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Why Is My Cat Throwing Up Undigested Food?

Posted by Dr. Roth on August 01, 2022

Wellness Care
What to do if?
Nutrition
Why Is My Cat Throwing Up Undigested Food 5 Common Causes Header Photo

Pet parents have seen their cat hunched over after a meal and wondered, “Why is my cat throwing up undigested food?” It’s natural for pet parents to be concerned about their pet’s health, especially because vomiting can be a sign of illness. To help pet parents know when to contact a vet, they should look for specific symptoms and see how their cat behaves.

Common Reasons Why Your Cat Is Throwing Up Undigested Food

There are many causes for a cat throwing up undigested food, but not all are concerning. If there is vomit or partially chewed food on the floor or carpet, take a moment to consider the possible reasons.

1. Regurgitation From Eating Too Quickly

Cats can have a sensitive stomach sometimes, so wolfing down food is a common cause of cat regurgitation. 

Cat regurgitation causes a reaction soon after eating or drinking. A regurgitation episode is also more passive than other types of vomiting, and it happens before food breaks down. If a pet parent looks at the regurgitated material, they’ll likely see that it more resembles solid food. It could also be covered in mucus from the esophagus or stomach.

However, frequent regurgitation could point to underlying issues such as acid reflux, esophageal inflammation, or medication side effects. It could also indicate a more serious illness like a viral infection or cancer.

2. Food Allergies or Type of Food

Food allergies or intolerances can also cause an allergic reaction that leads to vomiting. Although it is believed that grains like wheat or barley are the common cause of food allergies in cats, research shows that animal proteins make up the majority. These proteins often include

  • Fish

  • Beef

  • Lamb

  • Chicken

  • Turkey

  • Milk

  • Eggs

A smaller percentage of cats can be allergic to cat foods with grains or plant-based proteins like soy, but most remain allergic to animal proteins. In addition, some cats can develop food allergies to ingredients they’ve eaten regularly — even in the meals they’ve enjoyed for many years.

3. Consuming Food When a Hairball Is Stuck

Vomiting up hairballs is a fairly normal part of the cat experience, and one or two hairballs a week shouldn’t cause a lot of concern. However, hairballs are more problematic if they get stuck. Hairballs could cause a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract or esophagus, preventing cats from properly digesting or even eating their food.

If a cat attempts to eat food with a hairball blockage, they could end up vomiting that food onto the floor. A hairball stuck further down in the digestive tract could lead to loss of appetite, an upset stomach, and a tender abdomen.

Apart from regular brushing and grooming, pet parents might offer probiotic supplements that support digestive health, hairball products that lubricate the blockage, or anti-hairball foods rich in fiber and dietary enzymes for prevention.

Hairball blockages that don’t pass or that lead to lethargy, weakness, loss of appetite, or other symptoms warrant a vet visit.

4. Gastrointestinal Condition, Kidney Disease, or Liver Disease

If a cat throws up undigested food, they might have one or more medical conditions affecting the digestive tract. For example, gastrointestinal conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, or constipation can cause an upset stomach, as can metabolic issues like kidney or liver disease.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and pancreatitis are conditions in which inflammation causes problems for the cat and doesn’t let their organs function correctly. Although pancreatitis is relatively rare in cats — about 2% of the general population — IBD is more common and often leads to inflammation in the stomach and intestines.

Having IBD can prevent the cat from absorbing nutrients. It also irritates the stomach and parts of the bowels, leading to food coming back up.

5. Foreign Body Obstruction or Parasites in Digestive Tract

Cats are naturally curious about many things, including small objects and other nonfood items. Sometimes, cats eat objects they shouldn’t. While many objects pass through a cat’s system, some can become trapped or lodged. This is known as a foreign body or foreign object obstruction, and it can create a life-threatening situation for a pet.

If the object is longer and thinner, it can create a different type of blockage that can affect the entire digestive tract. This blockage is a linear body obstruction that can travel from the esophagus through the intestines. Linear body obstruction often happens when cats swallow or eat items such as:

  • Tinsel

  • Thread

  • String or yarn

In most cases, obstructions require surgery because the cat can’t eliminate them alone. When the items are lodged, any food a cat attempts to eat often comes back up. It may even contain blood if the object has scratched or punctured the stomach lining or intestines.

Vomiting can also result from intestinal parasites. Unfortunately, parasites are quite common in cats — appearing in 45% of the general population on average, although anywhere from 25% to 75% of cats often experience some form of intestinal parasite. Roundworms are the most common parasite, but cats can also pick up parasite infections of tapeworms, stomach worms, hookworms, or threadworms. 

When You Should Be Concerned About Your Cat Throwing Up

Seeing a cat throwing up undigested food is always concerning, but many instances require just a bit of tender care and cleanup. However, if the cat occasionally vomits for one to two days, remain watchful and check in with veterinary support.

Chronic vomiting with or without blood can signal an underlying illness or condition. If the cat also has a loss of appetite, appears weak or dehydrated, and shows other symptoms, get emergency treatment immediately.  

Receive Immediate Online Vet Care In Case of Emergency Medical Issues

If a cat is vomiting undigested food, their pet parents want to know the reasons to help the cat feel better. The good news is that cats experiencing minor or emergency medical issues can get immediate online vet care with Fuzzy’s online vet services. You can support your cherished cat on the road to recovery with access to quality care and guidance on the next steps. Sign up for Fuzzy’s online vet telehealth services today.

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