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Why does my cat throw up so much?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Photo credit: blog.craftzine.com

For cat owners, cleaning puke off the carpet is just par for the course. Although some cats rarely vomit, some cats are what many vets refer to as “pukers”. These are the sorts of cats that vomit weekly (or even daily), despite being healthy. To understand why cats puke, it’s first important to understand what exactly puke is. When it comes to cats, not all puke is created equal! The three most common types of feline upchuck are: hairballs, regurgitation and vomit.

Let’s start with hairballs. Hairballs are just that…balls (or tubes) of hair that accumulate in the stomach. We all know that cats are fastidiously clean creatures, and of course clean themselves using their tongues. The tongue of a cat is barbed, meaning it has little hooks on it similar to the hooked portion of Velcro. These barbs catch and pull out the dead hair and debris in the coat while the cat is cleaning, and the cat ends up swallowing it. 

Normally the swallowed hair passes through the body and ends up in the feces, but sometimes the hair accumulation becomes a little too much. The only other place for the hair to go is back from where it came, so the cat ends up vomiting a tube-like blob of hair. Most cats deal with hairballs from time to time, but if it becomes a frequent occurrence the veterinarian should be consulted. Though rare, some cats have been known to get an internal blockage if too much hair accumulates inside. To help avoid hairballs, brush your cat regularly. There are also products available to help lubricate the digestive system and allow hairballs to pass in the feces.

Another common type of cat puke is actually regurgitation. This is when your cat vomits up food shortly after eating, and the food hasn’t even had a chance to begin digesting. The cat will not wretch prior to regurgitation; it will simply expel a glob of food from its mouth. Regurgitation happens when food blocks the esophagus, either because the animal has eaten too quickly or the swallowing has somehow been interrupted.

 Many cats on dry food diets will experience regurgitation from time to time. One simple way to prevent it is to raise your cat’s food dish so it must sit on its haunches when eating. By raising the food dish, the cat will either sit on its rump or stand up while eating. A food dish sitting directly on the floor means the cat will usually crouch down to eat. When the cat eats in this position, the cat’s esophagus must function without the helpful assistance of gravity! As a result, the food will often accumulate in the esophagus without going all the way down to the stomach, and the cat regurgitate. Frequent regurgitation can lead to aspiration of food particles into the lungs and potentially pneumonia.

A cat food ball is an easy way to prevent regurgitation.
Photo credit: northernilcatclinic.com
Some cats are also known to wolf down their food like its going out of style! This can lead to regurgitation as well. Simple measures can be taken to slow down the cat’s eating such as using a food ball, feeding the cat in small quantities several times throughout the day, or simply spreading the cat’s food out on a cookie sheet so it must eat the kibble piece by piece. If a cat continues to regurgitate despite raising the food dish or taking measures to slow down eating, a vet should be consulted to check for complications with the swallowing mechanism (peristalsis.)

The final most common variety of cat vomit is, well…vomit. This is where the cat wretches and expels stomach contents including bile and partially digested food. Vomit can be an indication of many things including sickness, food allergies, parasites, poisoning, and even eating indigestible things like plastic bags or rubber bands.

Cats will vomit from time to time; just like humans, they can become ill and go through short bouts of vomiting or diarrhea. This is generally not a cause for concern, unless there is blood in the vomit or you know the cat has gotten into something it shouldn’t (houseplants, chemicals, balls of yarn, etc.) If you suspect poisoning or ingestion of inedibles, or notice blood in the vomit, contact a veterinarian immediately. A vet should also be consulted if the cat vomits incessantly, appears lethargic/weak, or continues to vomit for a period longer than 8 hours.

Frequent vomiting can also be a sign of serious illnesses such as kidney and liver disease, diabetes, or an obstruction in the intestines. When it doubt, it’s always best to check with your veterinarian. 

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