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Why Is Your Cat Dry Heaving? Here’s What to Do!

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	Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ, Veterinarian

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Has your cat suddenly started dry heaving? As a pet parent, it can be worrying when our cats seem to be off-color. If your cat doesn’t normally suffer from hairballs and is usually healthy, then you’re right to be concerned about why they may have started dry heaving.cat face divider 2

There are a few main issues that can cause dry heaving in cats:
  • Eating too fast
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Hairballs
  • Asthma
  • Nausea
  • Object stuck in throat or stomach
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease

Let’s take a look at each of these issues in turn, as well as what you can do about them. Some problems, like hairballs, are relatively minor. Others, including heart, liver, and kidney diseases, will need immediate veterinary attention and can cost more to remedy.

In most of these cases, you should book your cat for a check-up with your veterinarian.

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Eating too fast

Cat eating
Image Credit: sweetlouise, Pixabay

Some cats just love to scarf their food down! If your cat ate their dinner too fast, sometimes they can dry heave before vomiting it back up again. Thankfully, this is an easy one to fix with a few small management changes.

  • What to do about it: Start using a slow feeder bowl, which is designed to increase the amount of time that it takes your cat to eat their food. You can also split their ration into smaller portions and spread this out into more meals over the day.
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Gastroenteritis

Cat Vet
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Gastroenteritis happens when your cat’s stomach and intestines get inflamed. It can be caused by a wide range of things, including bacterial infections, parasites, medication, viruses, and introducing a new food too quickly.

Besides dry heaving, other possible signs of gastroenteritis include:
  • Vomit
  • Diarrhea
  • They might react when you touch the abdominal area (sensitivity or pain).
  • Bloating
  • Fever
  • They might be listless, and take themselves off to hide somewhere quiet.

 

  • What to do about it: A cat suffering from gastroenteritis needs medical attention. Please bring your cat to the vet before the condition gets worst. The vet will recommend treatment according to the causal agent of this condition.
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Hairballs

cat hairball
Image: Montakan Wannasri, Shutterstock

We all know that our cats are clean creatures that spend plenty of time grooming themselves each day. As your cat cleans their fur, they end up swallowing some of the shedding hairs. These form into balls that pass through your cat’s intestine and end up in their poop. Occasionally, cats will vomit these up if they can’t pass them through their intestines. Cats often dry heave or retch as they try to regurgitate these hairballs.

  • What to do about it: If your cat dry heaves, then manages to vomit up a hairball, you’re all good! But if they keep dry heaving repeatedly without any evidence of a hairball, try offering a hairball remedy. If after a day or two this does not work, please bring your cat to the veterinarian.
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Asthma

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Credit: Seregraff, Shutterstock

Some cats can develop asthma, which can be a response to something in the environment like pollution, pollen, dust, or a new perfume that their human is using! Undiagnosed asthma can cause your cat to have a sore throat, and that can sometimes cause dry heaving.

  • What to do about it: If your cat’s dry heave is accompanied by wheezing and labored breathing, bring your cat to the veterinarian and they will diagnose them. If the cat does suffer from asthma, you will have to be prepared to regularly medicate your cat.
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Nausea

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Credit: one photo, Shutterstock

Just like us, cats can end up feeling nauseated for any number of reasons. They may have eaten something spoiled (half-rotten mouse, maybe), reacted to a new feed, or consumed too much in one sitting. Most cats will dry heave before bringing the offending food back up again.

  • What to do about it: If your cat has dry heaved and then vomited, keep an eye on them for the next 24 hours. They may not want to eat much food, but make sure they have access to plenty of fresh water. If they still seem off-color after 24-48 hours, give your vet a call, as they may want to run tests.
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Object stuck in throat or stomach

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Credit: TungCheung, Shutterstock

Some cats seem to have a knack for eating something that they shouldn’t. Any foreign body like a hairband, a large insect, small ball, and so on has the potential to cause major problems for your kitty. The foreign object may get stuck in their throat, causing them to dry heave, and your cat might manage to dislodge it this way. It might also pass further down their gastrointestinal tract and get stuck in their stomach or intestines.

If you think that your cat has swallowed something that they shouldn’t have, watch out for dry heaving, vomiting, swelling of the abdomen, and decreased appetite and thirst. Check to see if they manage to vomit up the item or not.

  • What to do about it: This is a medical emergency, as a foreign object can cause intestinal blockages and severe dehydration if left untreated. Speak to your veterinarian and schedule an emergency appointment.
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Liver disease

Cat Vet
Image Credit By: skeeze, pixabay

If your cat is dry heaving but also recently lost weight and isn’t eating as much, these can be signs of liver disease. Cats with liver disease can also have slightly yellow gums and eyes associated with jaundice. More serious symptoms include circling, head pressing, and a distended abdomen.

  • What to do about it: Dry heaving combined with any of the above symptoms should be checked out by your vet to rule out liver disease.
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Heart disease

Veterinarian examining a kitten_didesign021_shutterstock
Credit: didesign021, Shutterstock

Heart disease isn’t unusual in cats, and it’s thought to affect 15% of our domestic kitties. The causes can be genetic or acquired. Heart disease can sometimes (although not always) cause dry heaves, as well as problems breathing, weakness, and abdominal swelling.

  • What to do: If you notice any of the above symptoms in your cat, then speak to your veterinarian as soon as possible. They may want to run tests.
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Kidney disease

kitten in vet kennel
Image Credit: Halfpoint, Shutterstock

As cats age, kidney disease becomes more likely. This can cause nausea, vomiting, and dry heaving. Your cat may also appear listless and weak and have pale gums. You might also notice your cat is drinking and urinating more often than usual.

As well as being linked to age, kidney disease can be triggered by obesity, ingestion of toxins, urinary tract infections, or an injury affecting the kidneys. It’s also more prevalent in certain breeds, including Persians, British Shorthairs, and Himalayans.

  • What to do about it: If you suspect your cat has kidney disease, speak to your veterinarian and schedule a check-up immediately.

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Wrapping things up

Maybe one of these causes of dry heaving sounds like it could be the reason that your cat is dry heaving. Sometimes, the cause can be as simple as your cat eating something too quickly, and other times, it’s more serious.

If you’re worried that your cat’s dry heaving has continued for over 24 hours without any sign of improving or it’s accompanied by any of the symptoms for different conditions, then it’s best to call your veterinarian and ask for their advice.

As pet parents, we always want to make sure our cats stay as healthy as possible!

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Featured image credit: Dmitrij Skorobogatov, Shutterstock