At a glance
Vomiting is a common but potentially serious symptom in kittens which left untreated can lead to dehydration.
- Dietary indiscretion
- Sudden change in diet
- Intussusception of the intestines
- Eating too fast
- Sudden changes in diet
- Lactose intolerance from cow’s milk
- Fading kitten syndrome
The goal of treatment is to address the underlying cause and provide supportive care while your kitten recovers.
Medically known as emesis, vomiting in kittens is a common occurrence. They can vomit for almost all the same reasons as adult cats but can be more prone to certain conditions. Vomiting (and diarrhea) in kittens should be taken seriously, due to their size, they are more vulnerable to dehydration, which can quickly become fatal in the young cat.
Vomiting may be acute (sudden onset) or intermittent (coming and going). It may contain blood (hematemesis), which is indicative of bleeding somewhere inside the body, have the appearance of coffee grounds, contain long, white worms (roundworms), mucus, foreign objects, or be mostly pre-digested food (this is not vomiting, but regurgitated food).
The most common causes of vomiting in kittens are worms, dietary indiscretion, and infection.
|Parasitic worms, particularly roundworms. They are passed on from the mother to her kittens via the milk. Left untreated, large numbers of worms can build up in the stomach, which can result in vomiting. You may notice roundworms in the vomit. |
Worming medications to treat parasitic worms. All cats, including indoor cats, should be wormed every 1-3 months depending on the type of worming product.
|Kittens are curious, and it is not uncommon for them to eat things they shouldn’t, including foods, strings, plants, and medications. Indiscriminate eating can either result in poisoning or intestinal blockage, both of which can cause vomiting. |
Gastric decontamination such as induce vomiting or pump the stomach to remove the substance. In some cases, surgery may be required to remove an intestinal blockage. Also, supportive care may be necessary in cases of poisoning, which can include fluid support.
|Cats are hunters by nature and unfortunately not able to discriminate between harmful prey and non-harmful prey. Many cats and kittens will think nothing of chasing down, playing with and attacking a snake, not realising how much danger they are putting themselves in. |
Once the type of snakebite has been determined, your veterinarian will administer the appropriate antivenom. Some cats will need multiple vials of antivenom during treatment. Occasionally a cat will have an allergic reaction to the antivenom although this appears to be more common in dogs than cats.
|Either unintentional (owner giving medications such as aspirin), dietary indiscretion (antifreeze, snail bait, lily or other poisonous plants, plus many more possible poisons) or ingested after licking a poison off the coat (lead poisoning, plus much more) or deliberate (laced food for example). |
If ingestion was recent, induce vomiting or pump the stomach to remove the toxin and activated charcoal to bind to any remaining toxins. Where available, administer an antidote as well as supportive care, which can include fluid therapy, anti-seizure medications.
Eating too fast
|Some kittens (particularly older ones) can guzzle too much food too quickly which can lead to discomfort and regurgitate the food back. |
Switch from one or two large meals a day to several smaller meals. Purchase a slow feed food bowl which forces the cat to eat slower.
|Cats can be quite sensitive to changes in diet, particularly kittens or older cats. When I adopt a new kitten, I always ask what he has been eating, and try to stick to that, slowly switching him over to the food I prefer to feed over a few days, which can help prevent tummy upset. |
Switch back to the diet the kitten has been used to eating. If you want to make changes to the diet, do so slowly by adding a small amount of the new food and mixing it in with the kitten’s regular food, over a few days, increase the new food while you decrease the old food.
|Most older kittens are lactose intolerant and do not need milk. Cow’s milk can cause an upset tummy in all cats, resulting in bloating, diarrhea and vomiting. |
If you find your kitten develops flatulence, loose stools and vomits after drinking cow’s milk, avoid it. Most supermarkets sell lactose-free milk in the pet aisle, which is safe for cats.
