Cats may vomit quite frequently but this isn’t necessarily a sign of serious ill-health. Even so, you should keep a watch on your pet, in case veterinary treatment is required. Vomiting can occur as part of an illness, or it may arise simply as the result of a fur ball in the stomach. Cats will often eat grass as a purgative, in the hope of clearing such an obstruction. Under these circumstances, they are more likely to vomit outside rather than in the home.
You can tell when a cat is about to vomit, because it starts to pump its chest violently, keeping its head down and its mouth open. There may be no cause for alarm, but keep an eye on your cat anyway.
While occasional vomiting is not a cause for concern, seek veterinary advice if your cat vomits repeatedly in a short space of time, and appears to be showing other signs of generalised illness, such as loss of appetite and a raised temperature. This indicates an irritation affecting the lining of the stomach, which then causes the stomach contents to be vomited.
It is easy for a cycle of vomiting to develop as a result, particularly if the cat is allowed unlimited access to water after. Having vomited, a cat feels dehydrated, and will seek out water, but as its stomach fills up again with this fluid, so the urge to vomit is likely to return. Vital salts are also lost from the body through vomiting and this can contribute to the severity of the dehydration. It is usually recommended that you prevent a cat from eating or drinking for at least two hours after it has vomited. The cat should then only be allowed a saucer of water. A similar volume of fluid should be offered in this way every hour or so, provided that there is no further vomiting.
It can be helpful to mix the water with an electrolyte powder, to assist recovery from dehydration. Try to describe the vomit to your vet, as this can be very helpful in trying to identify the likely cause, with frothy vomit, for example, usually being associated with feline infectious enteritis.
Cats which hunt will sometimes vomit back the indigestible remains of their prey. This is quite normal, and not a cause for concern, unless the cat starts gagging, indicating a bone is stuck in its throat.
Vomiting during an operation is dangerous because anaesthetics depress the ability to cough. Vomit can easily pass down into the windpipe and lungs, setting up an inhalation pneumonia. Vets can give an injection to stimulate vomiting.
Q. Are there times when I should encourage my cat to vomit?
This may be necessary in a case when a cat is thought to have swallowed a poison which is not corrosive. (Blistering in and around the mouth indicates a corrosive poison.) It will help to prevent the poison from being absorbed into the body, but needs to be carried out rapidly, within half an hour of ingestion. The simplest means of inducing vomiting under these circumstances is to give the cat a crystal of sodium bicarbonate (sold as washing soda), which is slightly larger than a thumbnail in size.
Q. How long will this take to be effective?
Your cat should really have vomited within 15 minutes. If not, don’t be tempted to give a further dose as this could be harmful. Instead, contact your vet.