“Why does my cat barf?” seems to be one of the most common questions that cat owners have. Many cat owners and even some veterinarians claim that it is normal. However, a recent study recorded in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) gives us a totally different answer.
Researchers carefully observed and studied the conditions of 100 domesticated cats that frequently vomited. After a series of blood tests and biopsies, it was concluded that frequent vomiting is not normal, but a clear sign that something wrong was happening inside their body.
Three Similar Scenarios
There are at least three situations where cats throw up- regurgitation, expectoration, and actual vomiting.
Vomiting is one of the most common reasons cat owners bring their pets to the vet. Sometimes though, vomiting isn’t actually vomiting, and as a pet owner, it is imperative to know the difference for 3 main reasons – to save your cat from further suffering, to avoid costly and unnecessary trips to the vet, and to avoid irrational worries.
Actual vomiting happens when the partially or completely digested contents of a cat’s stomach forces itself out. Usually, this content includes bile along with other substances inside the stomach.
Knowing the difference between vomiting and regurgitation is crucial to determine the right type of treatment for your kitty. If your cat is vomiting, it may feel nauseated as its abdominal walls contracts. You may also notice your cat licking its lips constantly.
In contrast, if your cat is regurgitating, it will simply open its mouth and undigested food will freely come out. Regurgitation is a passive process while vomiting is an active one.
A lot of people mistakenly believe that just because cats throw up, they are vomiting. While we would like to believe so, sometimes they are just regurgitating.
Is your cat vomiting undigested food soon after eating? If it is, it’s probably regurgitating, which happens when the undigested food in your cat’s throat gets ejected.
When regurgitation occurs, the ingested food comes out tube-shaped from the esophagus. This clearly shows that the food stayed in the esophagus for quite some time. This is usually the case if your cat is gobbling up every meal. Keep in mind that your cat’s esophagus is not vertical but horizontal. For that reason, eating too quickly is not healthy for them.
The most common reasons for cat regurgitation are surprisingly not related to diet issues. Eating cold, refrigerated food is the most common reason for cat regurgitation, so making sure the food is room temperature will eliminate a majority of these issues. Even though it may seem completely normal, it is still best to find different ways on how to keep it from happening.
Expectoration is the process of coughing up something from the lungs or stomach. When a cat expectorates, cat owners may mistake it for vomiting.
Just like humans, animals can also suffer from coughing fits, and they may throw up phlegm or mucus during these. Sometimes, when a portion of food goes down improperly, parts of it may also be expelled.
When your cat is manifesting signs of expectoration, before making an assumption please a few observations first. Is it coughing throughout the day? Is there a splash of mucus on the floor? Is it eating too fast and might have trouble keeping its food down?
Even if it’s proven that your cat is not vomiting, you might need to have their cough treated by a vet if it gets more serious.
Common Reasons for Cat Vomiting
Regurgitation and expectoration don’t always stem from a serious condition. Vomiting, on the other hand, must not be taken lightly.
Do you notice your cat vomiting from time to time? Usually, it could just be due to an upset tummy. There could be several reasons behind it though, so keep on reading.
Cats love to groom themselves. They were born hairdressers! Sometimes, they even love to groom their fellow furry felines in the house.
If this is the case, they may swallow too much hair, which can cause vomiting. If you notice cylindrical plugs lying on your floor with a significant amount of fluid, your cat may be suffering from a hairball problem. Sometimes it can even be clear liquid vomiting.
- Rendered Diet & Other Ingredients
The perfect diet for your kitty consists of meat, since cats are carnivores and need excellent protein sources. This is also applicable when feeding raw meat as well.
Most cat foods today contain “rendered ingredients” along with flavor enhancers and ingredients designed for humans to like. Rendered ingredients refer to protein sources that are not consumed by humans, such as organ meats and bones. Feathers, beaks and hooves are NOT allowed in this process. The materials are rendered into meat meal, meat and one meal, poultry meal, poultry byproduct meal and fish meal to make them more highly digestible.
Ingredients like guar gum that change food into “gravy” type products, or dyes that look good to people, may not be easy for cats to digest. A sensitivity to one or more of these ingredients may cause vomiting.
- Food Transitions
Transitioning cats to a new diet may cause a negative stomach reaction and trigger vomiting. This could be due to an ingredient that they are allergic to or that they are just not used to their new diet yet.
- Food Intolerances or Allergies
Like humans, cats can also suffer from food intolerances and allergies. If there is something in their meal that they are allergic to, vomiting could happen.
Cheese, for instance, may contribute to tummy problems and vomiting in cats that are lactose intolerant.
- Gastrointestinal Inflammation
Sometimes, your cat may throw up to clear its intestines of toxins. If you notice bile or mucus in your cat’s vomit along with diarrhea, this is a clear indication of GI inflammation.
These symptoms may point to a serious cancer known as GI lymphoma.
GI inflammation is often caused by preservatives and additives in cat food. Sometimes the wrong food choices can also contribute to the problem.
For instance, did you know that cats do not have the necessary enzymes to digest the lactose in cow’s milk? The only time that you should feed cow’s milk to your kitty is when you need a breastmilk substitute. However, feeding adult cats with cow’s milk may result in GI inflammation, which makes it a no-no for most breeds.
Frequent vomiting could be a result of an irritated stomach due to a bacterial infection or parasite. For instance, if your cat vomits grain-like segments or even live tapeworms, this would be a sign of a tapeworm infection.
Accidents happen no matter how much we want to avoid them. Sadly, vomiting might be a result of an irritated stomach due to cat poisoning.
