Why Is My Cat Vomiting Bile? What Causes Cats To Vomit Liquids

Why Is My Cat Vomiting Bile?
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vet verified PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian DVM

If your cat vomits a little from time to time, you probably just chalk it up to "they ate something they weren't supposed to" and don't give it a second thought. However, if your kitty begins to vomit bile often, that may be cause for concern. Find out more here about why your cat may be vomiting up bile.

If you see -- or hear -- your cat vomiting bile, what should you do? There are many reasons your cat may vomit, and while some of the causes are fairly every day and aren’t a concern, other reasons for your cat to vomit require attention or are symptoms of a larger health problem. Learn about some of these potential causes of your cat’s vomiting, what to do, and when you need to go to the vet right away.

Types of Vomiting With Bile in Cats

Not all cat vomit looks the same, and a little inspection can help you get a sense of what may be causing the upchucking. Undigested food can be the result of your pet eating too quickly, and undigested food in vomit can also signal an obstruction in the cat’s digestive system. That’s a major problem, and a visit to the vet is recommended if this continues.

True Vomiting

True vomiting in cats involves active abdominal contractions and the expulsion of stomach contents. Cats vomiting bile may show signs of nausea, such as drooling or lip licking, followed by forceful ejection of clear liquid or yellow bile. This can be acute vomiting, occurring suddenly, or chronic vomiting, happening over a longer period. In otherwise healthy cats, true vomiting might be caused by mild cases of dietary indiscretion or more serious underlying causes like gastrointestinal disorders. 


Regurgitation is different from true vomiting as it involves the passive expulsion of undigested food or clear liquid without abdominal contractions. When a cat regurgitates bile, it often appears to be a smooth process without the heaving typically seen in vomiting. This can happen if the cat eats too quickly or has a structural issue in the esophagus. While occasional regurgitation in an otherwise healthy cat might not be alarming, frequent episodes should be checked by a vet to rule out any underlying causes.


Hairballs are a common cause of feline vomiting, particularly in long-haired breeds. When a cat grooms itself, it ingests hair, which can accumulate in the stomach and form a hairball. Cats vomit to expel these hairballs, often producing cylindrical masses of hair mixed with clear liquid or bile. While hairball-related vomiting is usually mild, frequent hairballs can indicate an underlying issue, such as excessive grooming or gastrointestinal motility problems. Regular grooming and a diet designed to reduce hairball formation can help manage this type of vomiting. A vet should be consulted if a cat shows signs of discomfort or has difficulty passing hairballs.

What's Causing Your Cat to Vomit?

When a cat vomits, it’s a symptom of something gone awry. It could either be the result of eating something that’s not right for your cat, or it may be caused by a sickness or something systemically wrong with their health. Food allergies, or food intolerances, can also lead to your cat rejecting a meal. The main potential causes of cat's vomiting are:

Bilious Vomiting Syndrome

Bilious Vomiting Syndrome (BVS) occurs when a cat vomits bile, usually on an empty stomach. This can happen early in the morning or late at night when the stomach has been empty for a long time. Bile irritates the stomach lining, leading to vomiting. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and chronic vomiting are often associated with BVS. Adjusting the feeding schedule or incorporating smaller, more frequent meals into the cat's normal diet can help manage this condition.

Liver or Gallbladder Disease

Liver disease and gallbladder issues can cause a cat to vomit. The liver plays a vital role in detoxifying the body, and any dysfunction can lead to the accumulation of toxins, resulting in vomiting. Symptoms may include jaundice, lethargy, and changes in appetite. Conditions like inflammatory bowel disease can also exacerbate liver problems. 


Pancreatitis, or pancreas inflammation, is another common cause of vomiting in cats. This condition can be acute or chronic and is often triggered by dietary indiscretion, such as consuming fatty human foods or encountering toxic plants. Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, lethargy, and decreased appetite. Treatment typically involves fasting, pain management, and supportive care.


Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining, often caused by ingesting foreign objects, toxic plants, or spoiled food. It can also result from bacterial or viral infections. Having a parasite can also be a contributing factor to vomiting. Symptoms include acute vomiting, nausea, and a reluctance to eat. 


Diabetes in cats can lead to vomiting due to the body's inability to regulate blood sugar levels properly. Vomiting may be accompanied by other symptoms like increased thirst, frequent urination, weight loss, and lethargy. Managing diabetes involves regular insulin injections, dietary changes, and blood glucose monitoring. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to severe complications, including diabetic ketoacidosis, which is life-threatening.

