Have you spotted your cat gagging at food and now you’re frantically looking for an answer? What could be the reason she’s reacting that way?
We know that even though cats are obligate carnivores, they enjoy occasional human-food munchies, and they absolutely love to eat. They’re curious beings, so sometimes they may ingest something they shouldn’t.
As long as the texture and the smell are attractive, she won’t hesitate to dip her nose into it. It has been said for a reason that curiosity killed the cat. Once you have your own furbaby, you’ll understand where this saying comes from!
Before I start untangling the knot, you need to know that you’re not alone. There are a lot of other cat owners who have gone through the same situation. So, take a deep breath and try to relax.
I know it’s easier said than done, but in this article, we’ll cover possible reasons your cat is gagging at food and how you should behave in case that happens. Let’s start.
Why is my cat gagging at food?
There may be a couple of reasons for your cat gagging at food and some of them are not scary at all. So don’t panic in advance, okay?
Normally, when you don’t like the smell of food, gagging is a reflex reaction. However, cats don’t only have problems with that – it may be something as harmless as coughing, but it may end up being some serious illness.
In this part, you’ll find out whether you just need to change your cat’s diet plan or take her to the vet to identify and treat any underlying problems.
1. Ate too quickly
It’s really that simple. She was gulping down her food too fast and now it all wants to come out. Sometimes cats eat too much and way too quickly, so this is (to some extent) normal behavior in those cases.
Your cat may be gagging at food after she ingested it and she may even spit it up right after swallowing. To prevent this, try to serve your furbaby smaller portions of food, so she doesn’t eat all of it in one sitting.
Also, you can create an eating habit for your feline and serve her meals at a particular time of the day. This will help you to prevent those occasions when she’ll eat big chunks of food and then gag.
2. Accidentally swallowed something
I don’t know how many times you’ve heard (including in this article) that cats absolutely enjoy exploring the world around them and, sure enough, they adore eating – be it food or anything that looks remotely edible.
Therefore, if your cat has suddenly started gagging after having served her food, it may happen that she swallowed a foreign object and is now struggling with it. Some things will simply go through her digestive system and she’ll poop them out, while others may provoke gags.
Maybe she found a string-like material on the floor or a piece of plastic and she tried to eat it, not because she was hungry, but because she was curious. If she doesn’t throw it up and you’re sure she ingested something she shouldn’t, seek medical attention immediately.
3. Ingested a toxic substance
If your kitty licks something toxic from the floor or somehow manages to ingest a piece of a toxic house plant, she may start gagging. Some of those include citrus fruit, philodendron, Ficus, and Oleander, which are common in our homes.
For example, I love those cleaning products that have a citrus smell. Ever since I adopted a couple of cats and have started to occasionally foster some, I now avoid all of these detergents because even though they are mildly toxic for cats, I don’t want to try our luck.
Talking about toxic plants, she may eat a small part of it that ended up on your living room floor and you didn’t spot it until it was too late.
Please be careful when using chemical products and choosing your house plants. Keep your furchild’s health and happiness in mind.
4. Trying to cough up hairballs
Hairballs aren’t unknown to you, so you’ve probably seen your cat coughing up some hairballs. They’re one of the main causes of gagging and it will take your feline a couple of tries before she gets them out of her system.
I know it’s pretty gross to discuss, but it’s possible that hairballs are sometimes hidden in vomit, so you may not notice them. However, if you do and your feline is vomiting hairballs, the reasons for this may be food allergies, hormonal issues, intestinal problems, or some other illness.
As soon as you notice that something is not okay, call your vet and make an appointment.
5. Doesn’t like the food you’ve served
I assume this was an easy guess. If your cat is gagging at food, she doesn’t like what you’ve served her. Cats have WAY stronger smell receptors than people. This is thanks to her Jacobson’s organ (also known as the vomeronasal sac).
This organ is located in the upper part of the mouth and she uses her tongue to direct scents there. If she doesn’t like it, she may end up gagging. Also, the texture of the food may not be pleasant and therefore your feline will refuse to eat the meal you gave her.
All cats are different, so they won’t all gag at the same food, but the most common scents that irritate them include mint, cinnamon, lavender, and citrus fruits. She may also have a gagging reflex after smelling broccoli, cheese, or the coffee you can’t live without.
6. Health problems
One of the reasons not so easily accepted is that your feline may have some health issues that can cause gagging. Most severe diseases have nausea and vomiting as the first signs that something’s wrong.
