Why Does My Cat Vomit?

Is your cat a puker? If your cat never vomits, consider yourself lucky! Some veterinarians would say that it is normal for cats to vomit. As a profession, we now know that we have confused common with normal. Cats vomit commonly. It’s not normal.

Now, if you have a cat that vomits frequently make sure you have done the following before reading on:

  • Have a complete physical examination by a veterinarian.
  • Complete blood work to rule out other disease such as diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, liver disease and thyroid disease. All of these can cause vomiting!

Let’s move forward assuming you have ruled out the previously mentioned diseases.

Here are a few reasons cats puke:

Too many carbs – Cats are not small dogs. Unfortunately, we have been feeding them as such for years. Cats have different nutritional requirements and unlike their canine counterparts, are strictly carnivorous. So, what does this mean? Cats should be a fed a very low carbohydrate diet that is high in protein. Kibble, even grain free, is too high in carbohydrates. To make anything that crunchy, it needs to have some form of carbohydrate such as pea, potato or rice. Feeding a high protein canned or raw diet is more appropriate.

Imagine that you are mimicking what your cat would catch on the farm or in the backyard. A mouse, a rabbit, or maybe a squirrel! This is a high protein meal. The only grains that would be ingested are the contents of their prey’s stomach. That is a very small amount.

I frequently see cats stop vomiting, when we remove the excessive amount of carbohydrates from their diet. We also know that cats that are fed a high protein, low carbohydrate diet are less often obese and have a lower chance of becoming diabetic. If you need another reason to cut out the kibble, consider that kibble can contribute to dental disease in cats. Are you convinced?

Food sensitivity – This one can be frustrating to pin down. But if you can identify a particular food trigger, life gets a ton easier. I meet so many kitties that vomit on a particular protein source. For many cats, it’s fish. For other cats, it’s everything but fish. Chicken or beef also seem to be more common triggers.

How do you find out if your cat has a sensitivity? The only definitive way is to remove the food. If the vomiting resolves, add the food back in. If the vomiting resumes, it is a high probability that it is causing the vomiting. This gets tricky when the vomiting only happens once a week. It can be difficult to correlate a particular food with the vomiting when it is not regular. However, it can be very rewarding when you find the food that is causing the vomiting. So, give it a try!

Pancreatitis – This is the bane of my integrative veterinary existence. Ok, so that’s a little dramatic. There are a ton of things we can do to help these cats. However, in my experience, in the severe and chronic cases, the target is continually moving. I use more traditional therapies with these cases compared to other diseases. Sometimes, prescription diets really help these cats. The most severe cats in my practice are often managed on steroids. Gasp….I know.. steroids. Do I need to hand in my holistic vet card?

How do you know if your cat has pancreatitis? Luckily there is a blood test! It’s called the Spec fPL and it stands for feline pancreatic lipase. Some veterinarians don’t use this test. It was created at Texas A&M University. As a graduate of A&M, I love this test and use it frequently.

What do you do if your cat has pancreatitis? This is when it is helpful to truly take an integrative approach. I generally use diet (low fat), Chinese herbs, digestive enzymes along with other therapies.

IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) – So this is veterinary medicine’s ‘cop out’ diagnosis. We come by it honestly! To truly get this diagnosis, we need to cut open your cat and take a full thickness biopsy of their intestine. For the 98% of cat guardians that elect not to cut open their vomiting cat, we do tests to rule out other causes of vomiting. When those tests don’t result in a diagnosis, we slap on the ‘Inflammatory Bowel Disease’ sticker and call it good for the day.

What does inflammatory bowel disease even mean? It just means that there is inflammation in the lining of the gut. It is terribly general.

What causes inflammation in the gut? This is what veterinary researchers are working hard on. There are so many talented people trying to put the pieces to this puzzle together. Here are some theories/thoughts.

