I remembered a couple of years ago, I actually saw my cat dry heaving for the first time. I’m not ashamed to admit that I almost peed in my pants out of fear and panic.
At that very moment, I thought my cat was going to choke and die.
Fast forward to the present day, I still catch my cat dry heaving every now and then but I am in a better position to understand the underlying cause.
It is rather common for cats to dry heave. This usually happens when they are regurgitating the food they just ate. Or they might have a hairball that they are trying to vomit out.
The problem arises when your cat’s dry heaving and won’t eat.
This indicates a more serious problem with your cat’s health. There are many reasons that can cause this. A hairball that is stuck in your cat’s digestive tract and won’t come out. Your cat might have also swallowed something toxic or inedible and is trying to expel it from the body. It could also be due to an issue with one of your cat’s main organs like kidney disease or liver disease.
In this article, we will be discussing the reasons why your cat is dry heaving and not eating. It is a serious problem that needs to be understood by all cat owners.
What Is Dry Heaving?
Dry heaving or retching in cats happens when the cat’s stomach and esophagus are contracting to remove a blockage in the cat’s digestive tract but is often unsuccessful.
Your cat will sound like it is having a bad cough or going through a gagging motion.
Many cat owners tend to confuse this with vomiting and regurgitation in cats as they all tend to look the same.
Vomiting in cats happens when there are involuntary contractions of the cat’s stomach walls to expel its stomach content. Vomiting can occur when your cat is sick or has been eating spoiled food by mistake.
Regurgitation is when the contents of the esophagus are expelled. You might have seen your cat regurgitate its undigested food if it has eaten too fast. This happens when your cat’s stomach can’t stretch fast enough to contain the incoming food.
Why Is My Cat Trying To Throw Up But Can’t?
There are a number of reasons that could be causing your cat’s dry heaving, some more serious than the others.
What can make the problem worse is when your cat has been dry heaving too frequently and not eating.
Any cat or pet that has lost its appetite usually means that there is an underlying health issue. It is something that needs to be addressed by the vet as soon as possible.
Here are some of the common reasons.
Amongst all the domesticated pets, cats are most prone to having hairballs. This is because most cats are big on cleanliness and can spend up to 5 hours a day grooming themselves.
When cats groom themselves, they will lick up all their loose hairs or fur. If you have ever been licked by a cat, you’ll notice how rough their tongues are.
A cat’s tongue has backwards-facing spines called papillae which are useful when it comes to grooming itself because it acts as a brush.
The problem with so much grooming is the cats will swallow all the loose fur which will get stuck in their digestive tracts.
The majority of the swallowed hair will usually get passed out in the cat’s feces. The remainder that isn’t passed out will get vomited out by the cat as a long cylindrical mass of hair. Some cats’ hairballs can even smell like poop which might signify a health problem.
The problem arises when your cat is not able to expel the mass of hairball in its digestive tract and it hardens into a dense mass.
This can cause abdominal pain and intestinal blockage which will affect your cat’s appetite.
If you find that your cat has been dry heaving a lot recently, having constipation and vomiting mucus, it could be having a hairball problem and needs to see a vet immediately to get it removed.
For cats that have chronic hairball issues, make sure to use an effective hairball remedy to help your cat better manage its hairballs.
Foreign Body Stucked In Throat Or Stomach
Given the very curious nature of cats, don’t be surprised if your cat eats something that it is not supposed to from time to time.
This could be a small piece of plastic, foam or even an insect. Most cats are able to dislodge the stuck foreign body after some time.
If it is not able to remove the foreign object successfully, it will start to exhibit the same symptoms as having a stubborn hairball.
Your cat needs immediate veterinary attention to remove the foreign object or it can be fatal. If you are lucky, your cat will start to meow and vomit out the foreign object.
There are some cats that will have a compulsion to chew on and swallow inedible objects. This is called PICA syndrome. These cats can and will eat items made of plastic, paper, cardboard and fabric.
As you can see, these aren’t the things you want your precious cat putting in its mouth let alone swallowing it.
There is no certainty as to how and why some cats get PICA syndrome. It might be due to a dietary deficiency, genetic disorder or being taken from its mom at too young an age.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for PICA and the symptoms can only be managed. See your vet about it to better understand how you can help your cat.
Cats are prone to developing chronic kidney disease especially as they get older. This is due to the fact that many cats don’t drink enough water in their diet to help flush out toxins in their kidneys.
Another reason that can make this matter worse is if you feed your cat dry food. Dry food contains hardly any moisture in it and it lacks the proper nutrients that your cat needs.
Feed it good canned wet food or a raw food diet which is the most natural diet for cats.
Cats that suffer from chronic kidney disease can exhibit symptoms like vomiting and dry heaving. Here are other symptoms that you might notice:
- Drinking more water
- Urinating more
- Loss of appetite
- Pale gums
- Frequent occurrence of urinary tract infections
My cat has chronic kidney disease and the first symptom that I saw was when he started drinking a lot more water than usual. Plus he started losing his appetite.
