Cat Gagging: Causes and What to Do

Medical Contributor:

Dr. Laurie Donovan

Apr 15, 2021

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Have you ever seen your cat gagging? Do you often wonder what causes cats to do this? Are you worried about your cat or wondering what you can do to help? If any of this sounds like you, don’t worry—you’re not alone, and many other cat owners have wondered the same things!

In this article, we’ll explain some of the most common causes of gagging in cats and let you know what, if anything, you can do to help. Read through this information to learn more about this concerning cat behavior.

Causes of Cat Gagging

Some common causes of cat gagging include:

Eating Too Quickly

If your cat is gagging often after she eats, she may simply be eating too much or too quickly. Some cats are anxious when it comes to food and may try to eat as fast as they can, which leads to gagging issues.

Accidentally Swallowing a Foreign Object

Cats may sometimes swallow items they should not. One of the most common of these is string, and many cats love to eat string and pieces of string-like materials they find on the floor.

Never try to remove a piece of string from a cat’s throat (or bum), as it can cause intestinal damage.

Ingesting Toxic Substances

If your cat eats something toxic, such as household cleaners or certain types of houseplants, she may begin to gag. Sometimes, this will be the worst of it; sometimes, however, this may be only the start of a bad reaction, so a trip to the emergency vet may be in order.


Cats do not gag from nausea as often as humans do, but it is still possible. If your cat is gagging and also vomiting periodically, she may be nauseated. Nausea can occur with some medications and flea treatments, but it is also a sign of illness in cats.


Hairballs are the most common cause of gagging in cats. Usually, this type of gagging will eventually be accompanied by your cat spitting up an obvious hairball, although it may take a few tries for her to cough it up fully.

Hairballs are not the same as vomit, but may sometimes be hidden within vomit. Frequent hairballs could be a sign of food allergies, intestinal issues, hormonal problems, or sometimes other illnesses.


Coughing in cats can often be mistaken as gagging. If your cat seems like she is trying unsuccessfully to bring up a hairball, she may be coughing. Coughing in cats can be a sign of asthma or other lung disease.

What to Do if Your Cat’s Gagging

Below are things you can do if your cat is gagging and what you can do to prevent it from happening:

Check the Airways

If your cat is gagging and doesn’t seem to be spitting up any hairballs, you should check her airways for ingested foreign objects. If you do see something, don’t try to remove it on your own, but instead contact the emergency vet. You may do more harm than good by trying to remove an ingested foreign object.

Use a Slow Feeder

A slow feeder, such as a food dish with raised sections inside to create a maze-like shape, can encourage cats to slow down and work their way through their food carefully rather than eating it all at once.

Watch for Other Signs

If your cat may have eaten something toxic, or if you think she is sick with something that is causing her to feel nauseated, keep a close watch on her for other signs. Take her to the vet if you think any of this may be true, or if she shows other concerning signs and symptoms.

Use Hairball Medications

If your cat has frequent hairballs, a hairball medication is a good option. These medicines are found in pet stores and usually consist of a gel-like texture similar to Vaseline. Cats usually eat them readily because they are highly flavored.

Feed Hairball Food Formulas

You may be able to find hairball remedy or hairball preventative food formulas that your cat will eat. Some cats are pickier than others, however, so it may take some time to find the right food formula for your feline friend.

Try options slowly so as not to aggravate your cat’s sensitive digestive system with frequent food changes.

Take a Video

If you are not sure what your cat is doing (and if she is not in distress), take a video. This will help you and your vet decide what the next steps will be to come to a diagnosis or to start treatment.

Go to the Vet

Most importantly, if you notice your cat’s gagging and it’s happening on a more frequent basis, you should take them to the vet. Your vet will be able to check your cat thoroughly and determine what might be the underlying cause of this problem.

If you think your cat may have eaten something toxic or may have a foreign object in her throat, or if she is in distress, then you should go to the emergency vet right away rather than waiting for your regular vet.

VEG is Here if Your Cat Keeps Gagging

With this information, you should be more prepared to figure out what’s causing your cat to gag. You can also talk more with your vet about the potential causes and treatments so you can work together with your vet to find the right solution too.

Remember that, most of the time, gagging every now and then isn’t anything too concerning in cats. However, if gagging occurs often, or if your cat seems to be in a lot of distress when gagging, then this may be a sign that something more serious is going on and they need emergency care.

Speak with your vet or an emergency vet for more individual information about your specific cat’s needs.