Why Is My Cat Throwing Up After Eating? Reasons Cats Get Sick After a Meal

BY | December 16 | COMMENTS PUBLISHED BY
A Cat Sitting Next To An Empty Bowl
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vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY


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Hearing your cat throw up is nothing out of the ordinary for most cat owners. We usually just think that they ate a little too much or too quickly. Although this is often the case, sometimes there can be a more serious reason.

If you’re a cat owner, it’s very likely a familiar occurrence that shortly after feeding your cat, you hear the sounds of regurgitation and realize your cat has vomited. Why is it so common for cats to throw up after eating, and should you be concerned? Here are five common reasons behind cat vomiting, from the not-so-serious to potentially serious problems that necessitate a visit to the vet.

1. Eating Too Quickly

When you set out wet food or refill your cat’s dish with dry food, they can get a little too excited to nosh and eat too quickly. Food eaten too quickly doesn’t get digested well, causing your cat to vomit. Movement or exercise after eating can also spur vomiting. If your cat vomits as a result of speedy eating, try feeding her several small meals throughout the day rather than one large bowl full of food.

2. Hairballs

Although hairballs are caused by hairs ingested during your cat’s grooming and not by mealtime food, the presence of hairballs can also lead to vomiting after your cat eats.

3. Food Intolerance or Food Allergy

If your cat is eating something in their food that they’re allergic to, or even if your cat simply has an intolerance to it, this can lead to vomiting.

4. New Food

Switching foods could introduce an ingredient that causes an allergic reaction, but it could also simply throw off your cat's eating routine, leading to vomiting after a meal. To avoid this, always switch to a new food gradually.

5. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

In addition to vomiting, irritable bowel syndrome can lead to upset stomachs and diarrhea. If you notice these symptoms, a visit to the vet is recommended to come up with a treatment plan. 

More Serious Causes

More serious problems can also cause cats to vomit. For instance, your cat may have a stomach obstruction as a result of ingesting a non-food item, like a rubber band. Or your cat may have accidentally eaten something poisonous. It’s also possible that your cat has a metabolic disorder, like a kidney-related problem or hyperthyroidism.

So as a pet owner, what should you do if your cat vomits frequently? If the vomit seems clearly tied to your cat scarfing down food at mealtime, you should try feeding your cat several small meals, as opposed to one or two large ones, and providing food at the same time each day. If your cat is a serious groomer, then a specially formulated "hairball food" or supplement can help.

If vomiting persists on a weekly basis or more frequently, then there might be a more serious cause, and a visit to the vet is recommended.

When to contact your vet if your cat vomits?

  • Check for foreign objects. Sometimes cats will ingest items that aren't food or treats and end up vomiting them up later in the day or even hours after eating them; these would include things like paper clips, toys, and marbles (though marbles are probably less common). It's important to get these types of items out as quickly as possible because they can cause serious problems if left inside your pet!

  • If your cat is a kitten or geriatric, contact your veterinarian immediately. A cat who vomits frequently will likely need a more thorough exam and may need to stay overnight for observation. If you're not sure if the vomit is serious, but are concerned about your cat's behavior, seek veterinary attention. It's always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to our beloved pets' health!

  • If your cat has vomited two or more times in an hour, it may be a sign of a more serious problem. Call your vet immediately. Cats often vomit once or twice when they have a hairball or food allergy. But if your cat is vomiting more than once an hour, it could be due to something more serious like pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). If your cat has been vomiting for even longer and has other symptoms such as fever, lethargy, or loss of appetite, call the vet immediately.

  • If you see blood in your cat's vomit, call your vet immediately. Blood can be a sign of a serious problem, such as a bleeding ulcer or other internal bleeding. It can also be from a ruptured stomach or intestinal tract. If you aren't able to reach your veterinarian and want to try home treatment for vomiting after eating too fast, contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center 24/7 at 888-426-4435 (option 1).

  • If your cat is lethargic after vomiting, it could be a sign of poisoning or infection. Lethargy can also be a sign of kidney disease, so if you suspect that's what's causing your cat to be lethargic, call your vet immediately. Your veterinarian may recommend a blood test and/or x-rays to check for kidney disease. If you notice that your cat seems lethargic after vomiting, take him or her to the vet right away!

4 Ways to Slow Down Your Cat's Eating

Some cats get a little too excited when dinner time rolls around and devour their food at lightening fast speed. This is sometimes a problem in multi-cat homes; one cat inhales their food and then moves on to its sibling’s share. It's not only a frustrating situation, but it can also result in tummy upset for your little speed-eater. In fact, fast eating is one of the most common causes of cat vomiting. And a cat who sucks in the air while gobbling may suffer from hiccups, too. So how can you get your cat to hit the brakes when its bowl hits the floor?

Tip #1: Put a Ball in Their Bowl

Put a golf ball, ping-pong ball, or some other type of ball into your cat’s food bowl. The cat will have to eat around the ball, which will force them to slow down. Just make sure that the ball you choose is a large enough size that it can’t be swallowed, and wash it regularly to avoid bacterial growth.

RELATED STORY: Is My Cat Weird? 5 Freaky Feline Behaviors

Tip #2: Use a Muffin Tin

Separate your cat’s portion into the cups of a muffin or cupcake tin. Your cat will have to move from cup to cup and take its time to get the food out of each individual space.

Tip #3: Stuff a Puzzle Toy

Stuff a puzzle toy like the Kong Wobbler with your cat’s portion (keep in mind that this only works with dry food). Your cat will have to knock, spin, or drop the toy in order for it to dispense pieces of food. Using a puzzle toy not only slows your cat’s eating, but it also provides them with some exercise (which most cats don’t get enough of).

RELATED STORY: Is Your Cat a Picky Eater?

Tip #4: Make a Scavenger Hunt

Another way to slow down your cat’s eating? Tap into their natural desires to hunt and explore. Hide food in different places around the house and then send your cat off to track it down. Your cat will feel like they’re on a mission, and you’ll feel good knowing that your furry friend’s meal will go down easy.

Is your cat a speed-eater? Leave a comment and tell us about it. And to get members-only savings on pet food, prescriptions, vet visits, and more, consider signing up for PetPlus. Learn more at PetPlus.com.

More on Upset Stomachs

Tips to Avoid Your Cat's Stomach Upsets

Signs Your Pet Needs New Food

Choosing the Best Cat Diarrhea Remedy

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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