If your cat is gagging at food for no apparent reason, especially if you know that she usually loves what you’ve served her, she may be struggling with something serious. Gagging can indicate that she has some digestive problems.
Alternatively, she may have kidney disease, asthma or other respiratory illness, or problems with her liver or heart. In all of these cases, the most important thing is that you take her to the vet if you see that she is not her usual self.
7. Bacterial infection
Bacterial infection is not something that happens often, but it’s possible. Clostridium perfringens (bacteria that can be found in undercooked or raw food, especially meat) grows in environments with a lack of oxygen.
Therefore, food that’s not prepared properly is a perfect breeding ground for it, leading to gagging, nausea, and vomiting. Your cat’s appetite may decrease drastically to the point where she may even refuse everything she usually adores.
I know it’s amazing to prepare food on your own. You add a lot of love in every meal that you serve to your furbaby! But you have to be really careful when choosing and preparing the ingredients.
8. It’s not the food; it’s a cleaning product
I’ve already mentioned before that she may be gagging because of mint, citrus fruits, and lavender – the most common fragrances of cleaning products. So, if your cat is gagging at food, it’s not necessarily the food; maybe it’s the cleaning product you used to wash her bowl or eating area.
Let’s say you’re using liquid soap for your wooden floor that has lavender as the main scent and you’ve just cleaned the living room. You forgot to take her food bowl out into the hall, so now she has to eat there.
Since the floor in her little part of the room smells like lavender now, she may have problems with gagging and eating her food in the end. Those cleaning products usually have a strong scent and add a cat’s nose to that – Houston, we have a problem!
9. Just coughing
It’s easy to mistake one for the other, so don’t blame yourself for thinking that your cat is gagging when she’s actually just coughing. Maybe she failed to eliminate a hairball from her throat. So, it may not be serious at all.
However, pay attention if this keeps repeating, since coughing may indicate that something’s wrong with her respiratory system. It may be a sign of asthma or some other lung disease.
What should I do when my cat starts gagging?
Now that we’ve gone through possible causes of cats gagging at food, it’s time to find out what to do in such situations. Of course, the best option is always to (at least) call your vet and ask for advice. But can you solve it on your own?
Here are a couple of ways you can either prevent gagging completely or treat it if it happens.
1. Check for foreign objects
If your cat suddenly started gagging and you can’t see that she’s trying to get rid of some hairballs, check her mouth for foreign objects. As I’ve previously mentioned, her curiosity pushed her to taste something that she probably shouldn’t.
The easiest way to help her in these situations is to try to remove whatever it’s stuck in her mouth. Use your index finger and be gentle. Don’t pull it aggressively, since you may cause more damage that way.
If you can’t clear her airway on your own, contact your vet and inform him that the situation is urgent.
2. Consult your vet
The best solution for any problem that you may encounter as a pet owner is to consult your vet. Even if there isn’t a problem per se, but you have some things that aren’t completely clear to you, there’s no better route to take than this one.
The person who’s treating your cat knows her health condition the best. If your cat is struggling with some severe disease, he’ll know. He will also help you understand why your cat is gagging at food so you won’t need to beat yourself up.
3. Pay attention to signs of poisoning
If you saw that your cat has eaten something toxic to her, or you just suspect it happened, pay close attention to other signs of poisoning. Besides gagging, common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy.
She may also show other, more dangerous signs like seizures, or difficulty breathing. If you notice any of these, please, see immediate veterinary assistance.
4. Serve her food in a slow feeder
To prevent her from eating too much food and too fast, serve her food in a slow feeder. They are mostly made to have a maze-like shape and it will prevent your kitty from “attacking” her food faster than she should.
If your cat persistently continues gagging at food, don’t hesitate to ask for help and let the vet evaluate her health condition, since it’s definitely not normal for her to keep gagging this often.
5. Observe her behavior
The last tip that I have for you is to observe. What do I mean by this? If your feline ingested something that she wasn’t supposed to, you’ll see it in her behavior.
In the beginning, it will change slightly, so monitor her carefully. She’ll probably start vomiting, have diarrhea, and be a bit lethargic. Her loss of appetite may tell you a lot, and if she’s refusing to play with her favorite toy no matter how hard you try, it may be one of the signs she’s in pain.
To prevent serious health complications, pay attention to even the smallest changes in her behavior and have your vet on speed dial. You never know when that little mischievous devil will cause some trouble!