by Jennifer Coate, DVM

Why does my cat vomit after eating?  I hear this question all the time from my clients.  Often vomiting cats are sick.  However, sometimes the cat is healthy, but the owner still frequently finds piles of vomited food around the house.  These are the cats that I am discussing today.

Whenever a cat is vomiting, they should always be evaluated by a veterinarian.  Your vet will take a thorough history and do a physical exam to look for abnormalities such as weight loss, dehydration, fever, or changes in how the organs feel in your cat’s belly.  There are many serious illnesses that can cause a cat to vomit, so they will likely run tests to look for these diseases and may suggest different foods.

So what about the cat that checks out completely normal, but still chronically vomits undigested kibble soon after eating?  I affectionately refer to these cats that binge and then purge as “Scarf & Barf” kitties.  I find that many of these cats are simply eating faster than their body can handle.  They will gobble the food, often barely chewing.  (Cat owners often notice that the vomited kibble looks not only undigested, but unchewed)  Then within a few minutes, they will vomit or regurgitate most of that meal.  You may see the pile of kibble laying on the floor—or worse, step in it during the middle of the night.  Yuck!

Now that you have determined that your cat is not ill, how do you fix them?  I find that the best way to stop the annoying vomit is to slow down how fast they eat.  How do you do this you ask?  Well that’s where you have to get creative.  When trying any of these ideas, be sure that your cat is still eating well—cats can be very finicky and I have seen cats starve themselves when the owner has switched up the feeding arrangements.

Option #1 is to feed the kitty very small frequent meals.  Most of us enjoy the convenience of simply plopping food into the dish twice a day and going on our merry way.  If you have the time, try feeding the normal amount of food for the day divided into several small meals. 

Option # 2 is to give them obstacles to eat around.  You can do this by putting a large rock or golf ball into the food dish.  Having said that, NEVER add obstacles to the bowl if there is a dog in the house that steals the cat food—you will simply have a dog with golf ball in its stomach that now needs surgery.  And make sure that the rock is so big that the cat can’t swallow it—try golf ball sized or larger.  Also, some cats are sly enough to simply swat the golf ball out of the dish & proceed to binge as usual.  Thankfully, the pet supply marketing guru’s have caught wind of the Scarf and Barf epidemic and they now sell food dishes with raised areas to acts as permanent obstacles.  That would probably be your safest bet.

Option # 3 is to spread out the food so that the kitty cannot take big mouthfuls and must eat only a few pieces of kibble at a time.  Ditch the bowl and spread the food out onto a plate or, even better, a cake pan (the raised sides will keep the cat from pushing the food off the sides and onto your floor).  If your cat eats canned food, smash the food into the plate in several areas.

Option #4 is to really make the cat work for the food by feeding through food dispensing toys.  There are all types of these on the market these days– everything from balls that drop one kibble at a time as your cat bats it around to food dishes shaped like a maze.  These typically work best for young active playful kitties.   Be sure that your kitty is eventually eating all of the meal –lots of kitties are just too lazy to work for their meal or simply don’t figure out how to use the toy and we don’t want them to get ill from starvation.

If these things aren’t helping, it is always a good idea to talk to your vet.  Good luck!  Hopefully your carpet will thank me.