Found your furry buddy throwing up undigested food around the house? As cat parents, we know the distress that such a sight can induce – is it a normal, minor thing or a red flag signaling a deeper health issue?
Let’s put your worries at ease a tad: if what your cat is expelling appears undigested, we’re not dealing with vomiting, but rather a phenomenon known as regurgitation.
But regurgitation, which can stem from their eating habits, an obstruction in their esophagus, or other health hiccups, also shouldn’t be dismissed.
In this article, we’ll cover the nuances of regurgitation versus vomiting, get into the whys of your cat’s vomiting episodes, with advice (from experience) on how to address feline vomiting.
Regurgitation vs Vomiting
When it comes to the matter of our cats “throwing up,” there’s an important difference: regurgitation vs vomiting. These are two distinct processes we should understand. Above is my Maine Coon almost vomiting, you can tell by the hard contractions.
Regurgitation usually happens shortly after eating — we’re talking about a time frame within 30 minutes all the way to an hour or so. It’s when matter is passively expelled from the esophagus, often undigested because it has not hit the stomach yet.
Regurgitation happens quick. Your cat may show no signs of discomfort and acting normal but throwing up undigested food hints at an issue happening early in the digestive process.
Vomiting, on the other hand, often occurs a bit later, several hours after eating. In this case, your cat isn’t just tossing up their food — they’re throwing up digested or partially digested food with liquids, bile, and other stomach contents.
Unlike regurgitation, vomiting is a physically active event with abdominal contractions can be tough to watch. Your cat does not seem fine. It often comes with other symptoms, like listlessness or loss of appetite, indicating that your cat might not be feeling their best.
Acute vs Chronic Vomiting in Cats
Maybe your cat throws up undigested food every day or perhaps only at night after feasting on dry food. With that context, let’s talk the two main types of vomiting cats experience: acute and chronic.
Acute vomiting occurs all of a sudden. This abrupt reaction could hint at an underlying problem, like kidney or liver issues, diabetes, or other serious ailments, just starting to emerge.
At times, it might also be a signal of acute gastroenteritis — quick inflammation of your cat’s GI tract triggered by spoiled food, parasites, or something else unexpected.
Chronic vomiting, on the other hand, is a more prolonged and ongoing problem. It often presents itself as your cat throwing up undigested or digested food regularly regularly, but otherwise seems fine.
How They Relate to Food Allergies
Food allergies are tricky to diagnose or rule out, because they can be either acute or chronic. Imagine this: your cat enjoys a meal only to suffer from vomiting or diarrhea shortly after. That’s an acute reaction to an offending allergen in their food.
On the other hand, other food sensitivities are more like a slow creep, developing unnoticed over time until one day, symptoms like skin inflammation or itchiness “suddenly” manifest. This means your kitty could have been slogging along, regularly eating food that irritates them.
This is why food journals are, despite being tedious, so important.
Why is My Cat Vomiting?
We know it’s distressing to see our beloved cats suffering, but knowing why your cat is throwing up undigested or digested food is important. Here are some of those reasons:
Eating Too Fast or Too Much
Just like us, our feline friends may have eyes bigger than their bellies. Eating too fast or overeating can be a straightforward cause of vomiting.
When cats eat too quickly, they don’t chew their food thoroughly and tend to swallow a lot of air. Both these factors can contribute to indigestion and regurgitation, which can often be mistaken for vomiting.
Overeating leads to an overly full stomach, which increases the likelihood of vomiting. In this case, the vomited food might be partially digested, and the vomiting might occur some time after the meal.
Sensitive Stomach or Food Intolerance
Then we have the scenario of a sensitive stomach or food intolerance.
This can be a particularly challenging situation in senior cats or tiny kittens, where their tummies might not take kindly to certain types of food. Grains and common proteins are usually offending ingredients.
If your cat throws up wet food but not dry, then there may be an allergen in the particular wet food. I recommend switching to another protein to see if that it is. Maybe something without poultry or chicken.
Now if your cat is doing the opposite and throwing up dry food and not wet, they could very well be allergic to excessive carbs. Dry cat food, by its composition, contains a lot of grains, carbs, and other filler. Switch to a lower carb dry food or grain free cat food.
Be warned that food sensitivities might even get extra fun with vomiting accompanied by diarrhea.
Let’s not forget hairballs, the tubular bane of every carpet’s existence. Hairballs, known scientifically as trichobezoars, are a natural byproduct of your cat’s grooming process.
While most of this hair passes harmlessly through the digestive tract and gets excreted, some accumulate in the stomach, gradually forming a hairball.