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease is a prevalent health issue in older cats, and chronic vomiting is a common symptom. The kidneys are responsible for filtering waste from the blood, and when they fail, toxins build up in the body, leading to nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms include weight loss, increased thirst, and urination. 

Intestinal Obstruction

Intestinal obstruction occurs when a foreign body, such as a hairball, toy, or other indigestible object, blocks the intestinal tract. When your cat eats hair (like their fur), house plants, grass, or any other substances that aren’t digestible, its system will respond by rejecting the items through vomit. This can cause severe pain, acute vomiting, and inability to pass stool. Intestinal parasites can also contribute to blockages. If an obstruction is suspected, immediate veterinary attention is necessary to remove the foreign object and prevent further complications. 

When to be Concerned 

If an otherwise healthy cat suddenly starts vomiting bile and shows signs of abdominal pain, it is important to monitor the situation closely. Abdominal contractions during vomiting may indicate more serious conditions that require prompt attention.

Be vigilant for additional warning signs such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or changes in behavior. Other symptoms like weight loss, dehydration, or persistent vomiting could point to an underlying illness that needs immediate veterinary intervention.

If your cat's symptoms are severe, such as continuous vomiting, extreme lethargy, or noticeable pain, an emergency vet visit is required. An emergency clinic can provide the necessary care to stabilize your cat and perform further diagnostics.

Your vet may recommend blood work and a physical exam to determine the cause of bile vomiting. In some cases, X-rays or an ultrasound might be necessary to look for blockages or other abnormalities. If these tests are inconclusive, exploratory surgery could be considered to identify any hidden issues.

Once a diagnosis is made, specific treatment will be tailored to address the underlying issue. Follow your vet's guidance and monitor your cat's recovery closely. Regular check-ups and possible adjustments in treatment might be needed to ensure your cat's health improves. It can be helpful to track down when your cat typically vomits. If it tends to be just after a meal, it’s likely tied to either the food or the speed with which it’s ingested.

How to Prevent Vomiting in Cats

Maintain a Consistent and Appropriate Diet

A cat's normal diet should be well-balanced and consistent. Sudden dietary changes can upset their digestive system. If transitioning to a new food, do it gradually over a week to avoid causing vomiting. Avoid giving your cat human foods or treats not specifically designed for cats, as many can be harmful.

Monitor and Manage Eating Habits

If your cat tends to eat too fast, use a slow feeder or divide meals into smaller, more frequent portions throughout the day. A bland diet like plain boiled chicken and rice can be helpful for cats with sensitive stomachs, but always consult your vet before making any dietary changes.

Prevent Hairballs through Grooming

Regular brushing can reduce the amount of loose hair your cat ingests during self-grooming, preventing hairballs which can lead to vomiting. This also helps in avoiding bald patches that may indicate over-grooming due to stress or skin issues.

Avoid Toxic Plants and Foreign Bodies

Ensure your home is free from plants that are toxic to cats, such as lilies and poinsettias. Additionally, prevent access to small objects that could be swallowed, such as strings or small toys, which can cause blockages and vomiting.

Address Chronic Conditions

Chronic vomiting may indicate an underlying health issue, such as gastrointestinal disease, kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism. If your cat is vomiting frequently, seek veterinary care to diagnose and manage any chronic conditions. Ensure your cat has a harmonious relationship with other cats and animals in the household, as stress from conflicts can lead to health issues, including vomiting.    

Potential Treatments

If your cat frequently vomits after meals, try feeding them at the same time each day and feeding several small meals rather than leaving out a ton of food. This can make their dining style less frantic. If you have multiple cats, give them separate feeding dishes, and make sure each is getting sufficient food. If you think the vomiting is in response to their diet, visit your vet to get a recommendation on an allergy-friendly diet.

If the vomiting doesn’t seem tied to meals or to eating indigestible items, you should visit your veterinarian. They can provide a complete physical and assess if there is some disease or condition that’s leading your cat to vomit bile. Visit your vet immediately if you notice your cat vomiting blood since that could be a sign of a very serious illness or injury that require attention right away.

Bile vomiting in cats is a relatively common condition, but it can be difficult to treat. The good news is that there are many different methods available, and all of them have the potential to help you and your cat with this problem.

The first step to treating bile vomiting in cats is to identify the underlying cause. If you're not sure what's causing it, your veterinarian will likely recommend a full physical exam, blood work, and X-rays.

Once the cause has been identified, treatment options vary depending on what's causing the obstruction in your cat's bile duct. If there are gallstones present, they may need to be removed surgically with a procedure called a cholecystectomy (or "gallbladder removal"). This procedure is generally very safe and effective.

