What Causes a Cat to Throw Up Yellow Liquid?


You might be at your wit’s end — or practically drowning in cat vomit — before you throw your hands toward the heavens and cry, “Is it normal for cats to throw up?”

Does it seem like your cat or kitten is personally dedicated to re-creating scenes of terror straight out of The Exorcist? In any event, you’re here because you seek causes for a cat throwing up yellow liquid. Maybe your cats are expelling one of the panoply of possible colors of puke? A cat’s retching need not make you wretched; if you or your veterinarian can determine the cause, frequently, the underlying situation can be treated, managed, or resolved.

Cats get sick and vomit for a wide range of reasons. Throwing up liquid in particular can be a sign of many cat illnesses, but it is only one. While vomiting colored substances can be alarming, staying calm, being observant, and looking for associated symptoms can help you and your vet to determine a course of action. Whether the feline is fouling up your floor or furniture with clear, yellow, green, or pink liquid, let’s explore some of the potential causes.

causes for a cat throwing up yellow liquid
Yellow or green liquid may indicate bilious vomiting in a cat. Photo via Pixabay.

Is your cat vomiting clear liquid?

Feline vomit that consists of clear liquid tends to be composed of gastric acid and mucus that are naturally produced in the stomach. The former begins the work of digestion, the latter coats the stomach, and prevents the acid from destroying the stomach lining between meals. If a cat eats irregularly, or experiences a long delay between feedings, the gastric acid may begin to irritate her stomach in the absence of food to digest.

You may want to consider a feeder that releases smaller portions at regular intervals throughout the day. The most commonly cited reason for clear cat vomit is a hairball — whether hairballs are actually present in the vomit or not — or some other indigestible foreign object. This object could be anything from grass to a piece of string.

What causes a cat to throw up yellow liquid?

Is your cat throwing up nothing but yellow or green liquids? The colors of this viscous liquid are due to the presence of bile. Bile is produced in the liver, then stored in the gallbladder for use in the small intestine. In the gallbladder, bile is concentrated and prepared for deployment. The green and yellow tinting is due to the presence of bilirubin in bile. Even if you are unfamiliar with the term, you are certainly aware of the effects of bilirubin — when it is excreted, it gives feces and urine the brown and yellow colors we associate with them.

In the normal course of things, food passes from the stomach into the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. Here, bile enters the picture and begins the work of separating nutrients from waste, and moving them along, a muscular action called motility. Should there be an issue with the operations of these muscles, bile can go backwards into the stomach. Bile irritates and inflames the stomach, and the natural impulse of the cat is to expel it by vomiting.

causes for a cat throwing up yellow liquid
Abdominal discomfort may accompany yellow liquid in cat vomit. Photo by Lucia Sanchez on Flickr.

This is a condition appropriately named Bilious Vomiting Syndrome. It’s not a disease itself, more a description of the phenomenon. One potential reason for bile-heaving cat is feline pancreatitis, a condition in which digestive enzymes leak from the pancreas and irritate surrounding organs. This can affect motility, which can lead to bile finding its way into the stomach. Cat digestive issues can be like a domino cascade, where one organ malfunction leads to another. By the time a cat vomits yellow or green liquids, tracing and treating the original problem may require urinalysis, blood work, and ultrasounds at the vet’s office.

What if the cat is vomiting pink liquid?

If your cat is regurgitating pink or red liquid, this is typically a sign that there is blood in the vomit. The cause or causes depends on the hue of the blood. The brighter the red, the closer the affliction is to the point of egress. In other words, pink or red fluid in the vomit may indicate a problem in the stomach or esophagus. This could be anything from ingestion of a toxin or household chemical to an upper gastrointestinal tumor or ulcer; from reptitive vomiting to parasitic infestation.

Is the color a darker red, verging on maroon? Red or pink liquid in a cat’s vomit tend to point to issues in the lower extremities of the her digestive tract. In situations like this, the blood has already been semi-processed or digested. Perhaps there is a problem in the large intestine, in which cases, vomit will be accompanied by blood in the cat’s stool, or bloody diarrhea. Possible causes include ulcers or other lesions in the digestive system, the presence of bacterial agents like E. coli or Salmonella, inflammatory bowel disease, or tumors. Bloody vomit or diarrhea should be a cause for immediate concern and a veterinary consultation.

causes for a cat throwing up yellow liquid
Occasional vomiting usually resolves itself. If your cat keeps throwing up, seek veterinary help. Photo by Shutterstock.

Monitor your cat’s digestive habits

What causes a cat to throw up? The potential causes for cat vomiting are nearly limitless: anything from stress to a new food, or from eating too quickly to going too long between meals. In many scenarios, the digestive upset is a temporary issue. Vomiting related to travel, for instance, should subside once the cat reorients herself. If the cat has ingested a bit of string or has hairballs caused by excessive grooming, the symptoms will disappear once the offending element has been expelled.

A cat vomiting is not unusual. A cat vomiting daily or several times a day, on the other hand, is a cause for concern. Likewise, if vomiting is accompanied by a constellation of symptoms — diarrhea, weight loss, or increased appetite — chances are that throwing up is only part of a larger problem. The best way to minimize risks to your cat’s digestive health is to pay regular attention to her digestive and excretory habits. It may sound odd or slightly bizarre, but if you can pinpoint a day or time when regular digestion gave way to vomiting, or vomiting accompanied by diarrhea, you can give your veterinarian information that may be critical to reaching a diagnosis and determining a course of treatment.

About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a one-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Idris, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.

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