Why is my cat dry heaving? A Helpful Guide

In this article, I am going to answer the question ‘Why is my cat dry heaving?’

Dry heaving in cats is a sign of many potential health issues. Heaving is a sign of your cat trying to eliminate a hairball.

This is common in cats and may occur once a week. The ball is not a ball, but a clump of hair that may be cylindrical in shape.

However, if the dry heaving results in vomiting and/or other symptoms (e.g. distended abdomen, refusal to eat, throat or stomach problems, and diarrhea) then it could be a sign of a serious health problem. In this case, the answer is to go seek out veterinarian help to find the problem and treat it.

My name is Derrick and I am a writer for Simply Cat Care. This is a website dedicated to provided easy-to-read, helpful articles on all things related to cats. I have written this article based on research to give you advice for your cat’s problem so that you can seek the appropriate action.

A vet is the main resource needed to manage health problems in your pet. A vet is trained to diagnose and treat and is the best point of contact if you are unsure of what to do.

In this article I will cover the following:

Let’s get into the article.

What is dry heaving?

Dry heaving is when your pet is attempting to vomit. The dry heaves can include coughing and gagging.

Many cats will dry heave occasionally if they have a hairball. Alternatively, cats dry heave when they eat too quickly. It’s usually mild and doesn’t persist with any other symptoms.

However, it can be a sign of a more serious problem for cats that require veterinary attention. Let’s look into this a bit further.

Why is my cat dry heaving?

Dry heaving can be a sign of many things in cats.

The important thing is to ensure you take careful note of changes and all the symptoms that you recognize (including when they started). Take note of the appearance of hairballs, eating habits, gagging (whilst eating), diet changes, change in heart rate, cough, tender stomach/belly, vomiting, and associated issues such as loose stools.

This is to ensure your veterinarian is able to have the answers needed for a proper workup and treatment.

Here are a few possible reasons for cat dry heaving.


Cats clean themselves by grooming, and often this can lead to fur accumulating in the gastrointestinal tract and hairballs.

Your cat will start retching and the cat may spit up hairballs. The hairball forms in the esophagus giving it more of a cylindrical appearance, despite the name [1].

Keratin is the main protein of hair that resists digestion [1]. Cats will retch 1-2 times a week to remove hairballs [1].

Seek veterinary intervention if your cat refuses new food to eat (i.e. reduced appetite) or dry heaves for days without any hairball appearing [1]. This could be a sign of a serious medical problem such as a complete blockage from a foreign body.


Occasionally, a cat can get sick and experiences nausea as a human would.

This may be a sign of food poisoning, which happens when consuming spoiled food [2]. Wet food spoils faster than dry food if left out for too long [3].

Many foods are poisonous for cats and can also lead to dry heaving and vomiting [3]. Check out my helpful guide on foods that are dangerous for cats over here.

If the problem continues, seek out treatment from a vet.


Parasites are a common problem in cats [4]. Parasites include worms and other single-celled protozoan organisms [4].

Dry retching and vomiting is one sign of parasitic infection. However, there are many symptoms which include diarrhea, coughing, pale gums, and a distended abdomen [4].

Fleas are a source of many parasites as well. You may notice your cat scratching excessively in this case.

If your cat displays the signs of a parasitic infection, call your veterinarian for diagnostic tests.

Stressful Environment

Sometimes a cat isn’t sick if they dry heave. Dry heaving can be due to changes in the environment [1].

Cats are susceptible to illnesses related to stress. Research has found that providing a cat a predictable routine that includes time for play can reduce the risk of feline interstitial cystitis [1]. This health condition can lead to a cat dry heaving and urinating frequently.

Proper access to outside playtime is necessary for a cat’s lifestyle and can help reduce the risk of this medical condition. A predictable normal routine of feeding is also recommended to reduce stress.

Check out my helpful guide on feeding your cat.


Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract (i.e. stomach, throat, colon) [6]. Cats with gastroenteritis have symptoms that include abdominal pain, dry heaving (with or without vomit), diarrhea, coughing, and lethargy [6].

