Cat Vomited 2-3 Times: What to Do When a Cat Keeps Throwing Up

There is a common misconception among pet owners that vomiting in cats is normal. Hairballs are often to blame and owners will shrug off a few episodes of vomiting. As an emergency veterinarian, I’m here to tell you that vomiting is not ‘normal’. Vomiting may be the first sign of an undiagnosed health problem and should never be ignored. That being said, I do not recommend owners rush their cat into the emergency room for a single episode of vomiting, but when a cat keeps throwing up (vomits more than 2 to 3 times), something is often wrong. This article was written to inform cat owners of the various health problems that can lead to protracted or chronic vomiting and when owners should seek veterinary help.

Vomiting in cats

Vomiting in cats is a sign of gastrointestinal distress caused by a variety of issues within or external to the gastrointestinal tract. An important part of diagnosing the cause of vomiting is to evaluate overall systemic health and perform imaging of the gastrointestinal tract. The goal of bloodwork and abdominal imaging is to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together to ultimately diagnose the underlying cause of vomiting. Let’s discuss common causes of vomiting in cats and clinical signs that may be seen.

What are the causes of constant vomiting in cats?

1. Diseases of the Small Intestines: Chronic diseases of the small intestines are exceptionally common, especially in older cats. The two most common diseases include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and gastrointestinal lymphoma. IBD is characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and can be secondary to dietary intolerance, bacterial dysbiosis, or autoimmune disease. Gastrointestinal lymphoma is a type of cancer that leads to abnormal immune cells replicating within the small intestines. Both of these conditions can cause very similar signs of chronic vomiting and weight loss in cats. Both require biopsies of the small intestines for diagnosis.

2. Dietary indiscretion: Dogs aren’t the only pets prone to getting into things they shouldn’t. Surprisingly cats are likely to ingest foreign materials such as plants, string, hair ties, and other indigestible items. Not only can these items be toxic, but they can also wreak havoc on your cat’s gastrointestinal tract leading to inflammation or even life-threatening bowel obstruction.

3. Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, an important digestive organ that produces enzymes to help break down food. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, these digestive enzymes can cause damage to nearby tissues and lead to severe systemic illness. The most common signs of pancreatitis are vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, and abdominal pain. Pancreatitis is most often diagnosed with a specific blood test and sometimes abdominal ultrasound. Learn more about pancreatitis in cats.

4. Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism is a hormonal disease caused by the overproduction of thyroid hormones. This elevation in thyroid hormone causes a cat’s metabolism to speed up and causes a slew of other systemic effects. Cats with hyperthyroidism are often excessively hungry with a voracious appetite. Despite increased food intake, cats will lose weight. Hyperthyroid cats are also prone to vomiting, diarrhea, and cardiac/blood pressure abnormalities. Diagnosis is achieved by a simple blood test and a variety of treatment options are available including medication, diet change, and radioactive iodine therapy. Learn more about hyperthyroidism in cats.

5. Chronic Kidney Disease: Chronic renal disease is another exceptionally common condition in older cats. As cats age, their kidney function will gradually diminish leading to the excessive build-up of waste products in the blood. These waste products will lead to cats feeling unwell alongside chronic vomiting and weight loss. Cats may also demonstrate excessive thirst and frequent trips to the litter box due to the inability to concentrate their urine. Diagnosis is achieved by blood and urine testing. Management of kidney disease is often via dietary changes and ensuring adequate hydration. Learn more about chronic kidney disease. and warning signs of chronic kidney disease.

6. Other causes: Above, we discussed the most common causes of chronic vomiting in cats but it is important to remember that vomiting can be caused by a huge variety of issues. Other diseases that can lead to excessive vomiting in cats include but are not limited to:

  • Gastrointestinal parasites
  • Viral and bacterial diseases
  • Toxins
  • Liver disease
  • Eating too quickly
  • Hairballs
  • Dietary intolerances/allergies
  • What are the potential risks of excessive vomiting?

Vomiting should always raise concerns amongst pet owners and needs to be monitored closely. Excessive vomiting can lead to dehydration, electrolyte abnormalities, pain, inflammation of the esophagus, and aspiration pneumonia. If left untreated, excessive vomiting can lead to death in severe cases, so it is important to always have your cat evaluated if they vomit more than 2-3 times or if they chronically vomit.

What to do when your cat keeps throwing up

There are some simple things pet owners can do at home to address vomiting:

  • Firstly, food and water should be picked up for a minimum of 6-8 hours to allow the stomach to settle. Offering more food and water right away after vomiting can worsen the issue. A bland diet should be reintroduced in small, frequent feedings.
  • Remove any items that your cat is prone to chewing such as plant or grass material that can lead to further gastrointestinal upset.
  • Do not offer any table foods aside from boiled chicken or lean hamburger. Table foods are often too rich for cats and can worsen vomiting.
  • Do not administer any over-the-counter treatments. Many human medications are toxic to cats so you should never administer treatment without first consulting with your veterinarian.
  • If your cat eats too quickly, try offering them smaller, more frequent meals. An alternative option is a slow-down feeding device or lick mat, which forces cats to ingest food more slowly.
  • Hairballs may be a culprit of chronic vomiting, especially in long-haired cats. To prevent hairballs, groom your cat weekly to remove loose fur, or consider professional grooming to shave the fur. Lactulose can also be prescribed by your veterinarian to help assist in passing hairballs.
  • Cats can be sensitive to certain ingredients in the diet or common protein sources. For cats with chronic vomiting, trialing a novel protein diet such as venison or rabbit may help. Cats with IBD may benefit from a hypoallergenic diet that can be purchased through your veterinarian.

When to take your cat to the vet for treatment

Chronic or excessive vomiting should always be evaluated by a veterinarian. Remember, it is never normal for a cat to vomit, especially if they are vomiting more than once a month. This is the first clue that something is amiss and, therefore, your cat should be evaluated by their veterinarian. Protracted vomiting with other signs of illness like lethargy, poor appetite, abdominal pain, or diarrhea requires more urgent intervention. A same-day appointment or emergency room visit is warranted.

Once the veterinarian examines your cat, they will discuss various diagnostic options to further evaluate the cause of vomiting. The most common recommendations include abdominal X-rays and bloodwork. Based on the results, treatments or additional diagnostics may be recommended including ultrasound, endoscopy, fecal testing, urinalysis, etc. Remember, each diagnostic offered is to obtain a piece of the puzzle to achieve a diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can excessive vomiting lead to death in cats?
Untreated, excessive vomiting can absolutely lead to death. Vomiting leads to dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities. Severe dehydration can cause organ damage, poor perfusion, and other systemic abnormalities that can lead to death.

Is constant vomiting a very serious issue to not overlook?
Constant vomiting is always a serious issue. Any cat that vomits more than 3 times in a short period should be evaluated by a veterinarian. Ignoring the issue may lead to a worsening of the underlying problem or even severe illness.

Learn more about vomiting in cats.

 

Author

    by
  • Dr Paula Simons, Veterinarian

    Dr Paula Simons graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College with a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in 2019. She is currently working at 'Cornell University Veterinary Specialists' (CUVS) in Connecticut as an Emergency and Critical Care veterinarian resident (see her work profile). CUVS is a 24/7 Emergency and Critical Care Facility certified by the Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Society, indicating the highest level of patient care.