What to Do if Your Cat Is Vomiting Up Brown Liquid

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Cats can vomit for a multitude of reasons and what they vomit can be just as varied. Brown vomit, though, can be a sign of a serious illness. Vomiting itself is what is considered to be a nonspecific symptom. It could be associated with an array of health concerns. Some of these can include things like allergic reactions, internal obstructions, pancreatitis, kidney failure, parasitic infections, liver disease, inflammation, poisoning, or nervous system disorders. But what could be causing your cat to vomit brown liquid specifically?

Causes of Your Cat Vomiting up Brown Liquid

Bleeding in the Gastrointestinal Track: Brown vomit can be indicative of bleeding. If your cat has been vomiting chronically for some time, there may be inflammation in the mouth and/or esophagus that could be oozing blood. If your cat hasn't been chronically vomiting, brown liquid vomit may be indicative of internal bleeding further down the gastrointestinal track. This could be the result of something like a foreign body ingestion or a large hairball impaction that is blocking the intestines and creating inflammation and trauma.

Brown Bile: Sometimes brown liquid vomit can be bile from your cat's liver. Vomited bile is usually yellow in color, though, so if it is determined that the brown liquid your cat is vomiting is bile, that could be a sign of a problem with your cat's internal organs.

Food: Of course, most cat food, whether dry kibble or canned, is some shade of brown in color. If you cat is a habitual 'scarf and barf' cat or if they have intestinal sensitivities, that may be causing them vomit up partially digested or undigested food. If your vet has ruled out other medical issues and thinks that what your cat is vomiting up is actually food, they may want you to try a commercial, sensitive systems food with your cat. If your cat is still struggling with vomiting food on this special diet, they may then want to put your cat on a strict, hydrolyzed protein diet.

When it comes to food allergies, most cats are actually allergic to the protein versus any other nutrient source. A hydrolyzed diet is a food that has gone through a process where the protein is broken down into its individual amino acid components. This prevents your cat's immune system from identifying the food as containing an allergen and prevents your cat from having symptoms of an allergy flare up.

Causes of Brown Liquid Vomit in Cats

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How to Stop Your Cat From Eating Too Fast

Your vet may also suggest food puzzles for your cat. Food puzzles are a great source of both play and enrichment for your cat. There are more and more manufactured food puzzles available on the market that stimulate both your cat's predatory and foraging instincts. The added benefit of food puzzles for a cat that chronically vomits their food, though, is that it slows down the chow time so that a cat can't eat too quickly and then get sick from it. If your cat routinely eats out of puzzle feeders and is still vomiting up their food, talk to your vet about a change in diet. It may be that your cat has a food allergy that is the main culprit of their food vomiting and a change in diet may be what is needed to calm their GI system down.

What Should I Do if My Cat is Vomiting Brown Liquid?

Some cat owners may describe their cat as 'puke-y' but it should be noted that frequent vomiting is never normal for a cat. Chronic vomiting or when it has been occurring for more than two or three weeks is definitely a sign of a problem. If your cat is vomiting brown liquid several times and/or in conjunction with other symptoms such as lack of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, or diarrhea you should make an appointment with your vet right away. Your vet will want to start with a physical exam, checking your cat's vital signs, including temperature, and palpating your cat's abdomen.

After a thorough examination, your vet may also want to run some tests, including blood work and x-rays. Blood work will check your cat's organ function, making sure that there are no signs of liver disease or kidney disease, as well as your cat's red blood cell and platelet levels. An X-ray study will check for any fluid in the abdomen that could potentially be blood and it may also show intestinal gas patterns that could be indicative of a blockage.  In some cases, abdominal ultrasound may be recommended for further imaging.

Depending on what your doctor finds, your cat may require hospitalization for fluid therapy and supportive care or they may just need outpatient treatments and oral medications to go home on. If your vet suspects your cat has an intestinal blockage your cat may require surgery to remove whatever the blockage is. 

Even if the reason is something as benign as eating breakfast too quickly, routine vomiting in a cat is never a normal activity. If you're struggling with a vomiting cat, call your veterinarian to see if they can help you determine what is ailing your cat can how you can help them fell better.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.
Article Sources
The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Vomiting in Cats. Merck Veterinary Manual.

  2. Food Allergies. Cornell University Feline Health Center.

  3. Vomiting in Cats. VCA Animal Hospitals.