Dry Heaving and Vomiting In Cats

All cats will vomit or dry heave every so often. However, severe or frequent dry heaving may be a sign that your kitty is suffering from a more serious health issue than an upset stomach. Here, our Tracy vets explain some of the causes of dry heaving or vomiting in cats, what conditions may cause them and how they are diagnosed. 

Cat Dry Heaving and Vomiting

Just like in people, our cats may duffer from an upset stomach for any number of reasons. There can be any number of causes for your cat's dry heaving and vomiting, including parasites, viruses, a reaction to toxic substances or more serious underlying conditions like organ issues or cancer.

If you notice your cat dry heaving or vomiting more than once in short succession, or every few weeks or month, it's a good idea to bring them into your Tracy vet to determine the cause of their behavior.

Reasons Your Cat May Be Dry Heaving

There are a wide variety of reasons your cat may be repeatedly dry heaving, some less serious than others. Here are two of the most common reasons and a list of other, more serious, potential causes for dry heaving in your cat. 

Dry heaving, in particular, can be a relatively generic symptom. It is associated with a wide range of conditions and diseases. 

Hairballs

Hairballs are wads of undigested fur that clump up in your cat;'s stomach from grooming themselves. Coughing up a hairball is often accompanied by hacking noises, spasms and vomiting. 

Most hairballs are pretty easily brought up in cats, but if your cat is having difficulty expelling a hairball it may be time to bring them into your vet. If a hairball becomes trapped inside your cat's body, it can block up their intestines and even be fatal.

Nausea

Just like in people, our cats feel nauseous at times. Your cat's nausea could be from any number of different causes, from eating their food too fast and eating too much to having too much acid in their stomach or having eaten spoiled food. 

If your cat is consistently dry heaving and/or throwing up after eating, this could indicate a much more serious issue and you should bring them into your vet as soon as possible.

Other Serious Conditions That May Cause Dry Heaving and Vomiting In Cats

  • Gastroenteritis
  • Intestinal foreign bodies
  • Heart Disease
  • Poisoning
  • Intestinal Parasites
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Metabolic Disorder (ie: Kidney Disease)
  • Liver Disease

When To Worry About Your Cat's Dry Heaving

If you notice your cat dry heaving and possibly vomiting periodically, avoid giving them any food for about 12 hours. Give your cat a few tablespoons of water every half-hour or so and give them ice cubes to lick while fasting. 

After 12 hours is up, give your cat some bland food. If their dry heaving or vomiting doesn't begin again you can slowly return them to their normal diet.

If your cat is having repeated bouts of vomiting or dry heaving, contact your vet immediately. Continuous or severe dry heaving could be a sign that your cat is seriously ill and requires immediate treatment. Contact your vet if your cat displays any of the symptoms below: 

  • Repeated vomiting / dry heaving
  • Blood in vomit 
  • Weakness / Lethargy
  • Pain / Distress
  • Fever
  • Blood in stool 

Diagnosis

When you bring your cat into your vet because of vomiting or dry heaving, if they have produced some vomit, it is a good idea to bring a sample in with you. Your vet will be able to examine this sample to help to determine the cause of your cat's upset stomach—or if that is the root cause at all.

  • Intestinal obstruction may cause your cat's vomit to have a strong smell.
  • Large amounts of mucus in your cat's stomach could indicate an inflamed intestine
  • Undigested food can be an indication of poisoning, anxiety or simply a sign that your cat has eaten too much or too quickly.
  • If bile is present in your cat's vomit, it may be an indication of pancreatitis or inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Red blood is a sign that your cat's stomach may be ulcerated.

Treatment

The treatment of cats who are repeatedly dry heaving or vomiting varies with the underlying issue. In some cases, treatment may be as simple as withholding food and providing water and some medication. In other cases, complex surgery or radiation therapy may be in order to address the cause of your cat's distress.

If your cat is showing chronic or severe symptoms of an illness like vomiting or dry heaving, contact Paws & Claws Veterinary Hospital as soon as possible for daytime emergency veterinary service.