Abrupt Change in Diet
Cats can have have a sensitive GI system (despite eating dead animals, lizards, and roaches) and creature of habit. A sudden change in cat food can leading to vomiting.
Vomiting is only one such issue, along with diarrhea or constipation. Your feline friend might also show less obvious signs of discomfort, such as decreased appetite, lethargy, or behavioral changes.
Spoiled Food or Foreign Body
And we all know how cats have a knack for mischief. Eating spoiled food or swallowing a foreign body (like that glittery hair tie) can lead to gastritis.
Underlying Health Issues
The most worrying cause, though, is underlying health issues. Just like we sometimes feel queasy when we’re ill, cats can also exhibit vomiting as a symptom of more serious conditions.
So what does it mean? Think kidney disease, liver problems, or diabetes, for instance.
This could even present as your cat vomiting a white or yellow substance, a definite sign to schedule a vet appointment as soon as possible. With my cat, vomiting white liquid was the first clue of Chronic Kidney Disease.
How to Treat Vomiting in Cats
Witnessing our cats in distress can be disconcerting, and it’s natural to wonder, “how can I stop my cat from throwing up after eating?” Fortunately, there are strategies that can help address this issue and provide relief, at home or with your veterinarian.
For starters, if the vomiting is caused by hairballs or an acute problem, sometimes the best course of action might be to do nothing. Cats are adept at self-regulating, and a single vomiting episode might be their way of resolving the issue. However, this doesn’t mean we should ignore recurrent episodes.
Hydration is Key
Ensuring your cat drinks plenty of water is an important part of treating vomiting. Hydration can help soothe their digestive system and prevent dehydration if they’ve lost fluids through vomiting. In some cases, your vet may recommend subcutaneous fluid therapy.
Modifying and monitoring your cat’s diet can also be instrumental in resolving their tummy troubles. But feeding a cat that throws up is tough.
You might be advised to withhold food for a few hours (but not water), then reintroduce a bland, easily digestible diet to identify an allergen. Commercially available veterinary cat food or simple homemade meals like boiled chicken and rice are commonly used.
If your vet agrees, try specialty cat foods designed to alleviate specific issues: there are cat foods out there on the market for every ailment, from constipation to sensitive stomachs, and vomiting or diarrhea and everything in between.
You can also serve food at a different temperature to see if it makes a difference.
See Your Veterinarian
Of course, any persistent or recurrent vomiting should prompt a visit to the vet. They can provide professional advice and treatment options tailored to your cat’s specific needs. Tests like a gastrointestinal panel, ultrasound, or x-ray can give further insight into chronic vomiting.
A common route for a vet is prescribing antiemetic drugs to control vomiting. These medications work by blocking the chemical signals that trigger the vomiting reflex. I know from personal experience that my cat responds VERY well to Cerenia.
Post-appointment, they may want you to keep a food journal to help identify any triggers, potential food intolerance, or to better understand the frequency of vomiting episodes.
Slow Down Eating
Another strategy to minimize vomiting, particularly in cats who eat too quickly, is to slow down their eating. Special feeders or simply breaking their meals into smaller portions can help with this.
These feeders often fall into two main categories: puzzle feeders and slow feed bowls.
|Puzzle Feeders||Turns eating into a stimulating game. Comes in different shapes and sizes, with food hidden in compartments Fluffy needs to figure out how to access. Designs include balls that dispense food when rolled, boxes with multiple small holes for pawing out kibbles, and even more complex mazes.|
|Slow Feed Bowls||Bowls obstructions or partitions to eat around. This means your kitty can’t just gulp down their food, but instead has to navigate these barriers to get to their meal. Often made from hygienic materials like stainless steel, ceramic, or BPA-free plastic.|
Structured and Predictable Meal Time
Finally, it’s essential to keep meal times consistent and calm. Abrupt changes or stressful environments can exacerbate digestive issues. Remember, cats thrive on routine and security.
Why Is My Cat Throwing Up Undigested Food – Conclusion
Any cat throwing up digested or undigested food deserves our attention, whether they are vomiting every day or every week.
Observe and work with your vet to identify potential reasons, then deploy recommended strategies, whether it’s switching cat foods, using a slow feeder, or getting ready for longer term care.
I’m Gary Hu, a proud cat dad to a 15 lb Maine Coon. Have taken care of outdoor and indoor cats for over 10 years, and learned tons on behavior, habits, health, and products. I help new Maine Coon (or any other cat) parents with common questions and issues based on real, practical experience.