why do cats vomit?

why do cats vomit?
Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Apr 17 2015

If you have cats, you’re probably more than a little familiar with this scene: you’ve found yourself awakened in the middle of the night and briefly wonder what woke you before you tune into the tell-tale cacophony that accompanies your cat when he’s gotten the urge to vomit. Or, maybe you’ve got a howler – I have a cat like this. Whenever he is about to vomit, he walks through the house howling, almost as if he’s making an announcement: “Hey! Everyone! Come watch me puke up part of this plant I just ate!”

Now, most people with cats just accept the occasional episode of vomiting as par for the course for cat owners. But, the truth is that cats who vomit chronically are not normal. While we may dismiss a “one and done” type of incident, it’s still a very unpleasant experience for your cat. No one likes to vomit – it’s uncomfortable and feels just plain rotten. So, why should we allow our cats to go through this?


There are so many underlying causes for vomiting – too many to even begin to list, but in all cases, we can attempt to simplify things by trying to determine if the cause is related to the gastrointestinal system or not.

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Gastrointestinal causes include:

  • Intestinal parasites (worms)
  • Infectious disease (both bacterial and viral)
  • Intestinal obstruction (ingestion of a foreign object)
  • Inflammation (inflammatory bowel disease)
  • Cancer (most commonly lymphoma)
  • Dietary (food allergy or dietary indiscretion)

While non-gastrointestinal causes include:

  • Metabolic or systemic disease – so many illnesses will cause vomiting. Kidney disease, acute and chronic pancreatitis, liver disease, hyperthyroidism, urinary obstruction, diabetes and the list goes on and on.
  • Toxins (anti-freeze, poisonous plants, some non-steroidal anti-inflammatories)
  • Neurologic (vestibular disease or motion sickness)


In the case of acute vomiting, your veterinarian may be satisfied to just treat the clinical signs, depending on the severity of the disease. Commonly, vomiting in cats is due to acute gastritis, and is self-limiting in healthy cats. And if your cat only vomits in her carrier or in the car, it’s safe to assume that stress or motion sickness is to blame.

But cats who vomit chronically need a more extensive work-up to get to the bottom of the problem – even cats who just seem to have problems with “hairballs.” In these cats, there is something abnormal occurring to make them vomit, whether it be a simmering pancreatitis, underlying bowel inflammation or just a reaction to a poor food choice.

So, even though we cat owners tend to accept cats as a “vomiting” species, it’s just not true. If your cat is vomiting more than once a month, there’s probably a reason why (other than just being a cat!). Talk to your veterinarian about it. The answer could be as easy as a change in diet, and will let you both sleep through the night!

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