A cat throwing up yellow-colored liquid may be an indication of numerous illnesses from indigestion to kidney disease, or may simply mean that your feline needs to be fed smaller meals more often. Yellow-colored, liquid vomit is usually a combination of bile and stomach acids. When a cat has an empty stomach, the digestive acids have nothing to dilute them, and can irritate the lining of the stomach, causing the cat to vomit bile. Other common underlying reasons for a cat vomiting bile include pancreatitis, gastritis, diabetes, and eating something toxic or spoiled.
It can be quite scary if your cat is vomiting, especially if you don't know why. Although cats are known to vomit occasionally, it is not considered normal if it happens regularly. Cat vomit often appears foamy and white, clear, brown, pink, or yellow. Each of these colors can indicate different underlying causes.
Why Do Cats Vomit Yellow Liquid?
Yellow-colored vomit is typically made up of stomach acids and bile. Stomach acids are produced in the stomach lining to aid in digestion. Bile is a fluid produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It enters the duodenum (a part of the small intestine located just past the stomach) to further assist with digestion.
When cats vomit yellow liquid, it's often because the stomach is empty. The acids irritate the stomach lining and cause the cat to vomit. This explains why some cats may vomit when they are especially hungry. However, there are many diseases that cause cats to vomit, so don't dismiss your cat's yellow vomit. In addition, yellow liquid may not only be stomach acid and bile; it could be that your cat ate something yellow in color and is unable to properly digest it.
There are numerous illnesses that can cause a cat to vomit yellow liquid. The following are some of the more common causes of this distressing symptom.
Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas, which is an organ that helps with digestion by producing various enzymes and hormones that help break down fats and carbohydrates in the cat's diet. Pancreatitis can cause the cat to vomit bile, as well as become lethargic, stop eating, have diarrhea, and experience abdominal pain. This is a serious illness that needs prompt veterinary attention.
Gastritis is the medical term for an "upset stomach." There are many reasons for the stomach upset, which might include bacterial or viral infection, eating spoiled food, eating something toxic, stress, and chronic illnesses, including diabetes. Depending on the cause of the gastritis, your cat might only vomit bile, or might have other symptoms as well, including diarrhea and loss of appetite. Gastritis that lasts more than 24 hours calls for a visit to the vet.
Just like humans, cats can develop diabetes. This endocrine disease occurs when the body does not properly respond to the hormone insulin, which helps regulate the levels of glucose in the blood. When blood glucose levels become chronically high, many organs can be damaged, including the kidneys, heart, and eyes. Diabetes is most common in senior cats but can occur at any age. Diabetic cats often vomit bile, but more common symptoms include excessive thirst and hunger, abnormally frequent urination, fatigue, and weight loss. Diabetes in cats is often treated with insulin injections.
Another common chronic illness of senior cats, kidney disease can cause increased stomach acids, leading to the vomiting of bile. Cats with kidney disease often urinate more than normal, lose interest in food and so lose weight, develop raggedy coats, and have diarrhea. Kidney disease is usually progressive, but your veterinarian can help you keep your cat comfortable and happy for as long as possible.
Bilious Vomiting Syndrome
In some cats, going to long without eating causes an excessive buildup of stomach acids and bile, and the response is to vomit out the irritating fluids. This is especially likely if your cat most often vomits bile in the morning before breakfast, but appears fine after eating. Generally, you can control this frustrating syndrome by feeding your cat small meals more frequently so its stomach doesn't remain empty for long.
Curious cats often swallow things they shouldn't, including string, tinsel, fabric, and paper. These foreign objects can become wedged within the cat's intestines if they are too large to pass through the digestive system. Depending on the extent of the blockage, your cat might experience a variety of symptoms, including vomiting bile, diarrhea, pain, lethargy, inability to pass feces, abnormal behaviors, and refusal to eat. An intestinal obstruction is an emergency, and often will require surgery to remove the foreign object.
What to Do if Your Cat Is Throwing Up Yellow Liquid
If your cat vomits yellow liquid one time and there are no other signs of illness, then it may not be a cause for concern. Watch your cat closely for a day or two to make sure he is eating, drinking, and behaving normally. If your cat stops eating, becomes lethargic, or continues to vomit, contact your veterinarian for advice. Your vet may recommend changing the feeding schedule, feeding a bland diet, or coming in for an exam. If vomiting becomes frequent or your cat appears to be in distress, bring him to the nearest open veterinarian as soon as possible.
Treatment for Vomiting in Cats
If your cat needs veterinary medical attention for vomiting, your vet may recommend diagnostic testing to determine the cause of the vomiting. Potential tests include blood chemistry, complete blood count, electrolytes, thyroid levels, urinalysis, radiographs (X-rays), ultrasound, and more. There are some basic treatments that offer supportive care for vomiting, but additional treatment recommendations may be made depending on the test results.
Supportive veterinary care for vomiting in cats includes anti-nausea medications, subcutaneous or intravenous fluids to restore and maintain hydration, and a bland diet to ease digestion. Some cats can be treated on an outpatient basis, meaning the vet will administer some treatments in the clinic, then possibly send you home with medications to give your cat. Other cats with more severe illness may need to be admitted to the hospital for 24-hour care.
Some cats recover quickly while others need more time. This generally depends on the underlying cause of the vomiting as well as the cat's overall condition. Your vet is the best source for advice when it comes to your specific cat.
How to Prevent Vomiting in Cats
You may or may not be able to prevent vomiting in your cat. Sometimes illnesses occur with no known cause. However, there are a few things you can do to minimize the risks.
- Bring your cat to the vet for routine wellness check-ups at least once every year (or more if recommended by your vet)
- Feed a high-quality diet that is rich in meat-based protein and has an AAFCO statement on the label verifying that it is balanced and complete
- Keep objects that may become foreign bodies out of reach of your cat. This includes strings, ribbons, hair ties, and anything else small and appealing to cats that could be ingested.
- Keep plants, chemicals, human food, and any other potential toxins out of reach.
Remember to contact your veterinarian in the early signs of illness; delaying can only make things worse. When in doubt, head to the nearest open vet office.