Why Is My Cat Throwing Up Clear Liquid?

Find out what may be causing your cat to throw up clear liquid and what you should do about it.

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Cat sick at vet
There are many causes of vomiting in cats, and many can result in puddles of clear liquid. Rigorosus/Shutterstock
Dr. Sandra Mitchell

*SPLAT* Ugh. There it is again. You step out of bed and right into it — another puddle of clear kitty puke. And always on the carpet, too. Why can’t she vomit on the easy-to-clean linoleum?

After you clean up the mess and sit down to your morning coffee, you start to wonder: Is it normal for cats to vomit this often? It seems like I’m forever finding piles around the house lately. What causes this? Should I be concerned? Do we need to see the vet?

After mulling it over a bit, you decide to call and make an appointment for Ms. Midnight to be examined, just to be on the safe side. She is getting a bit older — after all, she is 14 now — and you don’t want to miss anything that might be more serious.

At the appointment, the veterinary nurse asks a large number of questions about the episodes: How often does it happen? What comes up? Does it look fluidy, or solid like a tube? Do you notice any patterns to the episodes? What is Ms. Midnight eating? How is her appetite? What do her stools look like? Have you noticed anything else that seems different, or not right lately? You get the feeling that your veterinary office sees a lot of vomiting cats.

Well, the reality is, they do. Vomiting cats are quite commonly presented to the veterinary hospital for examination. Sometimes the answer to the problem is quite simple and obvious, but other times, much more detective work is required to obtain a diagnosis.

What Causes Cats To Vomit Clear Liquid

Clear liquid vomit is a sign that the cat is bringing up fluid from the digestive tract, which is often stomach juice. Occasionally, if the kitty is vomiting right after drinking a large amount of water, she will also vomit clear liquid —namely, the water they just drank. Most of the time, however, what we are seeing when we look at that sticky puddle of clear liquid on the paper towel is stomach fluid mixed with some mucus from the esophagus (the “tube” which connects the mouth to the stomach).

There are many causes of vomiting in cats, and many — if not most of them — can result in puddles of clear liquid. Some of the most common include:

  • Parasites
  • Indigestion with nausea (sometimes kitty overate or the last meal just didn’t sit well!)
  • Hair passing through the digestive tract irritated it and triggered some vomiting (with or without a hairball in that clear liquid)

Sometimes, however, the causes can be more serious:

  • An obstruction of foreign material in the intestinal tract
  • Metabolic problems (such as thyroid or kidney disease)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Cancer

When To See A Vet

So, when should we start to worry about our vomiting kitties? Did Ms. Midnight really need to go to the vet?

As a rule, a cat that vomits more than once or twice per week or is showing any additional symptoms (especially weight loss, diarrhea, excessive thirst, lethargy, pacing, nausea, drooling) probably should be seen right away. Likewise, if the vomiting persists more than a few weeks, even without any additional problems, it is time for a checkup. If your kitty is vomiting each time she eats or drinks, this may be an emergency and should be addressed immediately. Likewise, if you feel the cat may have eaten something like string, part of a toy or other foreign object, this may also be an emergency.

Kitties that aren’t feeling well clearly should be seen sooner rather than later — and you should also check the puddles of vomit for any tinge of color. Red tinges may indicate that there is some blood in the vomit, and green can come from lower in the intestinal tract and may indicate a slightly more serious problem. It is much better to catch and address a problem early, rather than leaving it to worsen.

What Can Be Done To Diagnose The Problem

Often, testing is required to establish how serious the problem is. Additional signs, such as weight loss (even if minimal) or diarrhea are very important to note, so be sure to provide your veterinarian a complete history, even if it doesn’t seem to be totally relevant to the problem at hand.

Your veterinarian will perform a thorough exam — palpating the intestinal tract, thyroid gland and kidneys — all of which could be involved in vomiting. Blood pressure, weight checks and a fecal examination are also an important part of this initial screening.

If there are additional symptoms, the vomiting is severe or persistent, or your veterinarian finds additional concerns on physical examination, additional testing such as x-rays and bloodwork will likely also be recommended. This spreads the examination out to include organ functioning (liver and kidneys) as well as the endocrine system (thyroid).

For more severe cases, or those not answered through routine screening, your veterinarian will likely recommend specific gastrointestinal function tests to look at digestive absorption and pancreatic levels. In addition to these specialized tests, and abdominal ultrasound can be immensely useful to actually visualize the organ systems and to help pinpoint the underlying problem. Once a diagnosis is reached, it is much more straightforward to tailor a treatment plan customized for the patient at hand.

Ms. Midnight’s Happy Ending

As to Ms. Midnight? You did the right thing. After an exam, it was determined that she had lost almost half a pound since her last visit 6 months ago. She also had high blood pressure. The veterinarian did some bloodwork, and determined that she had an overactive thyroid. She was started on some medication for this, and almost immediately the vomiting completely resolved!

A potentially fatal disease if left untreated was caught early and treated appropriately thanks to a few splats on the rug. Our cats really do speak to us and tell us their problems, it might just not always be in ways that we actually appreciate!

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Cats · Health and Care