Why Is My Cat Throwing Up?

And when is it just a hair ball? 🤮

cat throwing up

If your cat’s vomiting every once in a while, you might be wondering why that’s happening.

There are actually several reasons why cats throw up; it could be because of a medical condition, eating something they shouldn’t or a recent change to their diet, to name a few.

The Dodo spoke with Dr. Cristina Bustamante, an associate veterinarian with Caring Hands Animal Hospital in Florida and founder of Dr. B. Vet, to find out how you can help when your cat’s throwing up.

Why is my cat throwing up?

There are several reasons why your cat might be throwing up. These include:

A new diet is one of the more common reasons why cats throw up.

“Diet changes can be anything new in your cat’s diet, and they can get an upset stomach and vomit even a few days after eating the new treat,” Dr. Bustamante told The Dodo.

But if it’s not a diet issue — or a case of your cat swallowing something he shouldn’t — it might be a medical condition that’s causing your cat to throw up.

Your vet will be able to determine which underlying issue is the culprit.

“Depending on your cat’s clinical signs, your veterinarian will recommend testing ranging from fecal tests to radiographs and blood tests,” Dr. Bustamante said.

And interestingly enough, according to Dr. Bustamante, behavioral conditions like stress and anxiety aren’t typical causes of vomiting in cats — which is definitely not the case for dogs and people.

But regardless of why your cat’s throwing up, it’s pretty upsetting.

“As cat owners, it can be very scary to watch them vomit because they make very loud noises and their entire body seems to spasm,” Dr. Bustamante said.

If your cat is vomiting a lot, like more than once a day, you should let your veterinarian know ASAP.

“Healthy cats should not vomit more than once every couple of weeks,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Vomiting should not be frequent, and if they do vomit, it is not normal for them to have multiple vomits in a day.”

Is my cat throwing up or coughing up a hair ball?

When your cat’s hacking up a hair ball, it can look pretty similar to when he’s throwing up. So it might be a little tough to tell if your cat is vomiting or getting out a hair ball.

“Hair balls, or trichobezoars (medical term for hair balls), form in your cat’s stomach from the undigested hairs he swallows during grooming,” Dr. Bustamante said. “These undigested hair cylinders are usually mixed with stomach fluids.”

If there’s more hair than vomit in your cat’s regurgitation, then it’s probably a hair ball.

“An easy way to differentiate hair balls from vomit is to look at the ratio of hairs to other substances,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Vomit usually has undigested food, foam, yellow bile and few hairs, but hair balls are mostly hairs.”

While coughing up hair balls is actually a normal thing for cats, vomiting can be indicative of health issues.

“It is very common for cats to hack up a hair ball every couple of weeks,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Hair balls usually won't make a cat feel sick. Therefore, if your cat is not eating, is lethargic and is ‘coughing up a couple of hair balls today,’ then your cat is probably vomiting and should be seen by a veterinarian.”

Should I ever induce vomiting in my cat?

You should never induce vomiting in your cat, since it’s really not good for your BFF.

“Do not induce vomiting at home,” Dr. Bustamante said. “It is not safe to induce vomiting at home. Call your veterinarian or take your cat to the emergency hospital.”

Vets are actually the only ones who can safely induce vomiting in cats.

“Most at-home vomit inducers that you can read [about] online are very irritating to the cat’s esophagus and stomach and can cause serious health problems,” Dr. Bustamante said.

Some websites might suggest you can do this yourself with hydrogen peroxide, but you should really never do that because it can be super unsafe.

“Hydrogen peroxide is very irritating and should not be given to induce vomiting in cats,” Dr. Bustamante said.

How to stop your cat from throwing up

Depending on the reason why your cat’s throwing up, there are a few different things you can do to help him stop.

But first, you’ll want to check with your vet to make sure you’re doing the right thing for your cat.

“I recommend consulting with a veterinarian prior to trying at-home remedies or making any changes to your cat’s diet,” Dr. Bustamante said.

Be careful with his diet

If your cat has a sensitive stomach, try not to switch up his food if you can help it.

“Be consistent with your cat’s diet. Try to not change the flavor [or] brand of food since sometimes this change in fat content can upset their stomach,” Dr. Bustamante said.

However, there might be times when you do need to change up his diet. In those cases, you need to be gradual about it to make things easier on your cat’s stomach.

“If you have to change the food, then make sure to slowly mix the new food with the original food,” Dr. Bustamante said. “Try out new treats with very small amounts.”

Try inflammatory bowel medication

If your cat’s vomiting is a result of inflammatory bowel disease, there’s medication you can give him.

Prednisone is a prescription medication designed to treat inflammatory bowel disease and, as a result, also helps your cat if he’s throwing up because of his condition.

However, always check with your vet before trying out any medication — they’ll let you know about any possible side effects or complications.

Give him a hair ball gel for cats

Maybe your cat isn’t vomiting a ton, but he’s hacking up hair balls quite a bit. That’s where hair ball gel for cats can come in handy.

“A good product for hair balls are cat oral laxatives once or twice a week,” Dr. Bustamante said. “A trick is to apply the gel on your cat’s paw, and they will lick off the gel and ingest it!”

Try this cat hair ball gel from Chewy for $11.08

While there are plenty of reasons your cat might be throwing up, your vet will help you get to the bottom of it. Knowing why your cat’s vomiting in the first place will help you figure out the best — and safest — way to get him to stop.

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