A few years ago, my housemate (who was an internal medicine resident fascinated by vomit and diarrhea and such) asked me if I ever did blood work and x-rays to find out why Seamus was a chronic vomiter (“What are you talking about? Once a month is totally normal for a cat. Whatever!”). After my housemate made me feel guilty, I’ve pondered why we cat owners are so tolerant of cat vomit. I mean, if you vomited once a week for years, wouldn’t you go to a medical doctor? If your dog vomited once a week all his life, chances are you’d take him to a veterinarian sooner or later. So why is it that we cat owners tolerate cat puke so much more? Maybe we’re blaming frequent vomiting on hair balls, but if your cat is puking that often and there isn’t any hair in the puke, think again. There may actually be a medical cause for all that vomit.
If you cat is vomiting up hair balls, you’ll see Kitty actively retching (with her stomach heaving) and having what we vets grossly call a productive vomit. In other words, she’ll bring up some bile (yellow-tinged fluid), undigested food, or hair. That said, retching or vomiting can also mimic other problems, such as something stuck in the mouth, throat, or esophagus. If the vomit is unproductive (i.e., nothing comes out), our cat may be coughing instead, which is a classic sign of asthma. Regardless, if you find your cat doing either more than once or twice a month, something more serious may be going on that warrants a trip to the veterinarian. Chest and abdominal x-rays, some basic blood work, and a sterile lung fluid wash (also called an endotracheal lavage) should be done to rule out asthma. Before you blame Kitty for ruining your Persian carpet, make sure ou aren’t missing a medical problem!
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