What is the difference between vomiting and regurgitation?

Our question this week was:

Dr. Debra – my cat is vomiting – undigested food that comes up in a tube. My vet called it regurgitation – not vomiting. What is the difference between vomiting and regurgitation?


Bill H. – Kansas City


Hi – thanks for your email Bill. Excellent question. You asked – What is the difference between vomiting and regurgitation in cats? Regurgitation is expulsion of contents of the esophagus – the tube that takes food from the mouth to the stomach. The contents never actually reach the stomach. Regurgitated substances often are tubular – the shape of the esophagus and is often undigested (since it didn’t reach the stomach). Also, the motion an animal goes through is different with regurgitation vs. vomiting. Often an animal that regurgitates will just…spit up with very little effort. They don’t use abdominal muscles as they do when they vomit.

Vomit is expulsion of materials from the stomach. It is often digested and may have bile or a yellow color. It is associated with more effort and contractions.

There are different underlying causes for each problem. A couple articles that might be helpful to you are Regurgitation in Cats and Vomiting in Cats. These articles talk about the differences and causes.

Best of luck!

Dr. Debra

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