Parasites are one possible cause of gastroenteritis. Alternatively, a foreign body from anything lying around the house could be the culprit. It could also be a sign of serious medical issues such as liver disease, kidney disease, or cancer [6].

In the case of liver disease, it can lead to pale gums, increased thirst, head pressing, and jaundice [3]. The latter is due to excess bilirubin (a bile acid stored in the liver) leaking into the bloodstream and turning some areas yellow (e.g. eyes).

If the dry heaves and other symptoms persist, take your cat to see a vet for support and a medical check.

What can I do if my cat is dry heaving no hairball?

If your cat’s dry heaving episodes persist and don’t result in a typical hairball, it can be a sign of something serious.

If a cat loses appetite (i.e. stops eating the usual diet) for over a day and is not producing hairballs, seek a vet examination.

A veterinarian examination involves a physical examination of the mouth to see if there is any obstruction of the throat (with an examination of the stomach). Ultrasound and bloodwork are other diagnostic tools used to identify other problems (e.g. parasites).

Laxatives may relieve a hairball. However, more serious obstructions may need surgical intervention (e.g. foreign body obstructs throat or lower intestinal tract).

A veterinarian prescribes antibiotics to treat infections if needed. If you suspect your cat has ingested a poison, you will need to call a poison hotline.

How can I prevent my cat from dry heaving?

You can’t always prevent your cat from having a dry heaving episode, but there are some strategies to reduce the risk of various things from happening.

I’ll go over a few.

What can I do to prevent my cat from having hairballs?

Cats will always ingest hair through the process of grooming. You can’t prevent your cat from grooming and you should not since this is an important cleaning mechanism.

Regular brushing with a cat appropriate brush can help reduce the amount of fur on your cat, which may alleviate the problem [7].

There are also hairball cat formulas that help improve the elimination of hair balls from the gut [7].

Which breeds suffer from hairballs most?

Main Coons are a long-haired cat breed that may experience more hairballs [7]. These cats and other long-haired breeds may require more diligent brushing to help manage the problem.

What can I do to prevent my cat from having parasites?

Regular treatment schedules with over-the-counter products prevent worms and other parasites in cats [8]. Use a worming treatment regardless of whether you suspect an infection in your cat or not [8].

Fleas can be a source of parasites and need management. I wrote a helpful article about managing fleas.

Natural treatments may not work, and I also wrote an article about that.

What can I do to prevent my cat from getting nausea or sickness?

Sickness may be due to eating too quickly.

A puzzle feeder or provide smaller portions of food spread over the day can help [9].

Make sure to stick to a proper diet routine as your cat will be less likely to binge eat if they aren’t left hungry for extended periods of time.

What can I do to prevent my cat from having kidney disease?

Proper feline care helps prevent kidney disease and urinary tract problems.

A cat’s diet needs to be moisture-rich as cats tend to not drink that much water. If you only feed your cat dry food, they will need a lot of water to try to ensure hydration. Cats can obtain water from meats and wet cat food, which can be helpful for preventing kidney-related issues.

Check out my guide here about a proper cat diet for good health.

Conclusion: Why is my cat dry heaving?

In summary, dry heaving is generally a sign of your cat having a hairball. This may result in your cat having a dry heaving episode once a week or so without any other issues. This is considered normal.

Your cat may also experience an infrequent bout of nausea that relates to eating too quickly or spoiled food (e.g. wet food left out too long). If your cat is sick for an extended period, it may require a veterinary examination.

However, if the dry heaving persists and doesn’t result in eliminating and hair, it may be a sign of a serious health problem. If the dry heaving is present with other symptoms (e.g. vomiting, loose stool, bloated abdomen, loss of appetite) it is best to seek the advice of a vet before proceeding. There is a wide range of potential issues in the throat or stomach (e.g. gastroenteritis) that can present.

Other health complications in a feline can include liver disease, kidney disease, cancer, and obstruction.

You aren’t going to know what is exactly the problem until you seek veterinary support and detail a complete history of your cat to them.

A vet may need to perform a variety of physical and medical tests to identify the problem – which you are not equipped to do yourself and find answers.

There are some prevention strategies for keeping your cat healthy and hairball free which can help reduce the risk of dry heaving as well as other problems.

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