|Viral (panleukopenia, which is seen most often in kittens, rotavirus), bacterial (salmonella) and protozoal (giardia, coccidiosis) infections can all result in vomiting in kittens. Transmission occurs via infected cats, the environment, or contaminated food and water. |
This will depend on the type of infection your kitten has. Antibiotics can be prescribed to treat bacterial infections. Protozoal and viral infections are usually treated with supportive care such as fluids and nutritional support, while your cat’s immune system fights the infection.
|This condition occurs in kittens from birth to two weeks of age. There are several causes including infection, congenital defects, environmental temperature (too hot/too cold), maternal neglect, blood type incompatibility. Other symptoms may include crying excessively, sleeping away from mother and siblings, weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea. |
Even with aggressive treatment, often kittens are too weak to pull through. It is incredibly important to seek veterinary attention the moment you see a kitten acting out of sorts. If several kittens die, it may be worth having a necropsy performed to see if a cause can be determined, especially if you plan to mate the mother again.
|Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract due to infection, medications and certain foods. |
Where possible, find and treat the underlying cause. Supportive care such as fluids to treat dehydration and a bland diet such as boiled chicken to rest the gastrointestinal tract.
Intussusception (telescoping of the intestine)
|A life-threatening condition where a portion of the intestine folds in on itself. Seen more frequently in kittens although cats of any age can be affected. Causes include heavy worm infestations, gastroenteritis, a linear foreign body such as a piece of string and tumours. |
Surgery to either slide intussuscepted intestines apart or removal of the affected area under general anesthetic.
|Heatstroke occurs when a cat (or kitten) is exposed to high temperatures. Kittens and senior cats are at greater risk, but it can occur in cats of any age. Cats should never be left unattended in a car, even in winter, internal temperatures can quickly rise. Signs of heatstroke include red gums, panting, muscle tremors, bleeding from the nose, vomiting (often with blood) and diarrhea. Immediate veterinary attention is vital for a cat with heatstroke. |
Volume (fluid) replacement
Manage secondary complications
|This is a more uncommon cause of vomiting in kittens. Cats typically become allergic to foods they have eaten for an extended period (usually two years or more). Food allergies are the third most common type of allergy in cats (behind flea allergy, and inhalant allergy). The most common causes of food allergies are fish, beef, chicken, eggs, and wheat. |
Corticosteroids or antihistamines may be prescribed to control itching until symptoms resolve.
Switch to a different protein source or feed a commercial hypoallergenic diet. Unfortunately, some cats can develop allergies to new food.
The main symptom is the presence of vomit. Other symptoms will vary depending on the underlying cause, but may include:
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Pot-bellied appearance (roundworms)
- Abdominal pain
- Wobbly gait/drunken appearance (poisoning)
- Pale or yellow mucous membranes (jaundice)
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you including the age of the kitten, his diet, where he came from, his worming schedule, how often he is vomiting, is it random or after eating, is it projectile, has your kitten had any medications, are there any other symptoms? If possible, bring a sample of the vomit to your veterinarian.
He will need to perform some tests to determine the cause of the vomiting and evaluate the overall health of your cat. Some of which include:
Fecal examination, flotation and culture: To look for protozoa and worms
Endoscopy: A plastic tube with a camera is inserted into the mouth to examine the gastrointestinal tract under general anesthetic.
Abdominal ultrasound or x-rays: To check for blockages or intussusception
Give your kitten all medications prescribed by your veterinarian. The kitten may be prescribed a bland diet to rest the gastrointestinal tract.
- Don’t give kittens milk, once they have weaned from their mother; they only require fresh tap water.
- Avoid feeding kittens food which can upset their tummy.
- Stick to the same diet for a little while and slowly change over to the one you’d prefer.
- Avoid giving your kitten table scraps.
- Never give your kitten any medications unless told to do so by a veterinarian.
- Never give a kitten human medication such as aspirin.
- A kitten is the same as a toddler; they can and will put anything in their mouth. So make sure your home is kitten proofed with any small objects that could potentially be swallowed kept out of the way.
- Keep all medications and poisons locked away.