It can sometimes seem that your cat vomits almost at will; feline vomiting can be a too-frequent occurrence. Most of the time, your cat vomits out a hairball or throws up because it ate too fast. But if your cat is throwing up white foam, it usually means vomiting on an empty stomach. One single episode of vomiting usually isn't serious, but if your cat is vomiting frequently, that's a sign that something is wrong.
Common reasons for cats to vomit foam include inflammation or irritation in the digestive system, ingestion of a foreign body such as string, internal parasites, bacterial or viral infections, systemic disease such as kidney or thyroid issues, or a food intolerance or allergy.
Cats often appear perfectly fine after an episode of vomiting, but should your cat show signs of illness, such as lethargy, refusal to eat, diarrhea, or acting "off," or if your cat vomits frequently, it's time to give your veterinarian a call. The vet can help you figure out what is ailing your cat and how to help bring your pet relief.
Here are some common reasons why your cat is throwing up white foam, as well as ways to help it feel better.
Just like in people, a cat's stomach produces various gastric juices as well as hydrochloric acid to digest their food. If, however, a cat skips a meal for some reason, or if they aren't fed on time, that build-up of juice and acid can irritate the stomach and cause your cat to vomit. Cats with indigestion may vomit yellow foam in addition to white foam. If you and your vet suspect your cat's vomiting is from indigestion, your vet may suggest feeding small, frequent meals at the same time throughout the day so as to alleviate any build-up of stomach acid.
All cats lick to groom themselves and they inevitably will ingest fur while doing so. Sometimes they can pass the fur in their stool, but sometimes the fur builds up and cannot be passed. When this happens, the fur needs to go somewhere, and your cat will vomit it up. If your cat is vomiting white foam but not yet any fur, it might be a precursor to a hairball. To prevent hairballs there are over-the-counter dietary supplements, in either chew or gel forms. Adopting a regular brushing schedule can also help get rid of any loose fur in your cat's coat that they may otherwise ingest when grooming themselves.
If your cat is one to get into things they shouldn't, it is possible that they have irritated their stomach with something that they have eaten. When this happens, you may see vomiting white foam in addition to vomiting blood and/or bile. Your cat may also be exhibiting a decrease in appetite, a depressed attitude, lethargy, or dehydration. Your vet will know just what to do if your cat is vomiting because of gastritis.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome, sometimes called inflammatory bowel disease, is one of the most common causes of vomiting in cats. Cats that suffer from IBS can also experience diarrhea and/or chronic decompensation. If your vet suspects IBS they will want to run lab work to confirm the diagnosis and then set up a treatment plan to help alleviate your cat's symptoms.
Cats can suffer from pancreatitis just like dogs and just like people. It can be either acute or chronic. It can also be concurrent with other diseases, such as gastrointestinal disease, liver disease, and/or diabetes. In addition to vomiting, signs of cats suffering from pancreatitis may include lethargy, loss of appetite, dehydration, weight loss, low body temperature, jaundice, fever, and abdominal pain. If pancreatitis is the reason for your cat's vomiting your vet will likely want to start treating it with fluid therapy and medications.
Cats suffering from liver disease can show a variety of nonspecific symptoms, such as vomiting, lack of appetite, or weight loss, as well as more severe symptoms like jaundice, or yellowing of the skin and sclera (whites of the eyes). Liver disease is not curable but the symptoms can be managed. Your vet will create a treatment plan for your cat so that they can start feeling better.
The major symptoms of diabetes in cats, just as in dogs and people, are increased drinking and urination, as well as weight loss and dehydration. If your cat is suddenly showing an increase in drinking and urinating, either in combination with any of the other listed symptoms or without, don't delay making an appointment to get your cat seen by your vet. Depending on the severity of your cat's diabetes, your vet may want to start insulin therapy or a simple diet change.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a very common disease of senior cats. Other symptoms of CKD include a considerable increase in drinking, a change in urine output, a loss of appetite, dehydration, a dull mood, a poor fur coat, and weakness. Similar to liver disease, kidney disease cannot be cured but the symptoms can be managed. If your senior cat starts showing any urinary signs have your cat seen by your vet. If they diagnose your cat with CKD they can talk to you about supportive care, both at home and in hospital, to help your cat cope with his/her renal insufficiency.
An overactive thyroid is another very common disease of senior cats. Symptoms, in addition to vomiting, can include weight loss despite an increase in eating and drinking, diarrhea, increased urination, and excessive vocalizations. If your senior cat is showing any of these symptoms your vet will want to run bloodwork to check their thyroid hormone levels. If your cat is indeed hyperthyroid, your vet will talk to you about daily medication to help treat the symptoms of this disease.
Sometimes vomiting, when in conjunction with diarrhea in a young kitten that hasn't been routinely dewormed, can be a sign of unchecked parasitic infection. Checking a stool sample and prescribing the appropriate dewormer can quickly correct this.
If you're struggling with a pukey cat at home, don't resign yourself to the common myth that it's normal for a cat to vomit on a semi-regular basis. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to help get to the bottom of why your cat is vomiting and your cat (and your floors) will thank you.
Vomiting Cats. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Vomiting. Cornell Feline Health Center.
Feline Gastritis. Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Cornell Feline Health Center.
Disorders of the Pancreas in Cats. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Cholangiohepatitis. Cornell Feline Health Center.
Feline Diabetes. Cornell Feline Health Center.
Chronic Kidney Disease. Cornell Feline Health Center.
Hyperthyroidism in Cats. Cornell Feline Health Center.
Gastrointestinal Parasites of Cats. Cornell Feline Health Center.