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Why is my cat gagging? Is it an emergency?

Although it's definitely not pleasant to listen to, gagging isn't unusual in cats. That said, it can be a sign that your cat needs to see a vet as soon as possible. Today our  Ambler vets discuss the reasons for cat gagging and when to head to the vet.

Why does my cat keep gagging?

Gagging is a natural bodily function if your cat is trying to expel a hairball but there are many other reasons why your cat may be gagging, here are just a few:

Expelling a Hairball

Hairballs are clumps of fur that form in your cat's stomach as they groom themselves. Since the cat's digestive system isn't able to dissolve the clump of fur, your kitty will remove it from their stomach by vomiting. In some cases it takes several attempts to expel the hairball and for you cat to stop gagging.

Trying to Remove Something From Their Throat

Like dogs, many cats eat or swallow things that they shouldn't and often these non-edible items will become lodged in their throat. If your cat is trying to remove something that is stuck in their throat they may stretch out their neck, open their mouth and gag or swallow repeatedly. If your cat appears to have something caught in their throat get to an emergency vet as quickly as possible.

Overate or Ate Their Food Too Quickly

If your kitty overeats or simply eats too fast they can become nauseous and begin gagging. If this is a frequent occurrence for your cat you, may want to try serving small meals, switching to canned cat food, or purchasing a special bowl that will help to slow your feline's feasting. 

Kidney Disease

Kidney disease can lead to a buildup of waste products in your cat's bloodstream. This accumulation can leave your kitty feeling nauseous and lethargic which may cause vomiting and weight loss.  Other signs of kidney disease in cats include an unkempt appearance, increased frequency of urination, and excessive thirst. Acute kidney disease can be a sign of ingesting toxins and should be considered a veterinary emergency. If you think that your cat may have kidney disease contact your vet immediately for urgent care.


 Many people are unaware that cats can suffer from asthma. If your feline friend is having an asthma attack, they will likely cough, wheeze, and gag while assuming a hunched position close to the ground with their neck extended forward as if trying to expel a hairball. Other signs of asthma in cats include rapid breathing, open mouth breathing, increased swallowing and gurgling sounds from their throat. Asthma is a veterinary emergency, contact your vet right away if you think that your cat is experiencing an asthma attack.

Heart Disease

Cats can suffer from both acquired heart disease (adult onset) and congenital heart disease (present at birth). Some other signs of heart disease can include low energy/lethargy, increased respiratory rate, gagging, and collapse. Heart disease in cats is often a secondary condition brought on by a different health issue such as hyperthyroidism. If your cat is showing any signs of heart disease it is time to call your vet to book an examination for your kitty.

Liver Disease

Liver disease is a fairly common condition in cats that can often be effectively managed if diagnosed early. Signs of liver disease can vary between cats but can include loss of appetite, vomiting, gagging, diarrhea, jaundice, abdominal swelling, excessive urination and thirst, and weight loss. Left untreated, liver disease can be life threatening for cats so veterinary care is essential. If your cat shows signs of liver disease contact your vet right away.

Respiratory Illness Due to Illness or Parasites

Breathing difficulties and gagging can occur due to a number of illnesses or diseases that effect your cat's respiratory system. 

Viruses that cause upper respiratory infections and lead to gagging in cats include feline herpesvirus type-1 (FVR) and feline calicivirus (FCV). Bordetella bronchiseptica (B. bronchiseptica) and Chlamydophila felis (C. felis) are common bacterial infections that can also cause respiratory illness and gagging in cats. Fungal infections and heartworms can also lead to severe respiratory symptoms and gagging.

Although your cat's respiratory issues and gagging may be due to a minor issue such as a cat cold, it is always best to err on the side of caution and see your vet if symptoms persist for more than a day or two, or if symptoms become more severe.

Upset Stomach or Nausea

As you may have noticed above, nausea is a very common symptom of many cat illnesses and diseases, but can also occur just because your cat ate too much or too fast. Gagging and vomiting helps to remove the upsetting substance from your kitty's body.

If your cat gags and vomits once or twice but then seems fine there is probably nothing to be concerned about. However, if the gagging persists or if your kitty shows other symptoms along with gagging it's definitely time to call your vet.

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 worried that your cat's gagging may be a sign of a more serious health concern? Contact Spring House Animal Hospital to book an examination for your feline friend, or visit your nearest animal emergency hospital.

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