Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

Cat Dry Heaving - Causes & What To Do

It's really unpleasant to witness your cat dry heaving, but rest assured that in many cases dry heaving in cats is harmless. That said, there are also some serious health concerns that could cause your cat to dry heave. Our Lincoln Park vets explain...

Causes of Dry Heaving in Cats

Many cat owners come to us with the question, 'Why is my cat dry heaving?'. If your cat starts dry heaving it will certainly look and sound unpleasant but many of the reasons why cats dry heave are relatively minor. That said, if your cat is repeatedly dry heaving there could be a more serious issue causing the problem. The challenge is diagnosing whether your cat's dry heaving is simply the need to expel a hairball or whether there is a more serious underlying cause.

If your cat is dry heaving it could be due to one of the following health concerns.

    Furballs / Hairballs

    By far the most common reason why a cat 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. But if some hair stays in the stomach, it can form a hairball. Usually, your cat will vomit the hairball to get rid of it. 

    If your cat is having difficulties bringing up a furball or hairball it can lead to hacking, gagging, dry heaving or retching. In most cases your cat will vomit the hairball in a few tries however, furballs that are not expelled by your cat can lead to 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

    Older cats often suffer from kidney disorders and can lead to dry heaving, nausea, and vomiting as well as 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 above, contact your vet for advice or reach out to your local animal emergency hospital for urgent care.


    Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach or intestine that can lead to gagging, dry heaving, and vomiting in cats and kittens. In some cases you may notice that your cat foams at the mouth while vomiting with 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 (caused by something) and congenital (by birth) heart disease is relatively common in cats.

    As well as dry heaving, some feline heart conditions may also cause general weakness, breathing difficulty, wheezing, coughing, abdomen swelling, and abnormal heart rate.

    If your cat is dry heaving and displaying any of the symptoms above contact your vet to schedule an examination for your kitty.

    Liver disease

    The liver is essential for storing vitamins and filtering toxins in both cats and people. Liver issues can occur in cats due to infections or toxins in the body. 

    Cat's experiencing liver issues may dry heave and show other symptoms such as yellowing of the eyes and skin, pale gums, increased thirst, lethargy, lack of appetite, weight loss, and distended abdomen.


    Just like their owners, cats can feel nauseous from time to time. An upset stomach can occur due to overeating, eating spoiled food, increased stomach acidity. Nausea in cats typically isn't serious and will likely pass, however if you begin to notice other symptoms such as recurring vomiting or heaving, lack of energy, abdominal pain or fever it's time to head to the vet for an examination.

    Foreign body in the stomach or throat

    Although dogs are notorious for eating things they shouldn't, cats are also known for swallowing things they shouldn't. Ingesting foreign objects could lead to a blockage in their throat, esophagus, or intestine.

    If your cat is dry heaving and no hairball comes out, is experiencing recurrent vomiting, refuses to eat, or has abdominal pain or swelling contact your vet right away.

    IMPORTANT: A blockage or obstruction is a very serious medical emergency that requires urgent veterinary care!

    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 Dix Animal Hospital today to book an examination for your feline friend.

    New Patients Welcome

    Dix Animal Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Lincoln Park companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

    Contact Us

    Book Online (313) 383-7387