13 min

Why Is My Cat Throwing Up Undigested Food?

If your cat is throwing up digested food, there could be several culprits. Learn more about what might be the cause and how to help your pet.

Bridget Reed

Updated November 10, 2022 • Published September 14, 2021

Share to

Why Is My Cat Throwing Up Undigested Food?

Having a pet means troubleshooting difficult things that occur, and your cat throwing up their undigested food certainly counts as such. When your cat is experiencing this, you might become panicked or worried that something is seriously wrong with them. 

Before you become more concerned, you should know that there are plenty of reasons why this occurs, and not all of them are severe. In fact, some of the reasons why your cat might be throwing up their undigested food could be uncomplicated and easily resolved.

Of course, if you are worried about your pet’s safety, it’s never a bad idea to reach out to a trusted veterinarian to ensure that they don't think there’s a greater problem at play. Nevertheless, oftentimes you will find that cats throw up their undigested food for a myriad of reasons that can be fixed. 

There’s a lot to learn about this happening, and if you’re in a situation where your cat is throwing up their undigested food, you might be unsure of where to start. Having a pet under the weather can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing; it’s understandable if you’re stressed trying to decipher how to handle the situation at hand. 

This article will give you a holistic understanding of some of the factors that could be at play if your cat is throwing up their undigested food. To begin, you will learn the difference between vomiting and regurgitating, as this is necessary to fully understand the situation at hand. 

In addition, this article will dive into some of the reasons that your cat is vomiting undigested food or regurgitating. Once you understand what is causing the problem, you will have a better chance of successfully tackling it. Also, having some ideas about what’s leading this to occur will be helpful information to provide a vet with, should you choose to have a medical professional give you some advice about your animal’s condition. 

The difference between your cat vomiting and regurgitating

Did you know that sometimes, when you think that your cat is vomiting, they are actually regurgitating their food? This is essential to keep in mind when your cat is not keeping down their food and vomiting it up undigested. 

Knowing the difference between vomiting and regurgitating could prove to be helpful. This is because if you know which your cat is engaging in, the vet will have a better chance of figuring out what’s causing this to occur. 

Regurgitation and vomiting appear similar, but there is a crucial difference. Unlike foods that have been thrown up, a piece of regurgitated food hasn't been digested by your pet’s stomach acids yet. Therefore, these are fundamentally different—understanding this could be key to diagnosing the causation. 

Vomiting, in contrast, occurs when the contents of your cat’s stomach are ejected. This includes not just any food they’ve consumed but water and bile, too. When your pet is vomiting, this active process is usually accompanied by several symptoms. This includes a contraction of the animal’s abdominal muscles, such as heaving, nausea, and retching. 

When your cat is vomiting, they will also typically begin retching before the vomiting starts and might also drool or vocalize. Again, take detailed notes of the symptoms that accompany this occurrence; they can help your vet figure out how to properly treat the animal. 

Regurgitation is different because this process involves just the contents of the animal’s esophagus or mouth. Water or food or any other ingested items are unable to make it all the way to the stomach before they pass through the mouth again.

This is different due to the fact there is no abdominal effort associated with regurgitation. Instead, it’s passive; your cat might simply bow their head, and food will drop out.

The timeline should also be noted when you are compiling details for your vet. You should consider how much time has passed since you fed your pet. Cats will often regurgitate their food within 30 minutes to two hours after their meal.

Reasons your cat might be regurgitating or vomiting

It’s important to learn the reasons why your cat might be throwing up or regurgitating their food. Doing this will help you understand how you can better help them.

Here are some potential causes you’ll want to look into: 

Your cat ate too quickly

It’s possible that the reason that your cat is regurgitating food is that they simply ate their meal too rapidly. If you find this is occurring over and over, take note of how long it takes your pet to eat. This observation could be valuable when you bring the issue up to the vet.

