Why does my cat keep gagging but not throwing up? Seeing your cat gag can be alarming. You may worry that something is stuck in their throat or they are choking.

However, joking and retching without vomiting is quite common in cats. While it’s not usually serious, there are some potential causes that you should be aware of.

Common causes of gagging without vomiting:


Hairballs are one of the most frequent reasons for gagging in cats. As cats groom themselves, they ingest loose hair.

The hair collects in their stomach and forms a hairball. Your cat may fool and retch as their body tries to expel the hairball.

Often, a hairball will eventually be vomited up. However, sometimes cats gag repeatedly without bringing up a hairball.

Empty stomach

Cats with an empty stomach may gag or retch. This is because excess stomach acid builds up when the stomach is empty.

The acid irritates the stomach lining, triggering gagging motions. This often happens first thing in the morning before your cat has eaten breakfast.

Eating too fast

Some cats tend to gobble their food down very quickly. They may swallow air while eating rapidly, which can later trigger gagging. Eating too fast can also lead to indigestion, causing nausea and gagging.

Respiratory diseases

Upper respiratory infections, such as feline calicivirus, can cause gagging. The condition leads to inflammation in the throat, which the cat tries to clear by gagging. Cats with asthma, feline bronchitis, or other respiratory diseases may also gag to try to remove mucus from their airways.

Oral health issues

Problems like gingivitis, ulcers, and dental decay can make gagging more common. The discomfort or inflammation in the mouth may lead to nausea and gagging motions. Older cats are prone to developing dental and gum disease.

When to see the vet

You don’t need to rush your cat to the vet whenever they gag. However, you should make an appointment if:

  • The gagging seems severe or happens repeatedly over several hours
  •  Your cat is showing signs of distress, such as drooling, pawing at their mouth, or retching unproductively
  •  Other symptoms like lethargy, appetite loss, or weight loss accompany gagging
  •  The gagging lasts for more than a day or two
  •  You notice anything unusual when they gag, like bringing up fluid or vomit that looks like coffee grounds

A persistent gagging issue must be evaluated to determine if an underlying health problem requires treatment. Senior cats should be assessed promptly if they develop new gagging behaviors.

What to do if your cat is gagging

If your cat is displaying frequent or severe gagging, there are a few things you can try at home to help:

Withhold food for several hours

This gives the stomach a chance to settle. Once gagging subsides, introduce small amounts of bland food like boiled chicken or plain rice.

Brush frequently

Regular brushing removes loose hair before it can form hairballs. Use a cat brush designed to stimulate oil production in the skin.

Add moisture to the food

Wet food or adding water to kibble can help hair pass through instead of forming hairballs. Canned pumpkin puree also helps move inches through the digestive tract.

Check oral health

Examine your cat’s teeth and gums. Odor, redness, or swelling may indicate dental disease. Your vet can do a thorough oral exam and treatment if needed.

Monitor eating habits

If your cat gobbles food, spread meals over several small portions in different locations. This encourages slower, more mindful eating. Also, raise food and water bowls to promote proper swallowing.

Use cat-safe anti-nausea remedies

Natural options include ginger, mint, chamomile, and small amounts of honey. Always consult your vet before giving any supplement or medication.

When to seek veterinary advice

Contact your vet if gagging persists over a day, seems severe, or your cat shows any concerning symptoms. The vet will do a physical exam and may recommend tests to determine the cause, such as:

  • Blood work to check for issues like kidney disease or diabetes that could cause nausea
  •  Radiographs (x-rays) of the chest and abdomen to look for masses, foreign objects, or other issues
  •  Endoscopy to examine the esophagus, stomach, and upper intestines
  •  Oral exam to check for dental problems, ulcers, or other abnormalities
  •  Upper airway endoscopy to directly visualize the throat and respiratory tract

Based on exam findings, your vet will recommend appropriate treatment. This may include medications for nausea, dental procedures, changing diet, antibiotics for infection, or surgery to remove an obstruction. Your cat’s gagging should resolve with treatment tailored to the underlying cause.

Prevention tips

To help prevent gagging and vomiting in your cat:

  • Feed smaller, more frequent meals
  •  Slow down fast eaters with puzzle feeders
  •  Groom regularly to reduce swallowed hair
  •  Schedule annual vet dental cleanings
  •  Keep your cat up to date on vaccines to reduce respiratory infections
  •  Avoid table scraps and unhealthy human foods
  •  Provide clean, fresh water at all times

You can often manage the issue at home by understanding common causes for your cat’s gagging without vomiting. But be sure to involve your vet if the problem persists or your cat shows signs of distress. With the proper treatment, your feline friend will feel better and keep their food down consistently.

Conclusion: Why does my cat keep gagging but not throwing up?

Gagging in cats without vomiting is common, often caused by hairballs, an empty stomach, eating too fast, respiratory diseases, or oral health issues. While it’s not always serious, persistent or severe gagging warrants veterinary attention.

Management includes regular grooming, adjusting feeding habits, and monitoring oral health at home. Preventive measures like smaller, more frequent meals, dental care, and proper hydration can help.

Always consult your vet if the gagging persists or your cat shows signs of distress, as tailored treatments can effectively resolve the underlying issue.