Cat owners and even veterinarians often accept that it is natural for a cat to vomit occasionally, especially in the case of hairballs (furballs) and/or eating food too fast.
Cats spend roughly a quarter of their waking hours grooming themselves. The time spent on grooming combined with the barbed structure of the tongue results in large quantities of fur being ingested daily. Most of the time the hair is passed normally in stool with no unusual consequences. However, if particularly large volumes of hair are ingested, or there is a change in the intestinal movement, the excess fur can also be expelled as hairballs by vomiting. The occasional vomiting of a hairball has generally been considered normal feline behaviour, but due to the fact that many cats never produce hairballs, it is likely that frequent hairballs are a sign of an underlying problem. Therefore, it is important to not ignore this symptom if your cat regularly vomits hairballs. Any type of vomiting, be it food or hairballs is unlikely to be normal if it occurs more than once a week.
The ingestion of excessive hair is a likely cause for hairballs. Long-haired cats suffer from this more than short-haired ones, where the capacity of the stomach to handle all the hair is overwhelmed and hairballs are expelled. Excessive hair loss or grooming can also be due to a skin disease, especially an itchy one, or overgrooming due to pain or anxiety. The vomiting of hairballs can also be caused by a chronic gastrointestinal disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease or dietary intolerance. If your cat is suffering from any form of gastrointestinal upset or weight loss, it is important to mention to your vet if your cat has a history of vomiting hairballs.
If you, as the cat owner are not sure as to the frequency of vomiting (either food, liquid or hairballs), it is beneficial to keep a diary or kitchen calendar and record the time and type of vomit. If your cat has a concurrent diarrhoea or abnormal bowel movements these should also be recorded, as the volume, frequency and character of the stool will help your veterinarian identify which part of the intestine is affected. The causes for acute, frequent vomiting (such as toxins, obstruction, viruses etc., which generally require immediate veterinary intervention) are often very different from intermittent, long-lasting vomiting, which can be more difficult to diagnose, and include problems such as food allergies, kidney and liver diseases, tumors and diabetes, to name a few.
Article by Dr. Laura Wessman