Why Does My Cat Throw Up All The Time? Here's What Might Be Making Your Feline Friend Sick
If you’re a cat person, you’re undoubtedly well acquainted with one of the messier aspects of cat ownership: Vomiting. Cats have such famously delicate stomachs that sometimes, it can be hard to figure out exactly how one tiny creature could expel so much grossness from its insides. But hey, if you’ve ever found yourself wondering, “Why oh why does my cat throw up all the time?”… well, you’re in good company: Pretty much everyone who’s ever owned a cat has thought that very thought at least once in their pet-caring career. When it comes to cats, it turns out there are a few different reasons they might be messing up your carpets all the time — so, here: Let’s demystify the subject, shall we?
The good news is that cat vomiting is a fairly common occurrence. Indeed, according to WebMD, normal cat vomiting behavior (because yes, that’s a thing) involves your cat throwing up just once or so, with feeding and pooping behavior continuing as usual. If your cat vomits repeatedly or with blood present, has a diminished appetite, develops issues with constipation or diarrhea, or becomes lethargic, though? That’s a big clue that something else is going on. If you observe any of that in your furry pal, take them to the vet, stat.
Assuming they're otherwise behaving normally, though, the next time your cat deposits its dinner on your floor, work your way through this list of possible explanations. Happily, there are actually some easily-implement solutions to many of them. And again, when in doubt, go ahead and visit the vet — your cat will thank you for it.
(After they’re done sulking in their carrier for a few hours, of course. Cats eventually forgive, but they never, ever forget.)
1. Your Cat Is Eating Too Fast
Nine times out of 10, this is why both of my cats throw up: They ate too fast. It’s a common problem; according to Dr. Karen Becker of Healthy Pets, it has to do with the fact that cats are quadrupeds. Because the esophagus is horizontal, rather than vertical, “food can slap against the lower esophageal sphincter and cause regurgitation of whole, undigested food several minutes after it’s consumed,” says Becker.
The solution? Slowing your cat down.
Anecdotally, I've found that if I break up my cats' wet food into much smaller chunks, they tend to slow their roll a bit, which cuts down on the vomiting; alternatively, Kittyclysm recommends tamping down the food into a denser block that requires a little more effort for your cat to pick apart. You can also get something called a slow feeder bowl, the shape of which forces your cat to eat more slowly — or you can just deposit smaller bits of food into the sections of a muffin tin, suggests Dr. Becker. Voila: No more gobbling!
2. Your Cat’s Food Is Too Cold
Although not enough research has been done to determine whether wet food is truly better for cats than dry food, wet food can be beneficial over dry food for one very particular reason: It’s got a lot of moisture in it. According to WebMD, that’s a big help for cats with urinary tract problems, diabetes, or kidney disease.
The thing is, cats don’t necessarily need to eat an entire can of wet food every time you feed them (especially if you tend to feed your beasts with a combination of wet and dry food) — which means the uneaten portion usually gets stored in the fridge. And if you leave the saved portion in the fridge right up until the time you feed it to your cat the next day, it might end up being a little too cold for them — which, in turn, might induce vomiting.
I have definitely been there.
There’s an easy solution for this one, though: If you store leftover wet food in the fridge, take it out a little while before you feed your pet and let it come to room temperature before serving it up.
3. Your Cat Ate Too Much
We often think of cats as grazers — creatures that will nibble throughout the day as they need to — but not all cats operate that way. Some (particularly cats who have lived in situations where they were fighting with other cats for food) will eat pretty much anything not nailed down, even if they’re already really full — which, of course, can result in vomiting. To counteract this tendency, experts recommend feeding your cat smaller meals throughout the day, rather than leaving food out continually or feeding them one big meal once a day.
4. Your Cat Ate Something That Didn't Agree With It
Did your cat eat something it wasn’t supposed to, like grass, or a bit of human food it found somewhere in your kitchen? That could be the culprit; like humans, cats vomit when they eat things that don’t agree with them. (Better out than in, right?) And, really, have you actually lived if you’ve never looked at something your cat has produced and then spent 15 minutes deducing that she must have eaten a couple of black beans because you forgot to clean out the drain trap after cooking dinner?
Not that I, uh, did that once. Or... something.
Anyway. Moving on.
If you don’t think your cat ate something it shouldn’t have, it might be worth checking your supply of cat food to make sure it’s not spoiled — because that can also be a cat vomit culprit. Dry cat food stays fresh for up to six months once opened, according to Family Pet, while Hills Pet notes that open cans of wet pet food can be stored covered in the fridge for between five and seven days; if you have trouble keeping track of how long a particular package of food has been open, write the date you opened it on it and keep an eye on the calendar as the days go by.
5. Your Cat Has A Hairball Problem
Since cats clean and groom themselves with their tongues, it’s to be expected that hair might end up in their digestive tracts. Usually the hair just passes through, but sometimes, it can stick around in the stomach for a while and develop into a hairball. And when that happens, your cat does the only thing it can do to get rid of it: It throws it up.
Hairballs are just a fact of life for cats and not usually something to worry about. If you find your cat has a lot of hairballs, though — they’re particularly common in long-haired cats, for example — you can take some steps to mitigate the issue: Try brushing your cat regularly, which will cut down on the amount of loose fur that might end up in your cat’s digestive tract when they clean themselves; taking your cat to the groomer every six months or so; and maybe investing in some “hairball formula” food or treats.
6. Your Cat Has Something Serious Going On
When accompanied by other symptoms — lack of appetite, constipation or diarrhea, blood in the vomit, fever, lethargy, and/or weight loss — vomiting can indicate that your cat has something going on that needs medical attention. There are a lot of things of which these behaviors can be symptomatic; your cat might, for example, have a parasite, a bacterial infection, colitis, a neurological disorder, or issues with their kidneys, liver, or pancreas. I say all of this not to freak you out, but to underline how important it is to observe your cat’s other behaviors along with the vomiting: If those additional symptoms of occur, take your pal to the vet.
I know it can be hard to tell when cats are sick; they like to hide their symptoms and they’re not great at letting their humans know when they don’t feel good. But you know your furry friend better than anyone, so watch them closely. If they start behaving differently, then it’s usually a good idea to get them checked out. Your vet will run the appropriate tests and figure out the correct course of treatment from there.
Like many things in life, being a cat parent has its ups and downs. But although the messes might be one of the downs... well, there's nothing quite like waking up in the morning to find a little furry friend snuggled right next to you.
As long as it waits until after it's left the bed to throw up, that is.