Vomiting, or the forceful ejection of stomach and proximal duodenal (upper small intestinal) contents through the mouth, is a symptom commonly observed in cats; it is not a disease. Your cat’s vomiting can be a symptom of any one of a wide range of acute or chronic illnesses encompassing almost all body systems, from cardiovascular and respiratory to gastrointestinal to renal (kidney) to dermatologic. Differentiating vomiting from coughing and regurgitation is important.
When a cat is vomiting, you should see a considerable amount of abdominal movement. The cat's abdomen will seem to pulsate violently, and the cat's head might appear to bob.
Coughing involves the thorax rather than the abdomen. A cat that is coughing will often crane its head and neck forward, holding its head still while keeping its front paws under its chest and its elbows off to the side.
Regurgitation, or the passive expulsion of food or fluid from the oral cavity, pharyngeal cavity, or esophagus, usually is sudden, without the violent wind-up that proceeds vomiting. A regurgitating cat might be silent or could sound like it's gagging.
If your cat has recently been vomiting or vomits more than once a month, please consult with your veterinarian. The websites reviewed in this Cat Health Topic can help you determine whether your cat is vomiting, what other signs to look for, when you should go to your veterinarian, and what tests might be needed to determine what is causing your cat's vomiting.
First you'll want to make sure your cat is actually vomiting. Many people confuse feline vomiting with coughing (and vice versa). This YouTube video shows a vomiting cat. Notice the violent pulsating motion in the cat's abdomen. If your cat vomits, you should see a similar motion.
Vomiting should be differentiated from regurgitation. The College of Veterinary Medicine of Washington State University (WSU) has an excellent web page about vomiting that explains in detail the differences between vomiting and regurgitation. The website also includes diagrams of the cat's digestive tract that might prove useful as you read through the other websites mentioned in this Cat Health Topic.
Elaine Wexler-Mitchell, DVM, DABVP, is a former president of the Academy of Feline Medicine and a member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP). On the Cat Channel website she talks about regurgitation and offers some tips to help your cat avoid it.
Many veterinary hospital websites include information about vomiting. For example Columbia Animal Hospital (Columbia, Maryland) provides a thorough rundown of the many causes of vomiting. (The page also touches on some of the causes of regurgitation and diarrhea.) Your own veterinarian's website might include useful information too.
An article written by AAFP member Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM, JD (All about Cats Health and Wellness Center, Yorba Linda, California), explains how to recognize vomiting, lists some of the clues you can gather to help the veterinarian reach a diagnosis, and discusses some of diagnostic tools that might be needed to diagnose the cause of your cat's vomiting.
This fact sheet about vomiting, produced by the Israeli organization Concern for Helping Animals in Israel, includes a questionnaire covering many of the things your veterinarian might ask you about when trying to diagnose the cause of your cat's vomiting.
Llibertat Real Sampietro, DVM
Clinica Veterinaria Bendinat