Why Would A Cat Be Gagging and Dry Heaving?

I used to worry a lot whenever I see my cat gagging. I would be anxious about his pain and discomfort, as well as about the possibility that his gagging may be indicative that something was seriously wrong with him. Why would a cat be gagging and dry heaving?

Here are some possible reasons

  • Swallowing food too fast and eating too much
  • Hairball
  • Swallowing a string or some similar foreign object
  • Swallowing something toxic
  • Nausea
  • Health issues

I asked around and now I have a fairly good idea why cats gag or dry heave – and what we can do to help.

What Does It Mean When My Cat Dry Heaves?

There are many reasons why a cat may gag and dry heave. When you are able to pinpoint the reason for your cat’s gagging issues, you will find it easier to determine and apply the appropriate measures to address the problem.

Gagging and dry heaving in cats are usually attributed to the following:

Swallowing Food Too Fast And Eating Too Much

Some cats tend to wolf down their food much too quickly. The amount of food, as well as the speed by which they eat, may make the cats gag, sometimes right after they eat. 

If your cat gags from eating too much and from swallowing too fast, it is prudent to monitor the food that you give him. Put just enough food on his food dish to prevent overeating. Establish regular meal times and routines; grazing usually makes your cat eat more food than what he actually needs.

Alternatively, consider using a slow feeder. This is a food dish designed to help your cat get used to eating slowly. 

The dish has raised sections that make it look like a maze. The design discourages your cat from gulping down food or eating quickly. It encourages him to bide his time as he works his way through his food slowly and carefully


Hairball is one of the more common reasons for gagging and dry heaving in cats.

If your cat often gags from hairballs, control the problem through proper grooming. Run a brush along your cat’s coat regularly to get rid of loose hair.

It is important to do this especially during springtime when your cat is bound to shed profusely. If you have a Persian cat or some other long-haired cat, choose a comb or brush that does the job well.

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You can also help prevent hairballs by giving your cat an anti-hairball gel that is available over the counter. Just add the prescribed amount to your cat’s food. Some cat food brands, the wet ones in particular, feature the gel as one of the ingredients.

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Swallowing a string or some similar foreign object

Cats are naturally curious. You will often find your pet probing into the things he finds in his surroundings, including thread, buttons, strings, paper, and even small toys. 

This curiosity may result in the accidental swallowing of the object he plays with – which may, in turn, cause him to gag or retch, in the effort to dislodge and get rid of the object from his throat.

Get rid of small foreign objects in your cat’s play area to prevent him from poking around and swallowing them. 

If your cat accidentally swallows an object and it gets stuck in his throat, do not pry it out on your own. Take your cat to the veterinarian. Your vet will check your cat’s throat and even his stomach, if necessary, through an endoscopy and take out the obstruction.

Swallowing Something Toxic

The same curiosity nudges a cat to poke around plants or household cleaners which they may sometimes eat and swallow. Upon swallowing the toxic substance, a cat tends to gag or retch as a reflex.

In the same manner, see to it that your cat has no access to household detergents or cleaners that may be toxic if swallowed. Take your cat to the veterinary care center immediately if he show signs of swallowing something toxic.

[Related Article: Why Do Cats Purr?(Cats Purring Meaning)]


A cat may feel nauseous for various reasons, including overeating, eating spoiled food, reaction to flea treatments or pain medications, or certain illnesses. Nausea can lead to vomiting or gagging. 

It is not uncommon to have a cat feel nauseous. The condition usually resolves itself in a matter of hours. 

See to it that your cat stays on a diet of fresh and nutritious food to prevent nausea. 

When gagging is accompanied by chronic loss of appetite, high fever, listlessness, or signs of depression or general malaise, it is prudent to consult with a veterinarian.

Health Issues

Gagging or dry heaving in cats is usually a result of hairballs, eating too much or too fast or getting rid of something (paper or string) that is swallowed by accident. Your cat is usually able to resolve the situation without much difficulty.

It is common to see a cat cough and assume that he is gagging. If the ‘gagging’ does not result in coughing up a hairball, you may want to check if your cat has a cough or some other similar health problems. 

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Gagging can be just one of the many symptoms of a particular health problem. 

If your cat shows depression, loss of appetite, difficulty in sleeping, chronic wheezing and coughing, abdominal swelling, and other symptoms in addition to gagging, he may have a problem that you would want to consult a veterinarian about.

Cat Dry Heaving Related FAQs

Why Is My Cat Trying To Cough Something Up?

A cat uses his tongue to groom himself and prevent his fur from matting. In the process, he may swallow some hair. The hair tends to form a ball or clump in the stomach. 

Every now and then, the cat tries to cough up the hairball and spit it out. This often causes gagging or dry heaving.

If your cat retches and spits out vomit with considerable hair in it, it is safe to suppose that his gagging is a result of the hairball. 

Does Wet Cat Food Help With Hairballs?

Yes, they do. Wet food helps in the passing of hair through the digestive system because it is easily digestible and doesn’t allow hairball to form.

If your cats are suffering from hairball issues, changing to wet food diet can be a great option.

Why Does My Cat Gag When He Hears Certain Noises?

When in the wild, cats are natural predators. Their common prey like birds and small rabbits may use sounds to communicate.

Cats tends to have sensitivity to high-pitched sounds which helps them hunt in the wild. However, when indoors, it may usually cause them to have gagging or irritation.

[Related Article: Cats vs Cucumbers : Why Are Cats So Afraid of Them?]

When Should I Be Concerned About Dry heaves?

Most of the time, gagging is not a cause for serious concern. However, when your cat gags often, seems distressed by it, and shows other untoward signs, it is prudent to consult with a veterinarian. 

For example, diarrhea and frequent vomiting in addition to gagging may be symptoms of gastroenteritis. Gagging, accompanied by a significant loss of energy, despondency, and abnormal heart rate, may be indicative of cardiovascular issues.[Source]

Pale gums, abnormal thirst, frequent urination, head pressing, and jaundice, in addition to gagging, may be symptoms of liver or kidney problems.

Your veterinarian is able to give your cat diagnostic tests, laboratory exams, and preventive or remedial medications to address any serious health problem. 

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