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Cat Vomiting? When to Worry

Virtually all cats will throw up at some point in their lives, to the extent that many pet parents become skilled at recognizing the distinctive arched back and pinned ears that immediately precede vomiting (though usually not in time to do anything about it). 

Following an incident, it can be hard for cat owners to determine whether they should seek medical attention or just clean up the mess and carry on. Get to know the most common scary and not-so-scary explanations for vomiting so you can get your cat the help they need. 

Serious Reasons Your Cat May Be Throwing Up

Vomiting may be fairly common, but don’t immediately write it off — it can be a symptom of a more threatening health problem. Pay attention to any unusual symptoms and behavior changes that coincide with vomiting so you can give your vet better context. 

orange cat just vomitedIntestinal Parasites

Especially if your cat is young or recently rescued, parasites may be making them throw up. 

While some varieties of intestinal worms will actually be visible in pets’ vomit or feces, others won’t. Look for other signs that your cat is playing host to a parasite, like:

  • Dull coat
  • Lethargy
  • Pale gums (anemia)
  • Potbelly 
  • Diarrhea 

Fortunately, once your vet identifies the parasite, dewormer will get your cat on the road to recovery. 

Swallowed Foreign Objects

Sometimes, vomiting occurs when cats eat things that are not food. These situations can become life-threatening emergencies if the swallowed object damages your cat’s digestive tract or forms an obstruction. 

If your cat can’t successfully eject what they swallowed, they are at serious risk of a perforated or ruptured bowel as pressure builds up behind the object. If your cat seems distressed and their vomit is bloody or unproductive, get to your local emergency vet right away. A quick intervention is your best chance for saving your cat’s life. 

Metabolic Diseases

Vomiting is a common early symptom of endocrine disorders like hyperthyroidism, Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), and feline diabetes. Particularly if your cat is over 7 years old, don’t ignore vomiting that is accompanied by:

  • Increased thirst 
  • Concentrated urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Anemia
  • Muscle weakness


The primary biological purpose of vomiting is to help us rid our bodies of anything harmful. Take a look around your home and notice whether your cat may have ingested cleaning chemicals or nibbled on toxic foods or houseplants.

If you suspect poisoning and your cat is displaying neurological symptoms (like poor balance or coordination), get to the vet right away. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel disease isn’t just for humans — some cats struggle with chronically irritated intestines. Lower GI irritation typically leads to diarrhea, but inflammation in the upper GI tract can make your cat throw up food before it can be digested.

 If vomiting has turned into a more frequent problem, your cat may need your help to get proper nutrition and maintain a healthy weight. Your vet can recommend a combination of dietary changes and medication to help your cat thrive. 

Less Serious Reasons Your Cat May Be Throwing Up

two indoor cats occasionally vomit

If vomiting is infrequent and your cat resumes normal activities, like eating and drinking, there is a good chance that the explanation is more mundane.

Occasional, unproblematic vomiting can often be addressed by changing up your cat’s routine. 

Eating Too Fast

One of the most common non-medical reasons for vomiting is frantic eating. Cats who inhale their food are likely to lose it, so help your feline friend slow down. 

If the issue is due to competition with other household pets, feeding your cat separately may allow them to relax and take their time. If scarfing down food is just part of their personality, however, puzzle bowls and lick mats are great ways to throttle fast eaters.


Trips outside of your home, schedule changes, and the addition of new pets can all trigger anxious vomiting. 

Anything that upsets your cat’s routine may also upset their stomach. Do your best to provide normalcy when change is inevitable, and nervous vomiting should resolve as your cat adjusts. 


If vomiting produces a distinctive tube-shaped clump of matted hair, the mystery is solved. 

The occasional hairball is nothing to worry about, but if they’ve become excessive, simple dietary and behavioral changes can reduce the frequency of hairballs

When to Take a Vomiting Cat to the Vet

Take vomiting seriously when:

  • It doesn’t resolve quickly
  • It becomes more frequent over time
  • It’s accompanied by other physical or behavioral symptoms
  • Your cat appears to be in distress

If you have any doubts as to why your cat is throwing up, err on the side of caution and visit your veterinarian. Addressing the root cause of vomiting is the first step toward helping your feline friend feel better.