Vomiting in Cats & Dogs [Colors, Causes, & What to Do Next]

At one point or another pet parents may see their cat or dog throwing up. Feline and canine vomiting can be worrying, especially if the cause is unknown. It is also essential to look at other co-occurring symptoms to recognize when it’s time to seek pet urgent care

In this complete, vet-approved guide, we look at the most common causes of feline and canine vomiting, and most importantly, when and how to seek medical attention if needed

What’s in This Guide?

  • Common Colors of Dog & Cat Vomit
  • Most Common Causes of Canine Vomiting & Cat Vomiting
A dog resting to represent canine vomiting or a dog about to throw up

Common Colors of Dog & Cat Vomit

Dog and cat vomit can come in various colors such as foamy white, yellow, yellow-brown, and more. Here is what each color of cat or dog vomit generally means: 

  • Foamy white pet vomit — can contain water, mucus, and/or saliva; can happen when the stomach has nothing else to eliminate.
  • Yellow or yellow-brown vomit — can contain stomach acid (+/- bile).
  • Green vomit — can be green due to grass or bile.
  • Red or dark brown vomit — can indicate the presence of blood or food coloring. It would be best to reach out to a veterinarian if a dog or cat’s vomit is suspected to contain blood

Most Common Causes of Canine Vomiting & Cat Vomiting

In any scenario, bloody vomit, excessive vomiting, or prolonged feline/canine vomiting that lasts for more than 12 hours needs pet urgent care. Reach out to an urgent care veterinarian as soon as possible.

In the absence of bloody vomit, excessive vomiting, or prolonged vomiting in dogs and cats, pet parents are still encouraged to look at other symptoms in their pets — which can vary depending on the cause of vomiting. 

In this section, we talk about the most common causes of vomiting in cats and dogs, their other symptoms, and when veterinary attention is required. 

1. Overeating

Dogs and cats may vomit after overeating due to the stomach being stretched beyond its normal capacity, triggering the vomiting reflex. When dogs or cats vomit due to overeating, they may experience discomfort and bloating.

Note: It is normal for dogs and cats to overeat from time to time. Veterinary attention would only be necessary if vomiting is prolonged, severe, or chronic.

A cat eating to represent overeating which is a cause of feline vomiting or vomiting in cats

2. Motion Sickness

Both dogs and cats can experience motion sickness too. The conflicting signals from their senses during movement can result in nausea. Vomiting due to nausea is typically accompanied by drooling, whining, and/or anxiety

Note: To best deal with motion sickness in pets, limit a dog’s or cat’s food consumption before the trip. It would also be advisable to keep your furry friend as calm as possible. You can also schedule a consultation with a veterinarian to get prescription medication for nausea and anxiety if needed. 

3. Hairballs (Common in Cats)

Cats may vomit hairballs when the ingested fur forms clumps in their stomach, prompting the body to expel them. Though hairballs are common, frequent vomiting of hairballs within 48 hours or every few weeks can be problematic; this may suggest that too much hair is  accumulating in the cat’s gut. 

Note: Reach out to a veterinarian if you observe frequent or strained expulsion of hairballs and/or if other symptoms like a drop in appetite or lethargy are present.

4. Sudden Change in Diet

A sudden change in diet for dogs and cats can upset the balance of their gastrointestinal flora, leading to digestive disturbances and vomiting. Feline or canine vomiting due to a sudden change in diet may be accompanied by diarrhea in dogs and cats and decreased appetite

Note: It is recommended that diet changes are done gradually. If vomiting persists for longer than 12 hours, reach out to a veterinarian.

Close up of pet food to represent a sudden change in diet which can cause dog vomiting and cat vomiting

5. Food Allergies

In some instances, introducing a new pet food or treat may trigger a cat’s or dog’s food allergies. It is common for dogs and cats to have allergies to certain proteins in fish (or seafood), chicken, and beef — which are common ingredients in pet food and commercial treats. When a dog or cat is vomiting due to food allergies, they will likely display other symptoms such as diarrhea, itchy skin in dogs and cats, and chronic ear infections over time.

Note: Only a licensed veterinarian can diagnose food allergies in pets. If you would like to find out if your dog or cat is suffering from any food allergies (or other types of allergies), contact Sploot today!