If your cat has a liver disease like Hepatitis or Cholangiohepatitis (inflammation of the liver), medications such as antibiotics and steroids may be prescribed to help manage the condition while allowing time for natural healing processes to take place. These drugs can have serious side effects, so it's important that owners closely monitor their pets' responses to them and report any unusual behavior back to their veterinarians immediately.

One of the most popular ways to treat bile vomiting in cats is using medication to reduce the amount of bile they produce. This is known as reducing their bile production, and it's a treatment that many vets recommend if your cat has recently been diagnosed with this problem. This type of medication is usually available as pills or liquid, but if it's not working for you, then you should talk with your vet about alternatives such as surgery or other options that might help reduce your cat's symptoms.

Another popular treatment for bile vomiting in cats involves changing their diet so that they are eating less fat. This can be done by switching from dry food to wet food or adding more fiber into their diet (e.g., vegetables). It may also mean switching from regular commercial pet food brands over to one made specifically for cats who suffer from chronic vomiting issues (which are typically higher in protein).

Frequently Asked Questions

When should I be concerned about my cat throwing up?

You should be concerned about your cat throwing up if it is happening frequently, if your cat is showing other signs of illness or distress, or if the vomit contains blood or foreign objects. You should also be concerned if your cat has not been able to eat or drink for a prolonged period of time. These are signs that your cat may require medical attention.

What is the most common cause of vomiting in cats?

The most common cause of vomiting in cats is dietary indiscretion, which occurs when a cat eats something that doesn't agree with it, such as spoiled food or non-food items. Gastrointestinal infections, food allergies or intolerances, and certain medications or toxins can also cause vomiting in cats. Additionally, certain medical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, liver or kidney disease, and cancer can cause a cat to vomit. The best way to determine the cause of your cat's vomiting is to have your cat examined by a veterinarian.

What do you give a cat for vomiting?

There are a few home remedies that may help alleviate mild cases of vomiting in cats. If your cat's vomiting is caused by dietary indiscretion, withholding food for 12-24 hours may give its stomach a chance to rest and recover. After the fasting period, you can start offering small, frequent meals of a bland diet, such as boiled chicken and rice or cottage cheese. You can also try some of the gastrointestinal support foods made by Hill’s Prescription Diet or Purina Pro Plan. Ginger has natural anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate nausea. You can give your cat small amounts of ginger by grating it and mixing it with their food. Adding a probiotic supplement to your cat's diet may help regulate its gut health and reduce vomiting. Ensure your cat is well hydrated by providing fresh water. You can add a little bit of chicken broth to the water to make it more appealing to your cat.

Why is my cat throwing up but acting normal?

There can be several reasons why a cat is throwing up but acting normal. Cats are known for eating things that they shouldn't, such as grass or other non-food items. This can cause them to vomit, but they may still act normal afterward. Cats can develop infections in their gastrointestinal tract, which can cause vomiting but not necessarily affect their overall behavior. Some cats can develop allergies or intolerances to certain types of food, which can cause vomiting but not necessarily affect their overall behavior. Cats groom themselves frequently, and they often ingest hair in the process. When the hair accumulates in their stomachs, it can form hairballs, which can cause vomiting but not necessarily affect their overall behavior. In some cats, they can have intermittent vomiting, which they don't have an underlying disease. It can be related to certain types of food, stress, or other factors. These are just a few possible causes, and there may be other underlying medical conditions that could be causing your cat's vomiting. If your cat is throwing up frequently or persistently, or if they are showing other signs of illness, it's always best to consult with a veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and to recommend the most appropriate treatment.

What does normal cat vomit look like?

Normal cat vomit typically looks like partially digested food and can vary in color from yellow to brown. The consistency of the vomit may be semi-solid or liquid, and it may contain hair, bile, or small amounts of stomach fluid. It can also have undigested food particles such as bones and bits of grass if the cat ate them. Hairballs may also cause a cat to vomit, and the vomit may have a stringy, tubular appearance and may be grayish in color. It's also important to know that in some cases, the vomit may contain no food particles but instead consist of clear or yellow liquid, which is known as gastric juice. In any case, vomiting accompanied by other symptoms like blood in the vomit, lack of appetite, lethargy, or diarrhea could be signs of a more serious underlying medical condition. It's best to consult a veterinarian if these symptoms persist or if the cat is showing any signs of distress.

More on Cat Health

The Best Food for Your Dog or Cat

The Importance of Taking Your Cat to the Vet

The Principles of Nutrition for Adult Cats

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 with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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