  • Microbiome. The microbiome is a fancy word for all the bacteria that lives in your cat’s gut. We are starting to understand that the type and quantity of bacteria in the gut can heavily influence inflammation and immune function. The tricky part is identifying what type and amount of bacteria are key for optimum health. As therapies, like probiotics, fermented foods and fecal transplants become more and more successful, we might gain a better and more specific understanding of the microbiome.  So, let’s get practical about how you can help your cat have a healthier microbiome. First, decrease the carbohydrates. Second, use probiotics or fermented foods. Want to learn how to make fermented foods for cats? Click here!
  • Genetics. In people, researchers have identified many, many genes that contribute to inflammatory bowel disease. The good news about genes is that they can be turned off and on. To learn more about this emerging and complicated subject, google ‘epigenetics’. Maybe our cats don’t have to be complete victims of their genetics?
  • Parasites. Get ready for your mind to be blown. There is emerging data to suggest that intestinal parasites might help modulate the immune system and prevent inflammatory and autoimmune disease. Many human allergist postulate that children in third world countries have a lower likelihood of having food or environmental allergies because they have a healthy worm burden. It’s probably not as simple as infecting your cat with worms and shazam, they stop vomiting. But wouldn’t that be cool?  Anyway, more to come in the literature about this one. Don’t infect your cat with parasites!
  • Food allergies/sensitivities. In my experience this can be a very large contributor for cats with inflammatory bowel disease. If possible, removing trigger foods from your cat’s diet can help immensely with vomiting.  Having trouble figuring out what foods are a problem? Consider starting a prescription hydrolyzed diet. If that helps your cat, start adding one food at a time back to the diet until you have a list of safe ingredients. Then you can transition off of the prescription diet to a more natural diet.

To all of you that regularly step in and clean up cat vomit, there is hope! What are you doing to help your vomiting kitty? I would love to hear from you! Don’t forget to send me pics of your kitty too!

With so much love,
dr. angie signature boulder holistic vet

9 thoughts on “Why Does My Cat Vomit?”

  1. Hi i live in Vancouver Canada and i am a pet parent to a 12-13 year old cat named Oreo who was diagnosed 31/2 years ago with both Pancreatitis and IBD. Now this cat is the most stuborn most pickiest most finickiest (if thats a word) cat when it comes to his food that i have ever run into. I have tried over and over again to give him the food my vet recommends but i always get the same results. He refuses to eat it OR not a word of a lie he will eat one bite take a second bite hop on the couch and if i am lying down he will literally spit it in my face. Or he will not eat. Is that normal cat behavior? If a cat doesnt like the texture taste or smell they will literally starve themselves. Hell i have even tried mixing vet food in with low carb high protien commercial pet foods to give it some flavor still no go. I have tried Freeze dried raw food i have bought him the following in straight raw food : duck, rabbit, pork, and even venison and he wont eat that. If i do find a food he does like he is ok on it for 2-3 weeks then the vomiting starts up again. His poops are still very firm. I have just started him on probiotics called Fortiflora made by Purina hopefully that will help. Not only am I at my wits end and pulling out my hair but i am runnig out of options on what to feed him. Oh i forgot to mention its all high quality low carb high protien WET CAT FOOD that i am giving him. i am not feeding him the junk food like i use to which ( my bad) i strongly believe gave him his health issues in the first place. He was on steriods shots for about a year but that caused him to get diabeties he was on 0.5 units of insulin twice a day and he was only on it for three months cause once i took him off the junk food and started giving him proper wet food his diabeties has been in remission for close to 2 1/2 years now. I am so desperate on what to do for this cat I am willing to tryANYTHING even the CBD OIL. Please help me All that the vets do in Vancouver here is push their food on you only cause they have some kind of deal going on with the company. Have you ever read the ingrediants on the can? There is alot of stuff in there that are not good to give a cat. Soy corn and wheat are the three main ingrediants. I will try Holisic because right now i am going bolistic on what to do THANK YOU FROM THE VERY BOTTOM OF MY HEART!!!!

    • Hi Kelly,

      Oh, I so feel for you! This is SO hard!

      I have to say, this can be so normal BUT potentially on the harder end of normal. Cats are carb addicts, and as you’ve absolutely found, feeding a clean diet (like a high protein/low carbohydrate diet) can be so challenging.

      It’s possible you’ve tried all of these suggestions, but here is a blog I wrote on a few tips for picky cats. It’s written primarily for transitioning from dry to wet, but some suggestions may help. That said, you may have exhausted all of these too. 🙁

      Also, how is the probiotic helping?

      Please keep us posted!


  2. My cat vomits hair balls…he does have IBD and is often agitated. I think he is eating the fur on the base of his tail. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Haiden,

      Well, shoot, that’s a struggle!

      Is he chewing his hard on the base of his tail due to anxiety? What has his regular veterinarian said about it?

      If it’s anxiety, there are a few things you can do. We have seen great success using CBD to help. For kitties, we generally recommend HempRx.

      I hope this helps!


      • He doesn’t bite his actual tail… just the fur…it used to be really bushy and not it is really skinny at the base. He was pretty much banned from the vet because he can be quite viscous. I think he does have anxiety…. I never know what he wants. He can be really sweet, he nuzzles my neck all the time and practically falls asleep. I actually bought him some CBD but it’s for dogs and I’m afraid to use it. I’ll look into the HempRx. Thank you!


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