Although vomiting is a common sign of an ill cat, many conditions cause vomiting in cats, and some are relatively harmless. Furballs, travel sickness, and mild stomach upset are all likely to resolve on their own. It's not necessary to take a cat to the vet every time they throw up, but there are a few key signs to look for that may indicate a more serious problem.
Some cats have sensitive stomachs and throw up regularly. This is called chronic vomiting. A vet can check that the cat is otherwise healthy and may recommend special diets or medication. Acute vomiting, on the other hand, comes on suddenly and unexpectedly. Whether vomiting is acute or chronic, cats who vomit four or more times in a row should see their vet.
Cat vomit is not the prettiest sight, but the color and consistency can sometimes offer clues as to what is causing it. Often it will be the color of the cat's most recent meal. Undigested food in vomit could indicate a blockage in the digestive tract. If the vomit is bright red, has black dots, or looks like coffee grounds, the cat should see a vet. These colors can point to internal bleeding.
Foods that are fine for humans can be bad for cats. The most dangerous are chocolate, coffee, and alcohol. Anything with garlic, onion, or chives can cause stomach irritation. Many cats are lactose intolerant, and their small bodies are more sensitive to salty snacks like potato chips or pretzels. Cats can also get salmonella and E. coli infections from tainted meat and undercooked eggs.
Sometimes a cat will get into something they shouldn't eat. Antifreeze smells sweet but is highly toxic. An outdoor cat or a cat with access to indoor plants may eat citrus leaves, aloe vera, mistletoe, or poinsettias. Lily plants are particularly toxic to cats, and eating any part of this plant can be dangerous to their health. It's important to see a vet if they could have ingested any of these toxins.
A nauseous cat may drool, lick its lips or eat grass to settle its stomach. If the cause is simple indigestion or mild stomach upset, the cat may feel better after vomiting. An otherwise healthy cat will go on to behave as normal. Sick cats may seem tired or uncomfortable and avoid eating or playing.
Pain alongside vomiting can be a sign of serious illness. A cat in pain may yowl or move gingerly. Their stomach may be swollen and hard, and they may avoid being petted or touched. Blockages, stomach injuries, infection, and even cancer can cause pain and swelling in a cat's stomach alongside vomiting. A vet can help identify the cause and treat it.
A sick cat may pee more than usual or in places they shouldn't. They may pee outside their litter box to express their anxiety and discomfort. Cats typically get fluids from their food, so a cat that is vomiting too much may drink extra water to stay hydrated. This can, unfortunately, increase the vomiting if the cat drinks too much. Excessive pee can also be a sign of kidney disease.
Pale gums are a concerning symptom in a cat. If they have large sores in their mouth or their breath smells unusual, that can be a sign that poison or kidney disease has made them seriously ill. A cat with chronic kidney disease may have a urine smell on its breath.
Any sudden, unexplained weight loss is cause for concern. This can be a sign that the cat is unable to keep down food, and they aren't getting enough nutrients to stay healthy. Diabetes, kidney failure, and blocked intestines can cause sudden weight loss and vomiting. Malnourished cats must receive proper treatment to help them maintain a healthy weight.
Elderly cats and very young kittens are more vulnerable to dehydration and malnourishment from vomiting. If a cat is already ill, sudden vomiting could be a sign that their illness is getting more serious. Immunocompromised or chronically ill cats will need to be watched more closely, even if the source of their vomiting seems harmless. Every cat is different, and it's ultimately their owner and veterinarian who understand their needs best.
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