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Pet Care

Why is my cat throwing up? If your pet keeps vomiting, here's when to worry (and why.)

As a pet owner, there is nothing more concerning than your furry friend getting sick. Unlike humans, your pet cannot verbally communicate how they feel.

If they have an upset stomach, you're more likely to find out something is wrong after the fact. And cats vomit for different reasons, said Dr. Bruce Kornreich, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center.

It's not uncommon for cats to vomit, either. However, it is important to understand your pet's behavior since the reason behind their sickness could be serious.

Why is my cat throwing up?

A cat may throw up for many reasons, ranging from benign to fatal.

According to Kornreich, undigested hair – commonly referred to as hairballs – could be the cause of some cats' vomiting. It is not out of the ordinary for your cat to expel a hairball once every week or two, he said.

In general, cats will vomit if they have an obstruction to their gastrointestinal tract. "Obstructions can be caused by things other than hairballs," said Kornreich. This includes small toys, tinsel, rubber bands or paper clips.

There are also "non-mechanical obstructions" that your cat can ingest causing them to vomit.

Antifreeze is one of these hazards. "If you're in an area where it's cold, be very careful about making sure you don't spill any antifreeze," said Kornreich. "Just the drop can cause a problem."

, such as and , are poisonous to cats and can cause intoxication when ingested, triggering your pet to vomit. The same goes if your cat eats certain foods, like chocolate or onions.

Sicknesses – such as having a parasite – or conditions – like constipation, hyperthyroidism or inflammatory bowel disease – may also make your cat throw up, said Kornreich.

You should contact your veterinarian if your cat is vomiting more than once per week or is showing other symptoms, such as:

  • Lethargy
  • Increased appetite
  • Blood in the vomit
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Diarrhea

It is also important to note the difference between vomiting and regurgitating, said Kornreich. In rare cases, cats may regurgitate after eating. Regurgitation is not associated with the heaving noises and abdominal reflexes often seen in vomiting.

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What should I do if my cat is throwing up?

If your cat is vomiting, you should focus on its frequency, other symptoms and if there is blood present. From there, you should contact the veterinarian, said Kornreich.

At the appointment, the veterinarian will ask for your pet's medical history to figure out a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan. A physical examination and bloodwork are usually done to provide more details on why your cat is throwing up.

"The initial steps are to get a rough idea of where the problem might be," said Kornreich. "If the veterinarian feels something, a mass in the abdomen, is that compacted stool? ls the cat constipated?"

Bloodwork will also provide a "roadmap" to see if your cat has any underlying conditions, such as kidney disease or liver disease.

Other procedures may be done depending on the reason for your cat's vomiting. "As you move along that spectrum of diagnostics, ultimately it may be that a cat has to undergo something that's perhaps a little bit more involved and perhaps invasive," said Kornreich. This may be a biopsy, X-ray or abdominal ultrasound.

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Prevention tips

While you can't always stop your cat from vomiting, there are ways you can prevent its frequency.

If your cat is throwing up due to a hairball problem, it is important to maintain their coat and keep them well groomed. "If you can remove the hairs, it's less likely that it's going to be kind of bound up in the GI tract," said Kornreich.

Make sure you keep plants and other materials away from your cat to prevent them from ingesting it.

"The more important thing is to be vigilant about what might be causing it," said Kornreich.

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