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Why is My Cat Dry Heaving?

Brooke Billingsley

By Brooke Billingsley

a cat that feels sick and seems to vomit

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Dr. Lorna Whittemore

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If you’ve owned a cat for just about any period, you’re likely familiar with the distinct sound of a cat trying to throw up. The horrible gagging sound that accompanies dry heaving and vomiting seems to happen most frequently around 2 am and only seems to take place on your bed or some expensive textile or piece of furniture.

Dry heaving is essentially the gagging and heaving that occurs before a cat throws up, but without the cat actually throwing anything up. If this happens only once or every now and then, then it’s likely nothing to be concerned about. If it happens frequently or is a new problem, then you should likely begin looking into the causes of your cat’s dry heaving. Here are some of the reasons that your cat may be dry heaving.

Why is My Cat Dry Heaving?

cat coughing
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Regardless of the underlying cause, dry heaving indicates that your cat is nauseated and suffering from some gastrointestinal distress. There are many reasons that your cat may be nauseated, though. Hairballs are a common cause of dry heaving in cats as your cat attempts to vomit a hairball up it may be accompanied by several rounds of dry heaving. Intestinal parasites are another common cause of dry heaving in cats, especially strays and outdoor cats.

Some viral infections may lead to nausea and dry heaving in cats, like viral gastroenteritis. Toxin exposure and poisoning can cause dry heaving in cats, as can ingestion of inappropriate food items. This will usually progress to actual vomiting and other signs of illness.

Some serious medical conditions can result in dry heaving, especially when undiagnosed or poorly managed, however actual vomiting is more common. These conditions include diabetes, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, liver disease, heart disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. These conditions will have additional signs and symptoms such as increased thirst, changes to appetite and weight, changes to activity levels and changes to stool consistency, dry heaving is not likely to be the only cause for concern.

Intestinal foreign bodies are another serious condition that can lead to dry heaving. If your cat has consumed something that isn’t moving through the intestinal tract, then they are experiencing an intestinal foreign body. When a cat has a foreign body, they will experience nausea due to the altered movement of the digestive tract and the lack of the ability to properly move things through the stomach and intestines. Over time, this nausea will increase and will likely lead to vomiting. An intestinal foreign body is a medical emergency and should immediately be addressed by your veterinarian.

What Should I Do if My Cat is Dry Heaving?

vet giving cat an inhaler
Image Credit: Shveyn Irina, Shutterstock

It’s not wholly uncommon for a cat to dry heave on occasion, especially if your cat is prone to hairballs. However, if dry heaving occurs daily or multiple times per day or week, especially if combined with other signs of illness such as lethargy, diarrhea, pain or inappetence, it’s important to have your cat evaluated by a veterinarian. Since there are so many things that can cause dry heaving in cats, your vet should check your cat over to rule out serious issues.

Sometimes, warming, changing your cat’s food or providing supplementation to reduce hairballs is all that is necessary. However, some conditions may require long-term medical treatment or even surgery to repair, so your vet will need to rule these issues out or begin treatment.

In Conclusion

There are a lot of reasons your cat may be dry heaving. Often, the cause is benign and of little to no concern. Other times, though, the cause may be very serious, leading to the need for medical or surgical intervention to get your cat healthy and help them feel well. It is important to monitor for other signs of illness if your cat is dry heaving.

If your cat regularly dry heaves, having a vet checkup is a great idea to ensure your cat is not experiencing a severe issue. Many conditions that can cause dry heaving are curable or treatable when caught early enough. However, waiting until your cat is quite sick to begin treatment can decrease the chance of your cat returning to a comfortable quality of life.

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Featured Image Credit: chie hidaka, Shutterstock

Brooke Billingsley

Authored by

Brooke Billingsley spent nine years as a veterinary assistant before becoming a human nurse in 2013. She resides in Arkansas with her boyfriend of five years. She loves all animals and currently shares a home with three dogs, two cats, five fish, and two snails. She has a soft spot for special needs animals and has a three-legged senior dog and an internet famous cat with acromegaly and cerebellar hypoplasia. Fish keeping...Read more

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