6. Viral Infections

Certain viral infections can cause dogs and cats to vomit. A few common ones include canine parvovirus, canine distemper, feline leukemia, and feline infectious peritonitis

Note: Most of the above viral infections can be prevented by dog or cat vaccines. Learn more about dog vaccines and cat vaccines in our complete, vet-approved guides: 

The Ultimate Pet Parent’s Guide to Dog Vaccines

The Ultimate Pet Parent's Guide to Cat Vaccines

7. Intestinal Parasites & Heartworm

Parasites in the gastrointestinal tract of dogs and cats (e.g. hookworms, roundworms, giardia in pets) can cause irritation, inflammation, and disturbances in digestion — resulting in vomiting. In some cases, worms may be present in the dog’s or cat’s vomit.  Intestinal parasitic infections are often also associated with other symptoms like diarrhea, a bloated abdomen, weight loss, and/or anal scooting.

Another internal parasite that can cause feline or canine vomiting is heartworm. Heartworms are mosquito-borne worms that reside in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of pets. Heartworm infections in dogs and cats can also produce other symptoms like gagging, difficulty breathing, and diarrhea.

Note: Having an annual or bi-annual pet wellness exam ensures that intestinal parasites are detected and treated before they can cause serious symptoms. In addition, regular heartworm preventives are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for both dogs and cats because heartworms can be fatal. In addition, even if detected in time, heartworm is notoriously difficult to treat in dogs and risky to treat in cats.

 A veterinarian at Sploot Veterinary Care in Denver or Chicago doing a checkup for dog vomiting or canine vomiting

8. Foreign Body Ingestion or Intestinal Obstruction

Dogs and cats may vomit if they ingest foreign objects (e.g. string, broken glass, etc.) that obstruct the digestive tract, triggering a protective vomiting response. Other symptoms may include lack of appetite, rapid breathing and lethargy. 

Note: While some foreign matter can pass through the stomach of a pet without assistance, some may cause a blockage or stomach perforation. It is highly recommended to seek urgent veterinary attention if you suspect your pet has ingested a foreign body.

9. Toxin Ingestion

Ingesting toxic substances (e.g. chocolate) can directly irritate the stomach lining in dogs and cats, inducing vomiting as a protective response. Other symptoms of toxin ingestion include changes in behavior, diarrhea, lack of coordination, tremors, and/or collapse; the symptoms would depend on the amount and toxicity of the ingested substance.

Note: If toxin ingestion is suspected in dogs and cats, we highly recommend calling the Pet Poison Helpline and/or reaching out promptly to an urgent care veterinarian or an animal hospital with 24/7 emergency care.

10. Pancreatitis

Typically, pets that are fed a high-fat diet or meal and/or have excess weight are at an increased risk of pancreatitis in dogs and cats. Pancreatitis, or the Inflammation of the pancreas, can cause vomiting — along with other symptoms, such as abdominal pain, decreased appetite, and diarrhea.

Note: Pancreatitis is potentially fatal. If you suspect pancreatitis in your dog or cat, we recommend reaching out to our team for urgent veterinary care.

A veterinarian doing a checkup because of dog vomiting or canine vomiting and other symptoms linked to pancreatitis in dogs

11.  Liver Disease

The liver plays a vital role in removing toxins from the body. Therefore, when the liver is compromised or damaged — due to aging, physical trauma, endocrine disorders (e.g. diabetes), and certain infectious diseases (e.g. canine hepatitis, leptospirosis) — toxins can build up in a pet’s body. This leads to symptoms like nausea and vomiting. 

When pets vomit due to liver disease, other symptoms are likely to be present — including loss of appetite, frequent urination, jaundice (the yellowing of the eyes, gums, & tongue), and abdominal swelling

Note: Prompt treatment reduces the chances of permanent damage to liver tissue in dogs and cats. If you observe any of the above symptoms of liver disease, reach out to a veterinarian.

12. Kidney Problems

The primary function of the kidneys is to remove waste products from the blood and produce urine. For dogs and cats, the kidney can be compromised or damaged by aging, kidney stones, certain infections (e.g. leptospirosis), and toxins (e.g. grapes and raisins, OTC medication for humans). 

Regardless of the cause, kidney problems or kidney disease in dogs and cats can lead to the accumulation of waste products in their bloodstream, leading to nausea and vomiting — among other symptoms like loss of appetite, weight loss, and/or blood in the urine.

Note: Kidney problems requires prompt treatment. If you observe any of the above signs of kidney problems in dogs and cats, reach out to a veterinarian.

Final Thoughts on Feline & Canine Vomiting

This wraps up our guide on the common causes of vomiting in cats and dogs — and what to do for each case. If you have further questions about your pet’s health, we are always here to help. 

Sploot Veterinary Care is a primary & urgent care clinic with daily appointment availability, 365 days a year (10 am to 10 pm). Schedule an appointment online or through the Sploot Vets app. For specific concerns, contact our team via text, call, or through the Sploot Vets app’s chat feature.

Till next time, we’re with you every pounce of the way!

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