Cats Vomiting – Is it normal? What Causes it?

profile close up of cat facing right and looking upwards

Vomiting cats are a common problem I see in my practice, but there is a huge difference in causes and treatments depending on the history of the vomiting cat. We generally split vomiting cats into two camps: those that suddenly start vomiting and cats that have been vomiting for a long time and it seems to be a part of their normal behaviour.

Causes of sudden Vomiting in cats

Cats that are suddenly vomiting frequently should be seen immediately. The common causes of vomiting for these cats are:

  1. Eating a foreign object that is now stuck in their stomach or intestine. People will often say their cat doesn’t eat strange things. That is true until the day they do. Cats are curious creatures and love to play with objects and take them into their mouth to play. This often results in swallowing the object. I have taken everything from a baby bottle nipple, Nerf darts, sewing thread and needles to window screening out of the intestines of cats. Often the owner has no idea where the cat found what they ate.
  2. Ingestion of toxins such as eating plants from the Lilium and Hemerocallis families can cause kidney damage that can cause vomiting.
  3. Diseases of organs of the body such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease and pancreatitis to name a few.

causes of chronic vomiting in cats

Cats that are vomiting chronically should also be seen sooner rather than later. The common causes of vomiting in these cats are:

  1. Inflammatory bowel disease
  2. Cancer

People often under report the fact their cat is vomiting because they think it is part of normal feline behaviour. Common things people tell me that they feel are normal causes of vomiting for their cats are: their cat eats or drinks too quickly, their cat eats too much, or the cat has hairballs. These are generally not true and any cat that is routinely vomiting has a problem that needs further investigation.

Feline veterinary specialist, Dr. Gary Norsworthy, publishedan excellent paper on this topicthat highlighted this point. He thoroughly worked up cats with chronically vomiting and found most of them had chronic inflammation in their small bowel, which caused food blockages and resulted in chronic vomiting. Of these cases, more than 95% of the cats had one of two underlying diseases that caused this inflammation. Half had Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) – which is similar to IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) in people – and roughly the other half had a cancer called Lymphoma.

The history of these cats showed that they started out vomiting once or twice a year and then the frequency gradually increased to the point where the owner recognized it as a problem and sought help. If your cat is occasionally vomiting, but otherwise appears to be normal it is important to talk toyour veterinarianabout this.

tests for vomiting cats

Vomiting cats should receive a fullcat examby their veterinarian. The veterinarian may recommend blood and urine analysis, testing for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency viruses, x-rays and or ultrasound of the abdomen. Cats that have foreign objects in their intestines will often need surgery.
If the ultrasound reveals thickening/inflammation to the intestinal tract, then surgical biopsy of the intestine should be done. Results of these tests will dictate further work up and treatment.

If your cat is vomiting,contact your veterinarianas soon as possible. The sooner they receive care, the sooner and potentially more easily they can be treated and avoid any further disease progression.

Yours in health,

Dr. Kent Morley