Causes for gagging can vary. If your pet is experiencing the following symptoms, please utilize our Fast Track Triage system and always call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you:
- Difficulty breathing or persistent non-productive retching are considered “RED” – or true emergencies – on our Fast Track Triage system. We advise you to seek immediate veterinary care.
- If you witnessed or strongly suspect your pet ingested something toxic or a foreign body causing illness, these are considered “ORANGE” – or urgent cases – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend calling ASPCA Animal Poison Control at 888-426-4435 for help determining if your pet consumed a toxic amount and for guidance on what to do next.
- If your pet is persistently vomiting or is vomiting paired with diarrhea, these are also considered “ORANGE” – or urgent cases – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend having your pet evaluated by your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within 12 hours.
- If your pet has experience two or fewer vomiting episodes, this is considered a “YELLOW” – or semi-urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend having your pet evaluated by your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within 24 hours.
So, you’re hanging out at home with your cat and then suddenly they start gagging! What do you do?
Overall, there are many potential causes for gagging in a cat. It can be as simple as something that they licked causing oral irritation or a more complex issue like dental disease, upper airway congestion, foreign material ingestion, nausea from metabolic disease (liver/kidney issues), heart disease, respiratory disease, oral masses, or even neurologic conditions.
When to go to the ER…
If you know your cat licked something toxic or ingested a foreign substance or object, it is best to call ASPCA Poison Control Center or Pet Poison Helpline for advice on if they should be seen right away.
If your pet continues to gag, refuses to eat, is lethargic or hiding, an exam is recommended. Other signs to watch for include breathing changes (fast or open mouth breathing) and neurologic signs (acting drunk or off-balance).
What will happen at the ER?
First, we’ll get a complete history from you. Our team will ask about potential exposures, any symptoms that you were seeing prior to the gagging, and other changes at home. It can be helpful to take a video to show the doctor what you saw.
Next, we will perform a complete exam. Often, this will require sedation to get a good look in the mouth and throat. We will look for evidence of inflammation from caustic exposure, foreign material, abscesses or infections, or even masses.
Pending findings, we may recommend bloodwork and radiographs. If signs continue and we are unable to determine a cause, examination with a specialist may be needed and even advanced imaging (MRI, CT and/or endoscopy).
How will we treat it?
Treatment really depends on what we find as a cause. For instance, ingestion of an irritant, such as plant material, may result in mild signs that will resolve with anti-nausea medication. However, more serious causes can require surgery, many days of treatment and supportive care, and even feeding tubes for nutritional support while the body is healing.
If you have any questions or concerns about your cat’s health, contact your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital. Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota’s Oakdale and St. Paul emergency facilities are both open 24/7, every day of the year.