Cat Dry Heaving: Everything You Should Know and What to Do

cat-dry-heaving-on-ground

From time to time, you may have noticed your cat dry heaving. Scary? Alarming?

Well, believe it or not, this is normal. A hairball is the typical reason why healthy cats suffer from this. It can happen both in kittens and adult cats.

Most of the time, this odd behavior occurs because of a furball that is stuck in the throat or esophagus.

But if your cat is doing this more than once periodically, there could be an underlying health issue to consider.

Dry heaving is a minor cough, gagging, or strong stomach contractions. Sometimes it could be caused by a simple tickle or hairball in the throat or by a serious cause, including organ disease intestinal blockage.

I’ll cover these below – rest assured, there’s no need to panic but you can be aware of what may be going on so you can do what’s best for your kitty.

Causes of Dry Heaving

cat dry heaving foam

If you observe your cat dry heaving more than once, it could be due to the following reasons:

Gastroenteritis

If your kitten or adult cat is suffering from gastroenteritis, you may notice vomiting and diarrhea in addition. This vomiting could be white foam or yellow while vomiting with an empty stomach.

Most of the owners have noticed gagging or strange coughing after their cats drink or eat. It is usually caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, new food, and medication reaction. Other symptoms are lack of sleep, off feed, diarrhea, and depression.

This video is a great resource if you see your cat vomiting along with dry heaving:

Hairballs

It is completely normal if your cat coughs up a big ball of hair now and then. A cat’s tongue is an excellent tool for grooming. Cats can get hairballs as they constantly groom themselves and ingest the hairs. It helps to prevent matting in their fur.

Generally, there is no need to worry about this now and then before coughing up hairballs. But if your pet is constantly trying to cough up a hairball and cannot do so, take it to your veterinarian immediately.

Heart disease

Heart diseases are common in cats. Studies show that almost one in ten cats have some form of cardiovascular problem. Heart disease could be acquired (caused by something) or congenital (by birth).

The most common heart disease in pets is an arrhythmia, heartworm infection, myocardial disease, and vascular disease.

These diseases may also cause weakness, breathing difficulty, wheezing, coughing, abdomen swelling, and abnormal heart rate.

If your cat is dry heaving and not eating, this is a sign it’s time to get some help.

Kidney disease

In older cats, kidney disorders are common, and it may lead to dry heaving along with nausea and vomiting. Other signs include itchiness, depression, increased thirst and urination, weakness, and pale gums. Usually, kidney disease is caused by

  • Toxic substances
  • Birth defects
  • Infection or obstruction in the urinary tract
  • Kidney infections
  • Injuries
  • Liver disease

The liver is an important organ of the body that stores vitamins and filters toxins. It is more prone to damage due to an infection or toxins in the body. If your sick kitten or cat is suffering from liver disease, it exhibits various additional symptoms.

It includes jaundice (yellow eyes and skin), head pressing, pale gums, increased thirst, depression, loss of appetite, weight loss, and distended abdomen.

Nausea

Just like humans, cats can also feel nausea. Its most common cause is eating spoiled food, stomach acidity, and over-eating. It is not a serious medical condition and goes away on its own. It can also lead to vomiting, loss of appetite, weakness, and depression.

Foreign body in the stomach or throat

Cats are just like toddlers, putting everything in their mouth to see what it is. They always try to eat everything that they should not eat, like toys, foam, plastic, and bugs, etc.

When they ingest such things, it may cause blockage in their throat, esophagus, or intestine.

If you notice that your cat is dry heaving and no hairball comes out, or is vomiting, and has abdominal swelling or pain, you may also your kitty will not drink or eat anything.

It is a sign of obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract caused by tumors, hairball, any foreign object or intestinal twisting.

Take it to your veterinarian immediately. It is crucial to remove such objects from the body of your pet to prevent complete blockage or dehydration. It can be fatal.

Low Blood Sugar Level

Low blood sugar level in your animal can be a cause, and is something to monitor and look at when it comes to diet and exercise routines.

Dry Heaving in Kittens

This is actually a very common problem in kittens. Kittens less than 3 months old are very sensitive as their immune system is weak during this stage.

If your kitten is not drinking and eating along with periodic instances of coughing up nothing, it may lead to serious consequences.

Consult it with your veterinarian immediately to discuss this medical history.

What to do if my Cat is Dry Heaving?

cleaning-up-cat-vomit

If you observe your cat dry heaving, it is a good idea to take it to the veterinary care center for a complete body checkup and to ensure that there is no serious underlying medical condition.

Hairballs

Comb your cat twice a day to remove the loose hairs but especially in the spring when they start shedding. Long-haired cats need different brushes than short or medium-haired ones, and some, like Persians, need it daily or every other day.

In addition, you can buy anti-hairball gel as an additive to their food, or wet food that already contains the additive. Most healthy cats will do well without it.

A nutritious diet having plenty of fibers is also very effective in preventing this condition. Getting some grass that is made for cats to chew and regurgitate can work really well.

Of course, letting your cat outside to find some grass is another option if your get is not strictly indoors.

eating-grass-to-control-hairball-heaving

If your cat can’t bring up a typical hairball within 3 or 4 tries and is just throwing up bile or nothing at all, then he or she definitely needs the help of a veterinarian.

Obstruction

Prevent your cat from getting near small foreign objects that can be swallowed. If you notice that any foreign object is stuck in your cat’s throat or esophagus, take it to a veterinary care center. Your vet will perform an endoscopy to investigate the throat, esophagus, or stomach and will remove the obstruction.

Nausea

Nausea is very common in cats and goes away on its own within a few hours. It can be avoided by offering your cat a fresh and nutritious diet. Make sure that proportion of diet is right for the breed and age of your cat. If nausea is accompanied by high fever, you should take your pet to a veterinarian for proper treatment.

Gastroenteritis

Keep your sick animal separate from other healthy animals with gastroenteritis. You should discuss it with your veterinarian to keep your cat up to date on its shots and other preventive medication. Laboratory examination and diagnostic tests are also important for a complete checkup.

Diseases

Liver, heart, and kidney diseases are not preventable. But we can prevent their causes. For instance, heartworm medication can be used to prevent damage to the heart. These diseases can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian. Take your cat to a veterinary care center for a complete medical checkup at least once a year.

In a Nutshell

Hairball is the most common cause of dry heaving in cats but in other cases it can be disease or something needing attention like a respiratory infection. In this case the symptoms should not persist for a long time.

If you notice that your cat is depressed, it is a good idea to take it your veterinarian for a complete checkup and treatment.

References:

  1. Dabbir, B. K. R. Homeopathic treatment of acute gastro-enteritis – Read here.
  2. Willard, M. (2019). Haematemesis. In BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Gastroenterology(pp. 92-95). BSAVA Library.
  3. Johnson-Bennett, P. (2007). Starting from scratch: How to correct behavior problems in your adult cat. Penguin. Read more.