It's never fun to watch your cat dry heave, however, rest assured in most cases it is harmless. That said, there are a few underlying conditions that can lead to dry heaving that cat owners should be aware of. Here, our Santa Cruz County vets explain.
Why is my cat dry heaving?
Cat dry heaving certainly looks and sounds unpleasant but most of the time the cause of your cat's dry heaving is relatively minor—namely, it is usually caused by a furball. Nonetheless, there are also a number of more serious causes of dry heaving in cats. The challenge is diagnosing whether your cat's dry heaving is simply the need to expel a hairball or whether there is a more serious underlying cause.
Below is a list of some of the most common reasons for dry heaving in cats.
Furballs / Hairballs
A furball or hairball is the most common cause of dry heaving in healthy cats and can happen in both kittens and adult cats.
When your cat grooms themselves, tiny hook-like structures on their tongue catch loose and dead hair, which is then swallowed. The majority of this hair passes all the way through the digestive tract with no problems. However, when hair remains in the stomach it forms a hairball, which your cat will then vomit up.
If your cat is having difficulties bringing up a furball or hairball it can lead to hacking, gagging, dry heaving, or retching. In most cases, your cat will vomit the hairball in a few tries. Rarely, furballs that are not expelled by your cat can lead to life-threatening blockages.
Contact your vet right away if your cat repeatedly dry heaves and shows the following symptoms:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of usual energy
The symptoms above could indicate a serious intestinal blockage.
Kidney disorders are common in older cats and can lead to a number of symptoms including dry heaving, nausea, and vomiting. Other symptoms associated with kidney disease in cats include itchiness, depression, increased thirst, increased urination, weakness, and pale gums.
Acute kidney disease is a veterinary emergency often caused by the ingestion of a toxic substance. If your cat is displaying any of the symptoms of a kidney disorder, contact your vet for advice or reach out to your local animal emergency hospital for urgent care.
Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach or intestine that can lead to gagging, dry heaving, and vomiting in cats and kittens. In some cases, you may notice that your cat foams at the mouth while vomiting with an empty stomach.
If your cat is suffering from gastroenteritis you may notice that gagging and dry heaving occurs most often following a meal. Gastroenteritis in cats can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, new food, or a reaction to medications.
Diarrhea, reluctance to eat, lack of energy, and depression are also signs of gastroenteritis in cats.
Both acquired and congenital (present from birth) heart disease are relatively common in cats.
As well as dry heaving, some feline heart conditions may also cause general weakness, breathing difficulty, wheezing, coughing, abdomen swelling, and abnormal heart rate. If you notice these symptoms accompanying your cat's dry heaving it's time to head to the vet.
Your cat's liver is essential for storing vitamins and filtering toxins. Liver issues often occur due to an infection or toxins in the body.
Cat's experiencing liver issues may dry heave and show other symptoms such as yellowing of the eyes and skin, pale gums, increased thirst, lethargy, lack of appetite, weight loss, and distended abdomen.
Just like humans, cats can also feel nauseous. An upset stomach can occur due to overeating, eating spoiled food, increased stomach acidity. Nausea in cats typically isn't serious and will likely pass, however, if you begin to notice other symptoms such as chronic vomiting or heaving, lack of energy, abdominal pain, or fever it's time to head to the vet for an examination.
Foreign Body in the Stomach or Throat
Much like dogs, cats will often swallow things they shouldn't. Ingesting foreign objects could lead to a blockage in their throat, esophagus, or intestine.
If your cat is dry heaving and no hairball comes out, is experiencing recurrent vomiting, refuses to eat, or has abdominal pain or swelling contact your vet right away. A blockage or obstruction is a serious veterinary emergency that requires urgent care.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.