Why Is My Cat Dry Heaving?

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Every cat dry heaves. However, the big question every cat owner asks is: Why is my cat dry-heaving?

As a proud cat owner for the past ten years, I’ve worked closely with vets and gathered insights about cats’ dry heaving. In this article, I’ll try to explain the most common causes, how you can intervene, and possible ways to prevent dry heaving.

Read on to learn:

What’s Dry Heaving

Dry heaving (also known as retching) is a condition where your kitty goes through the motion of vomiting without producing any vomiting. The ailment can be a sign of several underlying issues and discomforts, such as:

  • A tickle in the throat 
  • Hairball 
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease 
  • Intestine blockage
  • Nausea
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Systemic disease

Why Do Cats Dry Heave

Cats dry heave for different reasons. While occasional dry heaving shouldn’t be a concern, check with your vet to establish the underlying trigger.

Some common reasons for dry heaving include:


Like humans, your cat can get nauseous once in a while for several reasons, such as:

  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Eating something that upsets the stomach
  • Underlying health condition
  • Eating spoiled food
  • Eating too much
  • Acid in the stomach

When your cat is nauseous, it can dry heave as a natural response to clear its stomach. Retching because of nausea can be a serious issue and might require vet attention, especially when accompanied by lethargy and appetite loss.


Almost all cats have hairball issues, but they are more severe in long-haired breeds. Your cat grooms itself by licking its fur and can ingest loose hair. Over time, this hair can accumulate in the stomach and form a mass of hairballs.

The hairball isn’t an issue to worry about because your cat will dry heave a few times to cough up a big ball of hair. Since expelling the hairball can be difficult, you’ll see your cat trying to vomit, but nothing comes out.

However, if your kitty constantly dry heaves, trying to cough up the hairball and cannot seem to do so, or the hairballs are frequent, consult your vet.

Foreign Substance in The Throat

Sometimes, your cat can eat something it shouldn’t be eating, such as:

  • Bugs
  • Foams
  • Strings
  • Plastics
  • Small toys
  • Rubber bands

The foreign substances can become lodged in the throat or gastrointestinal tract to cause blockage or irritation that can induce dry heaving in an attempt to clear the obstruction.

If your feline friend is suddenly dry heaving, vomiting, refuses to eat or drink and has abdominal pain and swelling, seek a vet cat. This can be a sign the foreign substance has caused obstruction.

Your vet will help prevent complete blockage or dehydration that might be fatal.


Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and intestines, often due to infections, dietary changes, or food sensitivities. Cats with gastroenteritis can experience nausea and discomfort, leading to dry heaving as a symptom of their gastrointestinal upset.

The vomit might be white or yellow foam that steams from your cat trying to after the stomach is empty.

Gastroenteritis can be caused by:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Parasites
  • Reaction from new food

Apart from dry heaving, gastroenteritis has other signs like sleepiness, depression, and lack of appetite.

Liver Disease 

The liver is a critical organ that stores vitamins, filter toxins, and digest nutrient. Your kitty’s liver is more susceptible to damage and disease because of its functions.

When the liver is compromised, it might malfunction, leading to the accumulation of toxins. The toxin will irritate the stomach lining and trigger nausea, which can cause dry heaving.

Besides, liver disease can affect the production of bile, which is necessary for digestion. An impaired bile production can lead to poor digestion and cause gastrointestinal upset, inducing dry heaving.

Heart Disease

A cat can have two types of heart diseases:

  1. Acquire disease (Caused by something through its lifetime)
  2.  Congenital (present at birth)

Some heart diseases like heart failure and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) can cause fluid accumulation in the lungs and abdomen. The fluid will then cause discomfort and breathing difficulty. An affected cat can dry heave as a response to the discomfort.

Heart problems can also reduce the blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract, leading to digestive disturbances, such as nausea and dry heaving.

Kidney Disease 

Chronic kidney disease is common in cats, especially when they age, which includes a range of systemic issues. Your kitty’s kidney filters waste products from the blood and maintains electrolyte balance.

When your cat’s kidney isn’t functioning properly, waste products might accumulate in the bloodstream, leading to gastrointestinal disorders such as nausea. Nausea can trigger dry heaving as your cat’s body tries to expel stomach content, even when there is nothing to vomit.

What To Do If Your Cat Is Dry Heaving?

If your cat is dry heaving, asses the situation to take an appropriate step to help it feel better. The remedy you administer will depend on the underlying cause of dry heaving.

You can:

  1. Give your kitty time in cases of uncomplicated nausea. Some nausea will resolve within a short time. Offer a small water amount to keep your cat hydrated, but don’t force-feed it if it refuses.

If the nausea persists for more than 24 hours or has other symptoms such as fever, consult your vet.

  1. Administer hairball treatment if that’s the root cause. Hairball is easily treatable and preventable.

Alternatively, you can consider specialized cat foods designed to eliminate hairballs.

If the dry heaving persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, consult your vet.

  1. If your kitty is dry heaving because of ingesting a foreign material, it’ll need a vet evaluation to establish available treatment options.
  1. If you suspect your cat has gastroenteritis, withhold food for 12-24 hours to allow its digestive tract to rest. After the fast, offer a small, bland meal. If the dry heaving continues or your kitty’s condition worsens, consult your vet.

The professional will perform a lab and diagnosis test to determine the cause. Then, the vet will recommend the best treatment for your feline friend.

  1. If your cat has liver, heart, or kidney failure, consult your vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

If you can’t pinpoint the cause, consult your vet for a precise diagnosis, appropriate treatment recommendation, and assurance of your cat’s overall well-being.

How To Prevent Dry Heaving

Preventing dry heaving involves addressing the underlying cause and taking proactive steps to reduce the risk of these triggers.

Here are some general preventative measures:

  1. Dietary Management: Feed your cat a high-quality, well-balanced diet appropriate for their age, activity level, and any specific dietary requirements recommended by your veterinarian to prevent nausea.

Consider feeding smaller, more frequent meals to reduce the chances of overeating and stomach upset.

  1. Regular Grooming: Brush your cat regularly, especially if they have long hair. This helps reduce shedding and ingesting loose fur, which can contribute to hairballs and dry heaving.

You can use hairball remedies or specialized cat foods to prevent and eliminate hairballs. Such products often contain lubricants that help hair pass through the digestive tract more easily.

  1. Provide a Safe Environment: Ensure your home environment is safe for your cat. Remove or secure any small objects, strings, or items that could be ingested and lead to dry heaving.

Keep toxic plants and substances out of reach.


While these preventive measures can reduce the risk of dry heaving, some cats may experience it occasionally due to individual sensitivities or underlying health issues. If your cat’s dry heaving becomes frequent or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, consult your veterinarian for a thorough evaluation and personalized guidance.


Why does my cat cough up a hairball but no hairball?

Cats can cough when they’re hacking up a hairball. However, if it doesn’t produce hairball, there’s likely a more serious underlying issue. Dry wheezing coughs might be a sign of asthma, especially if your kitty coughs consistently multiple times a week.

Why is my cat huffing and gagging?

Huffing and gagging can be a sign of various underlying issues, such as:
Foreign object ingestion
Respiratory infections
Gastrointestinal upset
Consult your vet to stamp out the underlying cause and proper treatment.

About Laura Martin

I'm Laura Martin. I get excited about all things cat related. I love my two cats - Dom and Kitty. When I'm not playing with my two feline friends, you can probably find me hiking. And yes, I have a 9 to 5 job. Although if you asked me I'd rather spend my time blogging and educating other cat moms and dads about what it takes to raise a healthy cat.

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