One cause would be the accidental consumption of toxic substances, which may include plants that aren’t safe to eat or chemicals such as pesticides and cleaning solutions.
- Pica in Cats
Another unusual but serious reason for your cat’s vomiting may be due to stomach obstruction. This may happen if your cat swallows something that it shouldn’t.
It’s sad to say, but there are cats that suffer from “Pica”—a term that describes a cat’s habit of licking and sucking non-food objects, especially fabric. In serious cases, some cats consume an entire object which results in vomiting.
The symptoms of Pica in cats are similar to poisoning. However, Pica doesn’t happen by accident.
The most common reason for this habit are behavioral disorders, dietary insufficiencies, and genetic predispositions. Keep in mind that a stomach obstruction through pica in cats could be a life-threatening problem.
Some common targets of cats that have this condition are paper, fabric, plants, plastic, rubber band, and even electrical cords.
Different Types of Cat Vomiting
- Occasional Vomiting
This is completely normal in cats. Some felines vomit two to three times a month while some only vomit two to three times a year.
As long as the vomiting is not persistent, there is nothing to worry about.
- Acute Vomiting
This develops suddenly but only lasts for about two to three days. The usual symptoms include non-stop vomiting, pain, weakness, and blood in the vomit.
The underlying cause of acute vomiting is typically never identified since it usually goes away fairly quickly. Please take note, however, that a negative reaction to food is one of the common culprits.
Since non-stop vomiting may cause dehydration, acute vomiting must not be taken lightly.
- Chronic Vomiting
This occurs when your cat has been vomiting for more than a week. Even if your cat seems normal and playful, it is still best to identify its cause so it can be treated properly. Blood tests, endoscopy, and X-rays might be necessary.
Most of the time, chronic vomiting in cats is a result of serious health conditions, which can include liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and hyperthyroidism.
Below are some of the ways to avoid throwing up in cats based on their cause:
- Regurgitation – Is your cat throwing up undigested food? One possible way to prevent this from happening is by not tolerating your cat’s competitive eating. Doing this may solve the problem altogether. Try to provide at least 15 to 20 minutes of uninterrupted meal time for your cat to be able to eat slowly. This will avoid vomiting, regurgitation, and even weight gain. However, if your cat really loves to gobble up on its food, try giving it several small meals throughout the day, instead of one large serving at once.
- Expectoration – If your cat is coughing once in a while, there is no need to worry. Constant coughing, on the other hand, may indicate a health problem that needs to be treated. These could include inflammatory issues, allergies, asthma, pneumonia, and other lung infections. If this is the case, your vet will help you determine the underlying cause through various tests and prescribe medication.
- Hairballs – Even though cats swallowing hair is not avoidable, there are still some things that you can do. Regular brushing and shaving is a great idea to reduce the amount of hair that your cat is swallowing. You can also try giving your cat “hairball food”, or a special supplement that can help treat the problem.
- Food transitioning – Switching to new food must be done gradually. A helpful tip to follow would be to mix the new and old food together – slowly increasing the amount of new food over the course of 7 to 10 days.
- Food intolerances or allergy problems – Food allergies develop when the cat is “sensitized” to a particular ingredient its eaten in the past. There is no way to predict or prevent food allergies, but you can help ats by incorporating a nutritional variety into your kitty’s diet. That way, if the cat cannot eat one food, it will still accept and like another food that you offer. For instance, if your cat seems sensitive to fishy foods, you can still offer chicken-based diets. It is also good to know the type of foods that are safe for your cats. There are also various human foods that your cat’s body cannot digest well, such as chocolate, raisins, and onions.
- GI inflammation – Common culprits for the inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract are bad ingredients in your cat food such as emulsifiers, surfactants, preservatives, and other additives, and should be avoided as much as possible.
- Infection – Keeping your cat indoors and watching over the food it eats are the two best ways to avoid stomach infection. Do your best to keep it away from contaminated food or water as well.
- Poisoning – Aside from watching over your cat, you must remove or lock away any poisonous items around the house. The top two common cat poisons are household cleaning solutions and household plants. Some common plants that are dangerous to your kitty’s health are Aloe, Lily, Tulip, Chrysanthemum, and Marijuana. Eating a poisoned rodent also exposes your cat to the toxin.
- Pica – Effective treatment for Pica varies because there are different underlying causes for each cat. If your cat suffers from pica due to a disease, your vet will prescribe a specific medical treatment. Otherwise, simple treatments can be done at home, and include removing non-food items out of your pet’s reach or giving it other things to chew on, such as cat toys or treats.
When is it Time for a Trip to the Vet?
You should not let throwing up get in the way of your cat’s happiness and comfort. Most cat owners believe it is a natural part of their furry friend’s life, but the truth is- it doesn’t have to be.
“Is everything normal or is it time to take my cat to the vet?” is another common question cat owners ask once they notice their cat throwing up.
If your pet is throwing up only three times each month, it is safe to say that everything is completely normal. However, if you notice vomiting happening at least twice a day for two to three consecutive days, it is advised to take you cat to the veterinarian. If you notice any blood in the vomit, this is another sign for a visit to the doctor.
Aside from this, any other unusual changes in its behavior and normal diet patterns must be considered.
Once you notice that your cat is throwing up, you must not take the situation lightly. It is best that you educate yourself about the matter, rather than worrying.
Knowing the common triggers of your cat’s condition, and preventive actions to be taken are a must. After all, your kitty deserves nothing but the best life possible.