Cat Nausea and Related Conditions: Recognizing and Treating Signs & Symptoms

There are several different factors that can cause nausea in cats. If the digestive and nervous systems are out of alignment, it often results in nausea; however, each occurrence requires individual attention.

Whether your cat has a bout with vomiting or experiences an upset stomach on occasion, it’s important to know the cause and necessary treatments. Some cases of cat nausea can simply be attributed to indigestion, while others may be indicative of other issues, including food allergies or underlying health problems.

Tell-tale signs of cat nausea may include:

  • Panting/heavy breathing
  • Drooling
  • Frequent lip-licking
  • Restlessness
  • Retching
  • Swallowing
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety and nervous behavior, including vocalization and hyperactivity

The first step in determining your cat’s nausea is assessing recent activities: do you notice that he seems sensitive to the new cat chow you’ve been giving him? If so, it may be a dietary issue. Another common cause for feline vomiting is due to hairballs (scientific name: trichobezoar).

Common Causes of Cat Nausea

For general cases of cat nausea and upset stomach, you may want to consider the following potential causes:

  • A sudden change in diet (most common)
  • Food allergies
  • Hairballs
  • Stressful or anxiety-inducing situations (such as car rides or trips to the vet)
  • Travel (including cars, airplane flights, or being transported in a crate/carrier)
  • A bacterial or viral infection
  • Consuming a toxic or poisonous substance
  • Illness or chronic condition
  • Ingestion of foreign object (e.g., string or small item that could cause blockage)
  • Medication side-effects
  • Parasites (such as ringworm)

Once your vet has assessed your cat’s health and determined the cause of nausea, it’s important to follow through with any treatments or instructions from your vet. Depending on the cause of vomiting, it’s typically recommended to limit your cat’s food intake; your vet will let you know exactly how long to restrict his regular eating routine.

When it’s time for your cat to resume eating again, experts recommend a bland diet, such as cooked rice and chicken, along with small amounts of water (if your cat has specific food allergies, ask your vet for safe food options appropriate for recovery-time).

Tips for Treating Your Cat’s Mild Stomach Ache & Nausea

Limit food intake: Unlike humans, cats don’t consciously decide to ‘fast’; however, in nature, felines will stop eating until they’re feeling better. On the other hand, domesticated adult cats need some assistance from their pet-parents, as the smell of food may be too tempting – and they eat despite their condition, which may repeat the cycle and lead to vomiting again.

With that said, there are times where the best thing you can do for a cat with a sick tummy is to give it a rest: remove food for a day, or limit it to a small amount (preferably a bland diet such as plain boiled chicken without the skin and rice). Be sure that your cat stays well-hydrated during the fast and has a warm and comfortable place to rest and recover.

Cats should never go longer than a day without eating, so reintroduce foods to them as soon as safely possible. For kittens, fasting for a few hours may alleviate the symptoms of a common case of nausea/vomiting. If you’re concerned about limiting your cat’s food, consult with your vet for more information.

Keep your cat hydrated: As is the case in any mammal, vomiting and diarrhea can lead to a loss in electrolytes and essential fluids. An easy way to check your cat’s hydration level: gently lift the skin over the shoulder and see how quickly it springs back into position. If he’s well-hydrated, it will bounce back right away; however, if he’s dehydrated, it will be delayed.

It’s also important to monitor your cat’s water consumption: in certain instances, drinking water on a bad stomach can lead to vomiting, resulting in additional dehydration. If your cat is displaying these symptoms, give him ice chips to lick on. You may also consider administering unflavored Pedialyte® (a hydrating beverage designed for infants) in a dropper.

Slowly and carefully give him a few drops at a time; this can help prevent further dehydration. If you notice acute cases of dehydration (such as extreme fatigue or incontinence) your cat may be in critical condition. He will require intravenous fluids as administered by a vet, so be sure to contact your clinic immediately.

Help with hairballs: As discussed, vomiting is commonly linked to hairballs, in which case certain pet laxatives or hairball treatments may be considered. An easy, at-home remedy includes rubbing a bit of petroleum jelly (Vaseline®) on your cat’s paw; once he licks it off and it passes through his digestive system, it can help him eliminate the hairball naturally. Other food alternatives to try include the oil from a can of tuna, plain canned pumpkin (free of spices; not pumpkin pie mix), or a bit of butter.

Resuming a regular diet: Once your cat has stopped vomiting and his bowel movements are solid, you can safely resume feeding him at his normal mealtime over the next 3 – 4 days. It’s important to reintroduce food gradually and in smaller portions – avoid any foods that your cat has a known sensitivity to (as mentioned earlier, a bland diet may be helpful for the first few days). Reverting back to your cat’s regular diet too quickly may cause his symptoms to reoccur.

Be mindful: Although there are plenty of home remedies, natural treatments and general good pet-parenting techniques we can practice to treat a mild case of nausea or stomach disturbance, it’s important to monitor your cat’s overall health and behavior. If he shows any signs or symptoms of lethargy, excessive vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea/dehydration or appears in pain, it’s essential to see your vet as soon as possible for a professional assessment.