As pet parents, we accept that cleaning up the occasional mess is simply part of what we signed up for. The sound of your cat hacking up a hairball may be typical background noise at this point… but does that mean it’s normal?
When it comes to cats, what’s the difference between hairballs and vomiting? How do you know when your cat’s messes are something to be concerned about? Keep reading to find out!
Hairballs, Regurgitating, and Vomiting: What’s the Difference?
Whether you witness the incident or only notice the evidence on the ground while walking past it, there’s no denying the fact that no matter how adorable they may be, our cats can sometimes be a little… gross.
“Vomiting” is a bit of a broad term. In fact, hairballs and regurgitation—two relatively common feline behaviors—aren’t technically considered vomiting at all. So, what’s the difference?
Feline hairballs occur because, as cats groom themselves with their tongues, they inevitably ingest some hair along the way. While some hair can pass through the digestive tract, excess hair isn’t able to be fully digested and eventually makes its way back up.
While the occasional hairball is typically nothing to be worried about, frequent hairballs could be a sign of a health issue—overgrooming, excessive shedding, or digestive issues, for example.
Regurgitation occurs quickly and without warning, immediately after your cat finishes eating or drinking. If your cat spits up food without abdominal contractions/retching, she’s regurgitating her food rather than throwing it up. Regurgitated food is typically undigested.
Cat vomiting can happen for many reasons, some of which are benign and others of which are more serious. If your cat is heaving or retching as she spews, she’s vomiting rather than regurgitating.
Vomiting can happen for many reasons. As a result, there are many different ways to address it. If you are concerned about your cat’s health, talk to your vet to discuss appropriate next steps.
Why is My Cat Vomiting?
Some people mistakenly believe that they can diagnose the cause of their cat’s health issues based on the color of her vomit. However, vomit color is not necessarily a helpful indicator of your cat’s health, as this can vary based on several factors including food, treats, and dyes used in food.
Common causes of cat vomiting include:
If your cat ate something she wasn’t supposed to eat, she may end up with an upset stomach. This could include spoiled foods, foods that taste rather unappealing, toxic houseplants, or even certain insects or pests she may have ingested during a hunting session.
If your kitty eats something undigestible, she may end up with an item stuck in her throat or digestive tract. Keep an eye out for small parts of toys or games, strings, small cooked bones, and more, as these could cause your cat to get sick.
We tend to think of allergies as seasonal or environmental issues that result in our pets having agitated, itchy skin. However, if your kitty has a food allergy, she may end up with some tummy troubles—typically a combination of vomiting and diarrhea.
If your cat has started vomiting more frequently after changing her diet, talk to your vet to determine whether she’s allergic to her new food.
Underlying Health Issues
From parasites to kidney problems, there are various health issues that may include vomiting as a side effect. If your cat is vomiting frequently, it never hurts to talk to your vet to rule out something serious.
When to Contact a Veterinarian
Sometimes, your kitty may only vomit once and then happily continue on with her day. In those cases, it’s likely that she’s resolved the issue herself and that there is no need to see a vet.
In other cases, though, your cat’s vomiting may be a sign of something that requires a veterinarian’s insight. Vomiting isn’t just a sign of existing health issues—it can also contribute to further issues such as dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.
You should see a vet about your cat’s vomiting if:
- Your cat is vomiting multiple times per day and not keeping food down.
- You’re noticing hairballs more often than once per month or so.
- There’s a noticeable increase in the frequency of your cat’s vomiting.
- The vomit includes blood, bile, mucus, or undigested food.
- The vomit has a foul odor.
- Your cat’s vomiting is accompanied by other changes in health including lethargy, appetite loss, diarrhea, and other changes in behavior/appearance.
Supporting Your Cat’s Digestive Health
As a cat owner, there are several steps you can take to support your pet’s digestive health:
- Feed a high-quality, nutrient-rich diet.
- Avoid leaving wet food out for too long (don’t let it spoil!).
- Don’t overdo it with the treats or table scraps.
- Keep an eye out for potential hazards including small toy parts, string, houseplants, and more.
- Give your cat plenty of fresh water to keep her hydrated.
- Brush your cat regularly to get rid of excess hair that may be contributing to hairballs.
You can also promote your cat’s digestive health with Pet Honesty’s Digestive Probiotics+ Powder for Cats. This tasty meal-topping powder is naturally flavored with real chicken, making it an easy, vet-recommended way to support healthy digestion, along with a strong immune response. Just scoop it onto your cat’s food to let her reap the benefits of the health-boosting properties!