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Help! My Cat Keeps Dry Heaving

It's never fun to watch your cat dry heaving. However, rest assured that 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 Mechanicsburg vets explain.

Why is my cat dry heaving?

Cat dry heaving looks and sounds unpleasant, but the most common cause is a furball. Nonetheless, there are several more serious causes of dry heaving in cats. The challenge is determining whether your cat's dry heaving is simply due to a need to expel a hairball or if there is a more serious cause.

The following is a list of some of the most common causes of dry heaves in cats.

What can cause dry heaving without vomiting?

Below, we'll list some of the reasons why your cat might be dry heaving but not vomiting.

    Furballs / Hairballs

    A furball or hairball is the most common cause of dry heaving in healthy cats, and it can affect both kittens and adults.

    Cats groom themselves using tiny hook-like structures on their tongue to catch loose and dead hair, which they then swallow. The majority of this hair passes smoothly through the digestive tract. However, when hair remains in the stomach, it forms a hairball, which your cat vomits up.

    If your cat is having difficulty bringing up a furball or hairball, it may exhibit hacking, gagging, dry heaving, or retching. In most cases, your cat will vomit the hairball within a few tries. Rarely, furballs that are not expelled by your cat can cause life-threatening blockages.

    Contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat repeatedly dry heaves and exhibits 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 cause a variety of symptoms, such as a dry heave, nausea, and vomiting. Other symptoms of kidney disease in cats include itching, 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 us for urgent care.


    Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach or intestine that causes gagging, dry heaving, and vomiting in cats and kittens. In some cases, you may notice your cat foaming at the mouth and vomiting on an empty stomach.

    If your cat has gastroenteritis, you may notice gagging and dry heaving after meals. Bacteria, viruses, parasites, new foods, and medication reactions can all cause gastroenteritis in cats.

    Cat gastroenteritis symptoms include diarrhea, reluctance to eat, a lack of energy, and depression.

    Heart Disease

    Cats have a relatively high incidence of both acquired and congenital heart disease.

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

    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.


    Cats, like humans, can feel nauseous. Overeating, eating spoiled food, or having too much stomach acid 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, a lack of energy, abdominal pain, or fever, 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 and no hairball comes out, is experiencing recurrent vomiting, refuses to eat, or has abdominal pain or swelling, contact your vet right away. A blockage or obstruction is a serious veterinary emergency that requires urgent 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 our Mechanicsburg vets today for emergency care if you think it's serious.

    Walk-in Patients Welcome

    At Rossmoyne Animal Emergency Trauma Center you never need an appointment to access our full complement of emergency services. We treat both walk-in patients and referrals for urgent veterinary care.

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