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cat parent basics
Cat throwing up

The essentials

  • There are several reasons why your cat might gag after drinking — They might have an empty stomach or hairball, or maybe they drank too much too quickly. The temperature of their water also plays a role.
  • Wheezing and choking are different from gagging — If your cat is wheezing, speak to your vet. Choking is an emergency that needs to be dealt with immediately, especially if your cat can’t breathe.
  • Prevent your cat from gagging by keeping their water fresh — You should also check the tightness of their collar and keep up with regular vet checkups.

Coughing and gagging are abnormal behaviors in cats that can be quite serious, though some causes are less concerning than others. If your cat frequently gags after drinking water, they could develop an aversion to water or even refuse to drink entirely, so you’ll need to take your feline to the vet to figure out what might be going on.

Common causes of your cat’s gagging

Sometimes the reason for a cat’s gagging is simple. Maybe they just drank too much too quickly. Other explanations, like an infection, can be pretty serious. Below are some of the most common reasons why your cat might be gagging.

They drank too much

Drinking too much at one time can cause a cat to cough. Your cat might also be excessively thirsty if they have a health problem such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, or kidney disease. These conditions can cause your cat to drink large amounts of water and then gag.

They drank too quickly

Cats have small stomachs, and they typically sip water instead of gulping it. If they drink a large amount of water too quickly, this can cause them to gag because they simply aren’t used to drinking that amount of water in one sitting.

They have an empty stomach

Cats also have very sensitive stomachs. If they drink water when their body is anticipating food instead, they may gag or even vomit.

The water tastes strange

Cats, like most animals, are pretty sensitive to temperatures, tastes, and smells. You might notice your cat’s a bit picky about their food or water. Exposure to certain flavors and textures of food early in life can shape your cat’s dietary preferences later on. The material of a cat’s bowl can also affect the taste of their water, so if you notice your cat isn’t drinking enough, you might want to offer them a few different dishes to see what they like best.

Their collar is too tight

If a cat’s collar is too tight, this might make it difficult for the cat to swallow water. Adjusting your cat’s collar will fix the problem. You should be able to slip two fingers between your cat’s collar and their skin.

They have a hairball

A hairball might be causing your cat to gag and retch. Often, cats are coincidentally drinking water right before they cough one up.

They have a disease or infection

Respiratory infections can cause symptoms such as coughing and difficulty breathing. Gastroenteritis (inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract) would make a cat dry heave or gag shortly after eating or drinking, while lower airway disease can cause a cat to cough, too.

Wheezing in cats

Wheezing is different from coughing or gagging. This term refers to a cat that’s having significant trouble inhaling and exhaling — meaning they aren’t getting enough oxygen to their lungs. Wheezing can indicate your cat is in respiratory distress.

If your cat is truly wheezing, this respiratory problem is something to be concerned about. Conditions such as feline asthma and heart failure can cause wheezing, so it’s a good idea to get this symptom checked out by a vet.

Choking in cats

Choking is also different from gagging. If you think your cat is choking, you’ll want to ensure their throat is clear. Food or even toys can get lodged in a cat’s throat and restrict their airways. This can have serious consequences and is an emergency situation.

If your cat is exhibiting symptoms like excessive drooling, gagging, regurgitation, and repeated attempts to swallow, you should go to a veterinary clinic immediately. The vet will take an X-ray to look for any foreign objects stuck in your cat’s esophagus.

You can also learn first aid and the Heimlich maneuver to help a choking cat. Prevent choking by picking up things like hair ties, rubber bands, and string, and make sure you don’t have a cat toy with any small, detachable pieces.

Preventing your cat from gagging

There are several steps you can take to help prevent gagging in cats, some of which are below:

Make sure their water is the right temperature — Aim for room temperature or lukewarm liquids. Most cats don’t like extremely cold water.

Refresh their water frequently — Your cat’s water should always be fresh, so make sure to change it out at least once a day.

Ensure their collar fits properly — Collars that are too tight pose a choking hazard to both cats and dogs. It’s best to make sure your kitty’s collar is never too tight.

Stay on top of your cat’s healthRegular vet checkups are the best way to ensure any underlying medical conditions will be detected as soon as possible.

Frequently asked questions

Why is my cat gagging but not throwing up?

Your cat might gag because their collar is too tight. Or they might be attempting to throw up a hairball. In other cases, cats gag when they drink too much water too quickly.

What should I do if my cat is choking?

If your cat is choking, you can perform a “finger sweep” by gently sweeping your cat’s mouth with your index finger to remove the obstruction. Make sure to look and feel under the tongue; often, that’s where the foreign object can be found. If this doesn’t help, immediately go to the nearest veterinary clinic.

Why does my cat cough like they’re choking?

Your cat might cough because of a hairball or a sensitive stomach. However, if your cat is also drooling, gagging, and repeatedly attempting to swallow, they’re likely choking and will need emergency assistance.

Why does my cat vomit after drinking water?

A cat’s stomach is small and sensitive. Quickly drinking a large amount of water might stretch or upset their stomach and cause them to throw the water back up.

What should you do if your cat is choking on water?

It’s unlikely that your cat is choking on water. Coughing after drinking can be a sign of a too-tight collar or a sensitive stomach. But, if you also notice symptoms like drooling, gagging, and repeated attempts to swallow, immediately go to a clinic so a veterinarian can look for a foreign body or obstruction.