Instead, try to give your cat their food by using a food puzzle. This will allow them to slow down and take their time consuming their meal instead of guzzling it down. In addition to that, your cat will find the food puzzle to be enjoyable and amusing. 

Sometimes, you can even find a food puzzle that will stimulate the cat’s foraging and predatory instincts, too; shop around to find the one that is right for your pet. This will also help you sort out if the speed that your pet is eating their food is the culprit. If you have transitioned your cat to a food puzzle and they have slowed their eating speed and are still getting sick, it’s time to chat with a vet. 

Your cat has a hairball

To say cats are dedicated to cleaning would be an understatement. They have a reputation for meticulously grooming themselves, and as a result, hairballs can ensue. This occurs because the cat has hook-like structures all over their tongue. 

While these are small, they’re powerful; your cat’s tongue can catch dead or loose hair. Then, they swallow it. While most hair will successfully pass through the animal’s digestive tract, sometimes it gets trapped in their stomach. That’s how a hairball comes about. 

Therefore, hairballs may contribute to a cat vomiting undigested food. They’re normal, but if you’re noticing that your cat has difficulty passing them or it’s frequently happening, and your cat is experiencing pain, it might be time to intervene.

There are actually over-the-counter supplements available that you can give your cat. These come in chew or gel format. In addition, you can develop a brushing schedule for your pet to help mitigate the hairball risk.

Your cat has food allergies

It’s possible for cats to have food allergies just like humans do. Most cats are allergic to protein over any other nutrient source. Therefore, you should be sure you are following a hydrolyzed diet

This means that the food has gone through a special process that breaks the protein down into individual amino acid components. This is effective as it prevents the cat’s immune system from figuring out that the food contains an allergen. The result is that the cat will not have an allergy flare-up. 

If you’re wondering where to find hydrolyzed food for your cat, Pawp veterinarian Dr. Laura Robinson recommends shopping at your veterinary clinic or most major pet stores. 

“Online pet pharmacies are also a great place to look,” Dr. Robinson added, “Although, remember to factor in shipping costs if you’re comparing prices.”

Your cat is suffering from gastritis

If your cat has a reputation for getting into things that they were not supposed to, they might have hurt their stomach by eating something. As a result, your cat might be throwing up food that’s undigested, as well as blood or vile. 

In this case, it’s possible your cat will be exhibiting other symptoms. Sometimes these include lethargy, feeling depressed, dehydration, or a decrease in your pet’s appetite. This is definitely a situation that you should consult your vet about. They will know how to handle this and get your cat back on the right track to feel better. 

There have been dietary or food changes

Lastly, it’s possible that a dietary or food change could be to blame for throwing up undigested food. When you change your cat’s feeding schedule, this impacts them. Therefore, if your pet ate later than typical or missed a meal, they could regurgitate their undigested food.

Also, think about if you recently switched your cat over to different cat food. If you do this too quickly, this could shock your pet’s body and make their stomach sick. It’s best if this is a gradual process that takes place over a one to two-week period.

Of course, if you have any nutritional concerns about what your cat is consuming, you can address those with your vet. They will be able to help sort out what’s going on and give you ways that you can ensure your pet is getting the nutrients they need. 

You can always ask Pawp for help

If you want guidance about how to help a cat that is throwing up undigested food, you can always reach out to the trusted vets at Pawp. Pawp’s vets can give you guidance 24/7 and answer any of your questions. You never need an appointment, and you never need to wait. Sign up today and see the difference for yourself. 


Why Does My Cat Eat and Throw Up? | The Spruce Pets  

Regurgitation in Cats | PetMD 

Cats & Vomiting | Cornell

Answers: Let's Talk About Cat Barf | Feline Nutrition

Hairballs in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Remedies | Pets MD

Why Is My Cat Throwing Up Yellow Liquid? Jenna Stregowski, RVT | The Spruce Pets

Hydrolyzed Protein - an overview | Science Direct

Talk to a vet now — it's free!

Text, call, or video chat with a vet within minutes.

Talk To A Vet Now