Brought him to the vet for a blood test and the vet concluded that he has weak kidneys. He has to be on lifelong medication to manage his kidneys but he is as fit as a fiddle now.
If your cat has ingested mild toxins, it can experience dry heaving within a short period of time.
Although cats are smart enough to avoid eating food or objects that can be toxic to them, they don’t always have a 100% record in this aspect.
It could be one of your indoor or outdoor houseplants that your cat chewed on that is toxic to cats. Another common reason is when eats are fed human food that contains ingredients that are also toxic to cats.
Garlic and onions are very commonly used as a seasoning in our daily food and they are very toxic to cats to the point of being fatal.
Cats that have eaten something toxic to them will be dry heaving, drooling at the mouth and act lethargic.
They definitely require immediate medical attention to prevent it from being fatal.
Heart disease in cats can be due to either a congenital effect which means that it was there since birth. Or it could also be due to a recent underlying medical condition like heartworms, blood vessel disorders, etc.
Some of the common heart disorders in cats are:
- Thickening of the heart wall
- Hole in the heart
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart valves disorder
The bad thing about heart diseases is that they can be very hard to detect unless it is detected early from regular health screenings.
There have been so many sad stories of pets being healthy one day and dead the next due to heart failure.
If your cat shows any signs of dry heaving, not eating, breathing difficulty and weakness, it needs to see the vet without any delay.
The faster your cat can be treated for its heart disease, the better chance it has for a healthy and normal life.
Your cat’s liver serves a similar function as the kidney to remove toxic substances from the body. It also helps to properly regulate a large number of chemical compounds and substances in the cat’s blood.
The liver helps with many important bodily functions and can cause major health issues if your cat has liver disease.
Some of the common liver diseases that can affect a cat:
- Bacterial infections
- Congenital portosystemic shunts
- Hepatic lipidosis
- Liver cancer
Symptoms that your cat will exhibit if it has a liver condition:
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive thirst and urination
- Weight loss
As we are dealing with a health problem with a major organ, prompt medical attention is always key in helping your cat make a quick recovery.
What To Do If Your Cat Is Dry Heaving?
First of all, don’t panic. Most of the time, your cat is able to sort itself out if the dry heaving is due to a hairball or something wrong that it ate.
I understand that it can feel rather frustrating as a cat owner to see your poor cat dry heaving and not being able to do anything about it.
Make sure to monitor your cat over the next 48 hours to make sure that it is behaving normally and still has a good appetite.
Should I Take My Cat To The Vet for Dry Heaving?
If your cat is fine after dry heaving and isn’t showing any adverse symptoms, then I wouldn’t worry too much about it.
But if your cat does start to lose its appetite or doesn’t seem as active as before, it would be best to get your cat checked out by the vet right away.
The health of a pet can turn for the worse very suddenly and you don’t want to wait until that happens before seeing the vet.
The vet will definitely run a blood test to see if your cat’s major organs are doing fine. An X-ray or ultrasound might be needed if the vet suspects a more serious health issue.
How To Prevent Dry Heaving In Your Cat
Although you can’t totally prevent dry heaving in your cat, there are some things that you can do at home to try and minimize it.
Groom Your Cat Regularly
It is good practice to brush your cat a few times a week to help remove its loose and dead hair. If you have a long-haired breed like a Persian or Maine Coon, these cats need to be brushed daily as they tend to shed more.
Be Careful Of Your Houseplants
If you have many houseplants at home, you need to take stock of what plants can be toxic to your cat and get rid of them or place them in an area that your cat can’t get to.
If your cat likes to chew on plants, buy or grow some cat grass at home which is totally safe for cats.
PICA-Proof Your Home
If your cat has PICA, you will need to hide or cover anything that can be appealing to your cat. These can be wires, plastic containers, or loose pieces of cloth.
Some of these PICA cats will eat try to eat styrofoam.
PICA cats will usually start chewing on stuff once they start to feel bored. So keep them busy with more playtime and interactive toys.
Keep The Food Fresh
For cat parents that feed their cats wet food or a raw food diet, you can’t keep the food out too long. You need to be aware of how long your cat’s food has been out and replace the serving if it is no longer fresh.
This helps to keep the food fresh and prevent the risk of contamination.
Don’t Feed Your Cat Human Food
It is easy to fall into the trap of feeding your cat whatever is on the dinner table as a treat. You could be doing more harm than good to your cat if it ends up eating human food that is toxic to cats.
If you do want to give your cat treats, make sure it is meant for cats or bake some homemade cat treats for your feline friend.
If your cat has a heart, liver or kidney disease since birth or is at high risk of getting it, please do bring your cat for regular checkups so that it can be treated early if it does happen. Early detection always helps when it comes to such life-threatening diseases.
I know that dry heaving does sound very serious but it does not necessarily mean the end of the world for your cat if it starts to dry heave.
It is part and parcel of being a cat and most cats aren’t very bothered by it. Just make sure to get your cat to the vet sooner than later if you notice something unusual about your cat.