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Help! My Cat Keeps Dry Heaving

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 Blountville vets explain.

Why is my cat dry heaving?

Cat dry heaving looks and sounds unpleasant, but most of the time the cause of your cat's dry heaving is relatively minor—namely, a furball. However, there are a few more serious causes of dry heaving in cats. The difficulty is determining whether your cat's dry heaving is simply due to the need to expel a hairball or if 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 difficulty bringing up a furball or hairball, it may exhibit symptoms such as hacking, gagging, dry heaving, or retching. Most cats will vomit the hairball after a few attempts. Furballs that aren't expelled by your cat can occasionally cause 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
    • Constipation
    • Diarrhea

    The symptoms above could indicate a serious intestinal blockage.

    Kidney Disease

    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 our animal emergency hospital for urgent care.


    Gastroenteritis is a stomach or intestine inflammation that can cause gagging, dry heaving, and vomiting in cats and kittens. In some cases, your cat may foam at the mouth while vomiting on 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.

    Heart Disease

    Both acquired and congenital (present from birth) heart disease are relatively common in cats.

    In addition to dry heaving, some feline heart conditions can cause general weakness, difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, abdomen swelling, and an abnormal heart rate. If you notice these symptoms in addition to your cat's dry heaving, it's time to take him to the vet. 

    Liver Disease

    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. 

    Cats suffering from liver disease may dry heave as well as exhibit other symptoms such as yellowing of the eyes and skin, pale gums, increased thirst, lethargy, lack of appetite, weight loss, and a distended abdomen.


    Cats, like humans, can experience nausea. Overeating, eating spoiled food, and increased stomach acidity can all cause an upset stomach. Nausea in cats is usually not serious and will go away on its own; however, if you notice other symptoms such as chronic vomiting or heaving, lack of energy, abdominal pain, or fever, you should take your cat 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 with no hairballs coming out, is vomiting frequently, refuses to eat, or has abdominal pain or swelling, contact your veterinarian right away. A blockage or obstruction is a serious veterinary emergency that necessitates immediate attention.

    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.

    Are you concerned about your cat's dry heaving? Contact our Blountville vets today to book an examination for your kitty.

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    Airport Pet Emergency Clinic is open weekday evenings, overnight, weekends and holidays to provide your pet with urgent care when needed. Our experienced Blountville vets are passionate about caring for companion animals.

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