A hairball on the carpet may be annoying, but occasional (less than once a month) vomiting in an otherwise healthy cat is often considered acceptable for felines.
Bloody vomiting, on the other hand, is a cause for concern.
Here are some important things to know about what causes a cat to throw up blood, and how it is treated.
What Does It Mean If a Cat Throws Up Blood?
The technical term for vomiting blood is “hematemesis.” Depending where the bleeding originates, episodes may include fresh, bright red blood or partially digested blood that looks more like coffee grounds. Dark, tarry-looking stools may also be present and can be a sign of intestinal bleeding.
Note: Descriptions like these, or taking a picture with your phone, may help your veterinarian narrow down the underlying cause.
The blood may come from the stomach, esophagus (tube between the mouth and stomach), or upper intestines (the part of the intestinal tract connected to the stomach). Also, occasionally, severe bleeding in the mouth or respiratory tract may lead to a cat swallowing blood and then vomiting it back up. Bleeding may be caused by anything that leads to an injury, irritation, or inflammation of the lining of these organs.
So which came first? The bleeding or the vomiting?
Either is possible. Vomiting may lead to irritation of the digestive tract, which in turn leads to bleeding. Or, significant bleeding may fill the stomach, triggering vomiting. It’s also possible the bleeding and vomiting may both be triggered by one single factor (such as an ingested object that’s causing an intestinal obstruction).
What Causes Blood in a Cat’s Vomit?
In cats, some of the most common causes of throwing up blood include:
- Prolonged or severe vomiting of any cause that is left untreated. Significant vomiting can result in inflammation of the stomach, upper intestines, or esophagus that may lead to bleeding.
- Intestinal parasites like roundworm.
- Viral or bacterial infections like feline panleukopenia virus.
- Digestive system issues such as stomach ulcers or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Side effects of certain medications.
- Toxic ingestions.
- Severe dental disease or other oral health issues.
- Swallowing something sharp (like a bone or fish hook) or something that could cause a stomach or intestine blockage (a toy or string, for example).
- Illnesses such as kidney failure or liver disease.
- Problems with blood clotting.
- Traumatic injuries.
SEE ALSO: Why Is My Cat Throwing Up?
Is a Cat Vomiting Blood an Emergency?
Any time you see blood in your cat’s vomit, it’s best to seek veterinary care.
Cats often hide symptoms of illness until it becomes severe. So even if your cat is acting normal, it’s never a bad idea to check with your vet because early treatment is always better than waiting.
A single episode of vomiting with a few pink specks may or may not be a cause for concern in a kitty with no other symptoms. But even in this case, it’s still a good idea to call your vet and see if they have any recommendations for you to implement right away, to prevent the bleeding from getting worse.
If any of these circumstances apply to your kitty, emergency treatment should be sought:
- There’s a large amount of blood in their vomit (or stool/diarrhea). Severe blood loss can be fatal or require a blood transfusion.
- You have a kitten. Young cats are more prone to infections, which may get worse quickly or be fatal.
- Your kitty is ill with other symptoms, such as a fever, listlessness, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or abnormal breathing, in addition to throwing up blood.
How Is a Cat Throwing Up Blood Treated?
Treatment usually includes two phases: Supportive care, and addressing the underlying cause.
Depending on a pet’s needs, supportive care may include some or all of the following treatments:
- Stomach lining protectants.
- Anti-nausea medicines.
- Fluid therapy for dehydration and electrolyte balance.
- A special food for sensitive stomachs.
- If severe, a blood transfusion (this is less common and only for severe blood loss).
Note: Never give medications to your pet without checking with your vet first, as some are harmful to pets.
Supportive care helps a cat feel better and slows down the bleeding and vomiting. And, in severe cases, a blood transfusion could save a pet’s life no matter what caused the bloody vomiting in the first place.
Addressing the underlying cause
It’s also important to address the underlying cause, as this will direct treatment decisions and help to prevent reoccurrence.
Diagnostic testing is important for figuring out what caused a cat to throw up blood. Tests may include:
- A fecal check for parasites.
- Bloodwork and a urine analysis.
- Blood clotting tests.
- If indicated, exploratory surgeries, biopsies, infectious disease tests, or other testing.
SEE ALSO: Why is My Cat Not Eating or Drinking?
After a physical exam and diagnostic testing, a veterinarian can begin treatment that is targeted at curing or managing any underlying diseases.
For example, a kitty with intestinal worms will receive parasite treatment, while a cat with cancer may begin chemotherapy or be referred to a specialist such as an oncologist or surgeon.
Depending on the severity of a kitty’s condition, they may be sent home with oral medications, or they may need to be hospitalized for some time. The treatment plan of many pets falls somewhere in the middle.
Can Vomiting Blood Be Prevented?
Unfortunately, some causes of throwing up blood develop with age or genetics, and cannot be prevented. However, many common causes of vomiting blood are preventable. Here’s how:
- Keep your cat up to date on routine care, including vaccinations and parasite prevention.
- Prevent access to toxins (especially rat/mouse poisons—and ingestion of rodents that have already consumed such poisons), chemicals, and certain plants/flowers.
- Feed a healthy, balanced cat food.
- Only allow supervised play with strings or small toys that could be swallowed.
- Keep your kitty indoors, unless they’re on a leash under your supervision.
Vomiting blood can be scary. And certain underlying causes are serious, especially if left untreated. Fortunately, seeking prompt veterinary care will help to provide the best treatment, prevent complications, and get a cat feeling better as soon as possible.