Throwing up is the forcible expulsion of stomach and/or intestinal contents through the mouth. It is important to try to distinguish between true throwing up and regurgitation, which is the passive act of returning the contents of the esophagus or pharynx through the mouth. This distinction will help your veterinarian make a diagnosis if home treatment is unsuccessful. Throwing up is a sign of various illnesses, not a disease in itself. For example, throwing up may accompany thyroid disease, liver disease, kidney disease, cancer of the bowel, intestinal parasite infection, or chronic inflammation of the intestine.
Throwing up occurs commonly in cats, and it is often accompanied by diarrhea. It seems to be caused most often by irritation of the stomach, which veterinarians call acute or simple gastritis. Gastritis is usually caused by the ingestion of an irritant substance, for example, decomposed food, grass, paper, or bones. The cat often first throws up frothy clear or yellow fluid. Cats with gastric irritation may seek grass to eat in an attempt to disgorge any irritant or foreign material which remains, but grass eating is often an enjoyable pastime for cats and not a sign of illness.
AFTER-MEAL THROWING UP
Some cats throw up occasionally following meals. This type of throwing up is usually not serious in nature and may have several causes. Among the most common seem to be food gobbling, overeating, or a particular sensitivity to certain kinds of food. If your cat is an after-meal vomiter, trying one or more of the following things may help you:
- If your cat eats with other animals, separate him or her at feeding time. Not only offer an individual food bowl but place the food bowls at a distance from one another. Competition encourages food gobbling.
- Feed smaller meals more frequently.
- Try a food that has to be chewed well before swallowing.
- See if you can associate the throwing up with the kind of food being fed. Some cats have food intolerances to certain ingredients in commercial foods, for example, food colorings or flavorings. In such instances, you may find that only one brand or flavor of food seems to cause the throwing up. If you do find a specific food which seems to be the cause be sure to eliminate it entirely from your cat’s diet.
FOOD ALLERGIES MAY CAUSE THROWING UP
Cats with food allergies may also develop throwing up when fed certain foods, but the mechanism causing the throwing up is more complex than that of simple food intolerance. The immune system must react to the presence of the food allergen before any signs appear. The association with a specific food may be more difficult for you to make in these instances since the particular ingredient to which these cats are allergic must usually be withheld for several weeks to resolve the throwing up problem. Be sure to consult a veterinarian for diagnostic help if a simple diet change does not stop your cat’s signs.
Hairballs can also cause throwing up of a nonserious nature, but sometimes they cause serious obstructions and must be removed surgically. When hairballs are vomited they usually are tubular, brown masses and are emited by themselves or accompanied by a small amount of clear, foamy fluid. If you look closely at such masses or tease them apart you will find that they are composed primarily of hair. If you find vomited hairballs and your cat is acting normally you may assume that the current hairball problem is solved. This should alert you, however, to do something about hairball prevention to avoid future problems, as should stools that have a large amount of hair in them. A hairball problem can also cause lack of appetite or constipation.
Prevent hairballs by brushing your cat regularly, providing some insoluble fiber in his or her diet, and by the routine administration of commercial hairball prevention preparations available through your veterinarian or at pet stores. A fiber source cats enjoy is fresh grass. Grow wheat, rye, or oats in a pot and allow your cat to nibble them a few times a week. A home remedy for hairball prevention is mineral oil or white petrolatum.
CARING FOR THROWING UP CATS AT HOME
Throwing up cats may or may not be interested in their normal food. If your cat throws up once or twice, has no fever or obvious abdominal pain, and is no more than slightly depressed you can probably treat the throwing up at home. Do not feed your cat for twelve hours following throwing up. At the end of twelve hours, you can offer a very small of soft, easily digested food such as a soft-boiled egg, meat baby food, or cottage cheese. If your cat keeps this small meal down for about four hours, another small meal can be offered, then another about four hours later.
If no further throwing up occurs, the next day’s meals can be normal-sized portions of bland food, and the following day you can return your cat to a regular diet.
Water or other liquids should be offered frequently only in small amounts at a time to combat the tendency to dehydration that accompanies throwing up. Large amounts of food or water distend the already irritated stomach and usually cause throwing up to recur.
TIMES TO SEEK VETERINARY HELP
If your cat throws up more than a few times, if the vomitus is ejected extremely forcefully, if there is blood in the vomitus or obvious abdominal pain, if your cat seems particularly depressed, weak, or has a fever, or retches unproductively, do not attempt to treat the condition at home, it’s time to seek veterinary help.