By Dr. Becker
In this video Dr. Karen Becker discusses the unpleasant but all-too-common problem of cats that vomit on a regular basis. You may think cat vomit is an odd topic for a video, but the fact is, many cats throw up. And many throw up regularly. In fact, vomiting cats is a very common topic in the Healthy Pets discussion forum.
I want to go over some of the basic reasons kitties throw up to help you hone in on the potential causes of your own pet's problem, which you can then discuss with your veterinarian. It's important to know there are lots of reasons why cats throw up – not just one or two – so there's usually not a quick, easy answer to the question, "Why does my kitty throw up so often?"
One of the Most Common Reasons for Vomiting in Cats is Diet
If your cat is eating a poor quality, rendered diet, it could be a contributor. Rendered means the proteins in your cat's food are not approved for human consumption. They likely consist of slaughterhouse leftovers – bird feathers and beaks, animal skin, hooves, eyes, and heads. These pieces and parts are considered protein, but they can be very difficult for your pet's body to digest and assimilate, which can cause vomiting.
Some kitties develop allergies to their food, and in fact, this is a very common reason for intermittent vomiting over a long period of time. If your kitty acts fine, is a healthy weight, doesn't seem ill and has a normal energy level, but just throws up occasionally, you should consider a food allergy as the possible cause.
Food allergies develop when cats are fed the same food over and over. Lots of people owned by cats think, 'But my kitty won't eat anything else!' That's why cats tend to get fed the same diet year in and year out – not because their people don't know better, but because the kitties refuse to eat other types of food.
I see lots of cats in my practice that are seafood and poultry junkies. They are thoroughly hooked on those two proteins, and if they are fed another protein source they want nothing to do with it. You might need to resort to trickery to get nutritional variety into your cat's diet. You can find videos on this site that address converting your kitty to a different food.
It's important if your cat is vomiting regularly to address diet as a central cause. Feeding the same type of protein, even if it's excellent human-grade quality, can ultimately result in GI inflammation and food allergies. So it's not just about the quality of the protein, but also about switching proteins frequently.
I recommend you transition your kitty to a human-grade cat food, and then to a raw food diet if possible. The video linked just above walks you through this slow process step by step. Then every three months, rotate to a different protein source to prevent food allergies.
Treats and Milk as Potential Culprits
Another area to look at is kitty treats. What I see a lot of in my practice is cat parents who feed a very high quality food, but then give really trashy treats to their pets.
When you look at the label on your cat's treats and see they contain things like propylene glycol, FDC red #4, ethoxyquin, chemical dyes or emulsifiers, surfactants, and other stuff you can't pronounce, it's a sure sign you shouldn't be feeding it to your furry feline. All those additives, preservatives and just plain junk can cause GI inflammation, which causes vomiting.
Last but not least is milk. Most mammals drink milk if it's offered, but it's important that it's milk from the same species. Gastrointestinal issues arise from drinking milk ('nursing') from a different species. Your kitty doesn't have the enzymes required to break down the milk sugar in cow's milk -- his pancreas doesn't secrete the lactase necessary to break down the lactose in cow's milk. The result? Secondary GI symptoms, including vomiting.
Does Your Cat Gobble Up Every Meal?
Another very common reason cats throw up is they eat too fast. Your kitty is a quadruped – his 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. Slowing down gobbling will help.
This seems to be a special problem in multi-cat households where the kitties are portion fed (which is what I recommend, by the way), and a bit of competition develops. Chances are you've got at least one gobbler, and when you put down the morning or evening food bowls, he eats his own portion in a flash and starts checking everyone else's bowl to see what else he can help himself to.
If this is happening in your house, you need to feed your kitties in separate areas or rooms so they can't see or hear the others eat. It's best if you can close the door behind each kitty, because it won't take long for your gobbler to figure out where the rest of the bowls are if he can still get to them.
Give the kitties about 20 minutes of solitude to eat their food slowly and uninterrupted, then remove the bowls. This may slow down your gobbler (and keep him from getting fat), and at the same time allow your slower-eating kitties to relax while they dine. If you've got just one kitty but she's a gobbler, you may need to split her meals into smaller portions and feed her more often so the food doesn't come right back up.
The Timing of Meals Makes a Difference
Portion-fed animals that are fed, for example, at 6:00 am and 8:00 pm, will begin to anticipate the next meal in advance – sometimes way in advance. You might find your kitty waking you at 5:00 am because he knows meal time is near. For the next hour, your cat's stomach will release hydrochloric acid, gastric juices and bile, all of which are needed to digest his meal.
