It can be alarming to see your cat vomiting up yellow or green liquid. This liquid is called bile and is produced in the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and released into the small intestine to help digest fats. If your cat is throwing up bile, it could signal a potentially serious issue that requires veterinary attention. However, not all cases of bile vomiting are emergencies. Here’s what cat owners need to know about this concerning symptom.
What causes bile vomiting in cats?
There are several possible causes for a cat vomiting bile:
- Empty stomach: If a cat hasn’t eaten in a while, their stomach and intestines can become irritated and inflamed from excess bile. This results in vomiting.
- Ingested toxins: Cats who eat toxic plants or substances can experience vomiting and bile brought up from stomach irritation.
- Pancreatitis: Inflammation of the pancreas leads to poor digestion and bile vomiting.
- Intestinal blockage: Obstructions in the intestines from hairballs, foreign objects, cancer, etc. can cause bile vomit.
- Liver disease: Conditions like hepatitis and cholangiohepatitis cause dysfunction in bile production and vomiting.
- Gallbladder disease: Infection, inflammation, and blockage of the gallbladder prevent proper bile storage and release.
- Cancer: Feline lymphoma, mast cell tumors and other cancers can cause bile vomiting if they infiltrate the GI tract.
Is bile vomiting an emergency?
Vomiting bile does require veterinary attention. However, it may or may not be a true emergency depending on the underlying cause and your cat’s condition. There are some situations in which you should seek emergency vet care right away:
- Repeated vomiting lasting more than 24 hours
- Vomiting along with other symptoms like lethargy, diarrhea, lack of appetite
- Vomiting with apparent abdominal pain
- Vomit that is bloody or looks like coffee grounds
- Your cat seems distressed or is rapidly deteriorating
On the other hand, an isolated incident of bile vomiting in an otherwise normal cat may not require emergency care. It’s still important to call your vet promptly to determine next steps. They may recommend bringing your cat in the next morning for an exam versus visiting the emergency clinic.
Diagnosing the cause
To determine why your cat is throwing up bile, the veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam and ask about your cat’s history. Diagnostic tests commonly include:
- Blood work to evaluate organ function, metabolism, and look for infection
- Urinalysis to assess kidney function and check for gastrointestinal bleeding
- Fecal exam to rule out parasites
- Abdominal x-rays or ultrasound to visualize the gastrointestinal tract and abdominal organs
- Endoscopy to examine the stomach and intestines directly
- Biopsies of the intestines or liver to check for cancer
Based on your cat’s test results, your vet can pinpoint potential causes. For example, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease) can all be associated with vomiting bile and require different therapies.
If your cat is actively vomiting, severely ill, or dehydrated, initial emergency treatments may include:
- Hospitalization for monitoring
- Injectable anti-vomiting medication
- IV fluid therapy for dehydration
- Pain management medication
- Feeding tube placement
- Surgery if there is a foreign object, perforation, or dead tissue in the GI tract
Once your cat is stabilized with anti-nausea drugs and fluids, the underlying cause can be addressed. This may involve medications, prescription diets, supplements, additional surgery, or other therapies as appropriate. Seeking prompt veterinary attention gives your cat the best chance of responding well to treatment.
If your cat’s vomiting is mild and you are waiting for a regular vet appointment, there are some things you can do at home:
- Withhold all food for 12-24 hours to allow resting of the GI tract
- Slowly reintroduce small amounts of a bland diet such as boiled chicken and rice
- Prevent dehydration by offering broths, low-sodium chicken or vegetable bouillon, or dilute electrolyte replacers
- Avoid giving dairy products, fatty foods, or changing diets which could further upset the stomach
- Consider over-the-counter anti-nausea medications recommended by your vet
- Monitor litterbox habits, energy levels, and appetite, reporting any worsening to the vet
However, if symptoms persist beyond 24 hours or your cat seems to be in distress, don’t delay emergency veterinary care. Dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and metabolic issues can quickly become life-threatening without prompt treatment.
To help prevent episodes of vomiting bile, cat owners can:
- Feed smaller, more frequent meals
- Choose a high-quality commercial cat food formulated for digestive health
- Avoid sudden diet changes
- Provide constant access to fresh drinking water
- Limit access to toxic plants and substances
- Maintain annual veterinary wellness exams to monitor organ function
- Promptly treat medical conditions including dental disease, infections, and gastrointestinal disease
While occasional bile vomiting may happen even with the healthiest cats, following these tips can lower the chances. Be alert for signs of illness and seek veterinary care at the first signs of persistent vomiting or other concerning symptoms in your cat.
When to see the vet
Here is a summary of when to seek veterinary attention for a cat vomiting bile:
|Isolated vomiting, otherwise normal
|Call vet within 24 hours
|Repeated vomiting over 24 hours
|Seek ER care asap
|Vomiting with diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy
|Emergency veterinary care needed
|Vomiting with abdominal pain
|Emergency care warranted
|Bloody vomit or vomit resembles coffee grounds
|Get emergency treatment immediately
|Cat seems distressed, rapid deterioration
|Emergency vet visit is critical
The bottom line
While bile vomit may resolve on its own, repeated instances or vomiting along with concerning symptoms should be evaluated promptly. Severely ill cats require immediate supportive care and diagnostics. With aggressive treatment guided by an accurate diagnosis, most cats vomiting bile can fully recover. Be vigilant for vomiting and other signs of illness in your cat, and call your vet at the first signs of a problem.