Black and white kitten resting in a grey bed

Diarrhoea and vomiting in cats

Vomiting or diarrhoea are common symptoms in cats that are not always a cause for concern, but it's important to know when signs could indicate something more worrying.

Cats usually have healthy digestive systems, so you should speak to your vet if your cat is vomiting or has diarrhoea for longer than 24 hours or if these symptoms are accompanied by other symptoms like tiredness.

Signs of diarrhoea in cats

Normal and healthy cat stools are firm and dark brown. If your cat does not use a litter tray inside the house, it can be difficult to spot if they have diarrhoea. But, cats with severe diarrhoea that poo outside may end up with pieces of poo stuck to the fur near their bottom. 

Here are some common signs that your cat has diarrhoea:

  • Their bottom is dirty, smelly or painful
  • Low energy or tiredness (lethargy)
  • Excessively cleaning their bottom
  • Bloated stomach
  • Farting more than usual
  • Gurgling stomach noises
  • Soft, watery or loose stool

Signs of vomiting in cats

Some signs a cat might be about to vomit include:

  • nausea 
  • salivating (hypersalivation)
  • licking their lips  
  • swallowing often
  • your cat feeling anxious or restless
  • a heaving or retching noise

Cats can often vomit up furballs after swallowing their fur when self-grooming. There are specific treatments that can help cats that often vomit hairballs.

Your cat might also vomit up food, white foam or bile. Seeing puddles of white foam might be concerning, but this usually happens if your cat is vomiting on an empty stomach. If your cat often vomits a specific food, you may want to try a different brand or flavour.

Cats regurgitating food

Regurgitation and vomiting can also be confused, but there's an important difference. 

Vomiting often comes after nausea, salivating and heaving, and can contain partially digested food. It can also be discoloured because of the presence of bile. Regurgitation is a passive process, there is often no salivating or heaving, and typically contains undigested food.

Cats coughing

The signs of vomiting can look similar to coughing, but, when coughing, cats usually crouch on all four legs with their neck stretched out.

What to do if your cat has diarrhoea and is vomiting?

If your cat has mild diarrhoea or vomiting for less than 24 hours but otherwise seems their normal happy self with no other symptoms, you may just need to keep an eye on them as most vomiting or diarrhoea gets better on its own. But if the problem lasts longer than 24 hours or your cat has other symptoms (lethargy or blood in their poo), contact your vet. 

Severe diarrhoea or diarrhoea and vomiting left untreated for a long time can lead to your cat becoming dehydrated or seriously ill, especially in kittens and elderly cats. Repeated episodes of vomiting or diarrhoea over a longer period may indicate an underlying health problem that needs treatment, so it's important to seek advice.

Causes of diarrhoea and vomiting in cats

Common causes of diarrhoea and vomiting in cats include:

  • a sudden change in your cat's diet, like a new food, treats or them scavenging food outside
  • worms or gut parasites, especially in kittens
  • eating something that upsets their stomach
  • some hormonal conditions such as hyperthyroidism
  • gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach/intestines)
  • food intolerance
  • gut inflammation linked to inflammatory bowel disease
  • pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas)
  • gut blockage
  • infection

What if my cat has been poisoned?

Vomiting is also a symptom of cat poisoning. Other poisoning symptoms include:

  • shaking
  • dribbling
  • collapsing
  • difficulty breathing
  • blistering skin

Common cat poisons include painkillers (like paracetamol), mice or rat poison, lilies and using the wrong flea or tick products, like using a dog flea treatment on your cat. 

If you think your cat has eaten poison, call your vet immediately. Also, see if you can identify the poisoning culprit and have any packaging to hand so you can tell the vet exactly what the substance is. 

If you’ve seen your cat chewing something, take samples of that along to your vet and make a note of the time they ate it and any symptoms they’ve had.

How to take care of your ill cat

  • Cats that have been vomiting or have diarrhoea are at risk of dehydration, so ensure they get plenty of water. 
  • If your cat is vomiting, it's best to miss their next meal. Then, feed them small amounts of bland, easily digested food at first (like boiled chicken or skinless and boneless white fish), gradually going back up to their normal diet over a day or two. Young kittens should never skip a meal, so in these cases it's best to go straight to feeding a bland diet little and often.
  • Ensure your cat is also getting the rest they need as they might need more sleep than usual, although if they seem lethargic, contact your vet.
  • If you believe your cat needs urgent attention, call your vet and check how to perform cat basic first aid.

Read more about taking care of a sick cat.

When to call your vet

  • If your cat is vomiting or has diarrhoea for longer than 24 hours or seems unwell or lethargic.  
  • Elderly cats and kittens that have diarrhoea are more likely to become dehydrated. If your cat is a kitten, especially if unvaccinated, call your vet.
  • If there is blood in their vomit or diarrhoea.
  • If you think your cat has eaten something poisonous.
  • If you are concerned your cat has eaten something they can't digest, like small bones, tinsel or thread. 

Tests your vet may carry out

If you do take your cat to the vet, they will ask you questions about your cat's history, and perform a full examination including tummy palpation. If further diagnostic tests are needed, your vet might perform a stool analysis, blood test, X-ray or ultrasound. 

Your vet will recommend a specific treatment for your pet. Common treatments may include anti-sickness injections, supportive medication, a specific diet or probiotics.

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• 24 November 2022

Next review

• 24 November 2025

Approved by
Róisín Bolger

Veterinary Surgeon MRCVS