Now let's say for some reason you don't feed your kitty until 7:00 am. There's a good chance he'll throw up some white foam and a bit of yellow bile between 6:00 am and 7:00 am. That's because the hydrochloric acid irritates his tummy, and since there's still no food in there for the acid to digest, his body gets rid of some of the acid to avoid further irritation.
In this situation it's best to give your cat a little something to nibble on before you feed her, like a treat or a small portion of her meal. If your pet is prone to vomiting before meals, try giving her a treat ahead of time so the hydrochloric acid she's producing will have something to work on. This will decrease GI irritation and should resolve the pre-meal vomiting as well.
Enzyme Deficiency Can Cause Vomiting
A cat's pancreas sometimes doesn't produce enough lipase, protease, and amylase, which creates a chronic or acute low-grade case of pancreatitis. Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) is very common in kitties. In fact, we're finding as veterinarians it's a lot more common than we assumed as the underlying cause of intermittent vomiting.
Adding a digestive enzyme to your cat's diet is like buying insurance. You may never need it, but it's always good to have. If Fluffy's pancreas is properly producing enzymes, adding additional enzymes to the food is not a problem. If on the other hand your pet's pancreas is not secreting sufficient enzymes, supplementing is a great way to assure she'll have adequate enzymes to process the meal you've just fed her.
Hairballs Are Another Common Cause of Intermittent Vomiting
If you're unsure whether your cat is dealing with hairballs, look for cylindrical plugs that appear on your floor in a pool of fluid. Kitties with long hair and kitties that groom themselves and every other cat in the house will need some help from you to reduce the amount of hair they are swallowing.
In other words, you'll need to brush your cat, and if she's the designated hairdresser in a multi-cat household, you'll also need to brush the other kitties so she's not eating the hair of several cats every day. Her GI tract isn't equipped to handle fur from eight cats. You can also facilitate hair passage through your cat with a bit of fiber added to the diet or a petroleum-free hairball remedy.
Brushing and even shaving down very hairy cats can dramatically reduce the amount of hair swallowed, and therefore the amount of hairballs your kitty must contend with.
Other Reasons Cats Throw Up
Poisoning, unfortunately, is a very common cause of sudden vomiting in kitties. If you have a cat suddenly start throwing up – especially if she doesn't do it often – you should be concerned she has ingested something toxic. Common household toxins for cats are plants. If your kitty likes to eat your houseplants, she's probably trying to compensate for a lack of certain nutrients that are available only by feeding raw.
Cats don't have a biological need for houseplants. They don't have houseplant deficiency, in other words. What they have is a need for living foods. Supplying your kitty with cat grass (wheat grass) is one way to offer him some living foods, and it might be enough to keep him away from potentially toxic household greenery.
Other things poisonous for kitties are chemical herbicides, pesticides, and household cleaners. These will cause vomiting if ingested. If you suspect your cat has ingested a poison, you should immediately call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at 1-888-426-4435.
Cats will also vomit due to inflammatory bowel disease, which encompasses conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastritis, enteritis, colitis, and pancreatitis. Chronic GI inflammation in your kitty which often features intermittent vomiting, can lead to GI lymphoma. GI cancers can also cause vomiting.
Metabolic disorders like hyperthyroidism often up-regulate a cat's metabolism, causing her to throw up. Organ disease or a malfunctioning organ of detoxification like the liver or kidneys will also cause vomiting in animals.
Functional GI Testing for Your Cat
Please understand throwing up is not 'normal' for cats, despite what you might have been told by your veterinarian or other cat owners. Vomiting is a sign that something's not right inside your pet's body, whether minor or serious. The only animals that vomit regularly as part of their biology are vultures. Cats, and any other mammal for that matter, should not throw up on a regular basis.
It's important if you have a kitty that vomits intermittently to visit your vet to investigate potential causes. If you happen to have a vet who thinks it's normal for cats to vomit, I recommend you find another vet – preferably an integrative or holistic practitioner. Your vet should first rule out all the big, scary causes for vomiting like for example hyperthyroidism or organ disease.
The next step might be to consider a functional GI test, using a blood sample sent to Texas A&M vet medicine's gastrointestinal lab. They can help determine if your kitty's dealing with malabsorption and maldigestion, a disease of the small intestine, or some other problem that might be the cause of the vomiting.
Most importantly and whatever you do, don't allow your veterinarian to simply offer drugs that suppress the vomiting without addressing the underlying root cause.