When Vomiting Becomes a Concern

May 1, 2017

It is not uncommon for cats or dogs to vomit. While it may not be a cause for concern, it should be discussed with your veterinarian because vomiting can sometimes be life threatening, or a sign of ongoing disease. 

Acute vomiting 

Acute vomiting (sudden onset, possibly lasting only a few days) may be a result of infection with a gastrointestinal “bug”. However, this type of vomiting could be caused by eating something toxic, a foreign object (e.g., hair ties), be due to a twisted stomach (gastric dilatation volvulus) or due to stomach ulcers. The vomit may contain blood (fresh bright red, or be dark, like “coffee grounds”), be an unusual colour (e.g., dye from rat poison), or have foreign material in it. When due to infection, immediate treatment with intravenous fluids and antibiotics may be needed to save the pet. These are emergencies. Do not attempt treatment at home – get to your veterinarian immediately.

Chronic vomiting

When vomiting is frequent and occurs over a longer period of time, it could be caused by many disease conditions. These causes include infections or inflammation of the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, liver, kidneys or pancreas. Cancer, parasites and partial blockage can cause persistent vomiting as well. Along with vomiting, cats and dogs may experience reduced appetite, weight loss, pain in the abdomen, and cramping.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not normal for cats to vomit. Even hairballs are a sign of a problem. The cat may:

  1. Take in more hair than normal due to conditions such as ongoing pain or inflammation of skin, joints or internal organs
  2. Be over-grooming due to anxiety/stress
  3. Have slower than normal food transit through the stomach or small intestines resulting from conditions such as inflammation, tumour, or ongoing infection.

Diagnostic tests are needed to identify the reason for the vomiting and make appropriate treatment recommendations. Tests may include blood tests, X-rays, ultrasound, dietary trials, or surgery to harvest biopsies or remove foreign bodies. While the Internet may suggest first aid or home remedies, this may result in prolonged pain or worsening of the underlying problem. By carrying out thorough physical examination and timely appropriate tests, less cost will be incurred by the caregiver. Prompt diagnosis and treatment will reduce suffering. It is important to try to find the cause of chronic vomiting.

Date update: May 1, 2017


Dr. Kathleen Cavanagh, Consulting Online Editor, CVMA

Dr. Margie Scherk, Specialist Editor
DVM, DABVP (Feline)