old cat. He has gone very skinny over the past year and thinner that ever now. He was bring up loads of fur balls so I gave him a huge grooming and seemed to improve this. However he is being sick and is food now – was sick a couple of times yesterday. I have no idea if he has been sick between times outside. He started making this yowowowow sound when eating. He wants to stay outside and sometimes wants fuss and other times will walk away. He hates being put into his box and distresses him but I’m wondering if he is in pain and whether it’s time to take him in. His sister was put to sleep last year and I’m fully expecting this to happen but have a five year old girl who I will need to prepare should we be starting to take this route it he is going in and unlikely to make it. Really after some expert advice.

    1. Yes, I think a checkup is a really good idea. From what you’ve said, the most likely explanation is that there’s another hairball in there somewhere that’s got stuck in the bowel; if so, that might respond to medical treatment. However, given his age, there are more unpleasant possibilities, so I think getting him checked out by your vet is really important.

  19. My 4 year old Yui has always been particularly healthy but now, a good 3 weeks after moving into a new place she started throwing up multiple times a day. Has been doing that for 3 days, now suddenly stopped again (I think so at least – no occurance in the past 24h). Only notable symptoms have been vomiting and diarrhea but other than that she’s been doing completely fine. Neither vomit nor stool have had any visible anomalies to them. After each meal ever since she stopped I spent at least 15-30 minutes with her in my lap, hoping that I could potentially calm down her stomach. No clue if it worked but yea, might have. For complicated reasons I wanted to avoid visiting our local vet, but obviously the health of my cat has a high priority. If my cat continues to show no further signs of sickness, vomiting or diarrhea, is it safe for me to assume that she’s fine and a vet visit isn’t needed? Do cats recover as quickly?

    1. Some cats do seem to respond to stressful situations by throwing up, so it’s possible that was what was going on. Another option is that she found something unusual to eat in the local area, and it upset her stomach. However, if it seems to have resolved itself, and if she shows no further symptoms, I’d be inclined to keep a close eye on her but not to book in a vet visit unless they reoccur.

  20. Wow that sure was a quick response, thank you very much! I already thought so, but I worry a lot so I don’t fully trust my own judgment. I’ve been spoiling my baby ever since to help her feel better, so don’t worry about me not keeping a close eye on her, I won’t take it off!! Thanks again, have a great day!

  21. My kitten has thrown up a few times in the morning the first two had a hair ball she hasn’t been sick since about 12 but she still isn’t eating or drinking anything should I take her to vets

    1. If she’s been sick but isn’t eating or drinking, then I think she should be checked out. It’s probably nothing, but I’d certainly give your vet a ring for advice, as they know her full medical history. While not eating for 24 hours isn’t usually a problem, not drinking is more worrying, as cats can rapidly become dehydrated.

  22. Hello. My cat is 16 years old and has stage 2 renal disease.
    She poops every other day but this week she poops and then vomits.
    She has not lost her appetite or seem lethargic or “sad”
    What could be causing this
    Thanks a lot

    1. There are lots of possible causes, including worsening of the kidney disease, having eaten something that disagreed with her, or even mild constipation. If it’s a one-off I wouldn’t worry, but if it continues, give your vet a ring and let them know.

  23. My senior cat has hyperthyroidism and most likely IBS, which he is being treated for. Lately hes cut back on reating and today he threw up about 4 large furballs. Now he is wobbly and lethargic. Should I assume since hes vomited furballs he will be fine after a rest or should I be worried still?

    1. There’s a good chance he’ll pick up BUT if he’s wobbly and lethargic, whatever the cause, I’d advise you to get him checked out by your vet, especially given his underlying health problems.

  24. Hello, our cat Cookie has been throwing up for 4 or 5 days now. We took away access to his food and the dogs food and after 24 hours just ave him a small amount of boiled chicken and he seemed to do fine, however he began throwing up clear liquid with some foam in it again. There is no sign of blood or bile in it however. His behavior otherwise is normal, he seems to still have an appetite, although he does seem to have lost a little weight this week. he seems to be dry heaving now however and we are worried for him. Could this be something more serious? Thank you for your help.

    1. Yes, there are a range of possibilities, including a partial obstruction or a medical disorder such as chronic pancreatitis. I would very strongly advise you get him checked out by your vet – vomiting that is associated with weight loss and/or does not resolve within 24 hours or so almost always needs investigating.

  25. Hi,
    My cat kept throwing up these days ( 3 times the day before yesterday, and twice yesterday) – only the food, not too much hair really. However, he is a long haired cat, and he does usually throws up about once per week. My mother believes that this is because an air fresher automatic spray of a orchid we recently received. He is not lethargic or looking back in any way. Also he does not like to eat any wet food whatsoever – all he eats is dried food ( his number 2 is usually quite dry). Should we take him to a vet?

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