Why Your Cat Is Vomiting After Enema (According to a Vet)

A cat vomiting after an enema is not an uncommon occurrence in the world of a small animal veterinarian. We try to avoid it, but sometimes it still happens. 

Since constipation is relatively common in cats, many cat owners assume giving their cat an enema is a quick, simple solution to the problem. In my opinion, cat enemas should be used more as a last resort than a first intervention. And using repeated enemas to treat cat constipation is also not recommended. 

Why Is My Cat Vomiting After an Enema? 

First, the digestive tract usually moves things toward the rectum. When fluid is introduced going in the other direction, it can cause a wave of muscle contraction that moves all the way to the stomach. This reverse wave of movement can cause vomiting.

Secondly, cats needing enemas often have gastrointestinal tissue that is already irritated before the enema. Enema ingredients may cause further irritation. When the brain senses a toxin in the GI tract, it sends signals to cause the cat to vomit in an attempt to clear the perceived toxin. 

tabby and white cat vomiting after enema
A cat vomiting after an enema is not uncommon.

How Cat Enemas Work

Merriam-Webster’s definition of enema is “the injection of liquid into the rectum and colon by way of the anus.” In veterinary medicine, this is most often done to produce a bowel movement by a constipated animal.

Cat enemas may contain ingredients to lubricate dry stool, distend the rectum to trigger contraction, and/or irritate the lining of the rectum to cause contraction. 

Common enema components include

  • Dioctyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate (DSS)–a surfactant that helps break up and lubricate hard feces
  • Warm water and mild soap–warm water distends and lubricates, mild soap breaks up hard feces
  • Saline solution-distends the rectum and softens feces
  • Lubricating gel (like K-Y jelly)–may be mixed with water or saline to lubricate hard stool

Any of these enemas ingredients can cause vomiting and should be administered by a veterinarian only. Cats can become very sick after an improperly or properly used enema. A veterinarian will have a better idea of the risks and what to do if there are complications.

Cat Enema Side Effects 

Cat enemas are far from being a safe, quick procedure even when administered by a veterinarian. Side effects may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Aspiration of vomit leading to pneumonia
  • Lethargy
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Perforation of the colon or rectum
  • Diarrhea
  • Poor appetite

Can a Cat Die After an Enema? 

It is rare but possible for a cat to die from an enema given by a veterinarian. Cats given enemas at home have a higher risk of complications. And cats receiving a phosphate enema at home have a high risk for significant side effects, including death. 

tabby cat looking shocked
An enema? I’m not going down without a fight!

Can I Give a Cat Enema at Home?

I don’t recommend my clients ever try to give their cat an enema at home. The risks are too high for things to go wrong.

That said, if you’re considering giving your cat an enema at home, never use commercial enemas made for humans. These may contain sodium phosphate even if they’re labeled as a “saline enema.” The phosphate component can cause deadly toxicity in cats.(2) The brand name “Fleet Enema” is in this category and should be avoided.

DSS enemas labeled as “pet enemas” are somewhat safer but can also cause side effects. Constipated cats already have problems in their gastrointestinal tract and introducing any sort of irritant can lead to nausea, vomiting and lethargy. 

Plus DSS enemas don’t always work to make a cat poop. Many constipated cats need additional help beyond just getting an enema. 

Your best bet is to take your cat to the vet if you believe she is constipated. If you need help with chronic cat constipation, your vet can prescribe medication, food and lifestyle changes to avoid repeated enemas.

How Much Does a Cat Enema Cost at the Vet?

The cost of a cat enema by a veterinarian could range from $200 to over $1000 for complicated cases. A lot depends on how long the problem has been going on and whether the cat has a serious underlying disease.

Most vets will want to take an abdominal x-ray so they can make an accurate diagnosis and prognosis. Some cats require multiple enemas, IV or subcutaneous fluids, hospitalization and other diagnostic tests to check for things like kidney disease and hyperthyroidism. 

xray of cat with full colon
This colon will take a while to empty fully!

How Long Should It Take a Cat to Poop After an Enema?

The best case scenario is that a cat will poop immediately after getting an enema. But things often don’t work out that way. 

If your cat had an enema given by a vet and has not pooped after 12 hours, you should call the vet and ask what they recommend to do next. 

In my experience, many cats who come into the vet clinic for an enema suffer from chronic constipation. They have abnormal intestinal movement and lots of hard, dry feces in their colon. 

It’s not unusual for a cat like that to require multiple carefully monitored enemas to produce a bowel movement. And even then, they often don’t pass all the retained stool. 

With an accurate diagnosis and proper supportive care, most constipated cats can have a bowel movement and feel better within 24 hours after an enema. But it could require more than just one simple enema.

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How to Help a Cat Vomiting After an Enema

So let’s assume your cat has had an enema given by their veterinarian and is now having some side effects. Maybe it’s the middle of the night and you’re searching the internet for how to help until morning. Here are a few tips from a veterinarian…

First, follow your vet’s recommendations for feeding and medication. They may have sent your cat home with medication that will alleviate side effects from the enema and/or keep them from needing another enema.

Is a Cat Vomiting After an Enema an Emergency?

If your cat is in distress–breathing hard, vocalizing a lot, passing lots of loose stool, passing lots of blood, weak or very lethargic–don’t wait until morning. Find the nearest 24-hour emergency vet clinic and go there now

Probiotics

If your cat has mild symptoms like occasional diarrhea or occasional vomiting after an enema, you can try using a probiotic supplement like Proviable DC (or even Culturelle if you already have some of that). It may take some time to work, but probiotic supplements may help prevent the recurrence of constipation. (1)

Bland Diet

A bland diet of cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast meat only works well for most cats with an upset tummy. Plus, most cats consider chicken meat a special treat so it keeps them eating. 

Encourage Intake of Liquids

You can offer low-sodium chicken broth for your cat to drink to improve their hydration level. If your cat will drink unflavored Pedialyte, that’s OK to use, too. 

Keeping a cat eating and drinking should help their GI tract return to normal faster than if they don’t eat at all. 

But don’t force food or liquid on a cat unless your vet recommends it and demonstrates how to do it safely.

Summary

Constipation in cats is not normal. Enemas can help relieve the problem in the short term but are not usually the sole solution. It’s not that unusual for cats to vomit once after an enema given by a vet. 

If your cat continues to vomit or has other unusual symptoms after an enema, call your vet or go to an emergency vet clinic for help immediately.

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References

  1. Rossi, G., Jergens, A., Cerquetella, M., Berardi, S., Di Cicco, E., Bassotti, G., … & Suchodolski, J. S. (2018). Effects of a probiotic (SLAB51™) on clinical and histologic variables and microbiota of cats with chronic constipation/megacolon: A pilot study. Beneficial Microbes, 9(1), 101-110.
  2. Tomsa, K., Steffen, F., & Glaus, T. (2001). Life threatening metabolic disorders after application of a sodium phosphate containing enema in the dog and cat. Schweizer Archiv fur Tierheilkunde, 143(5), 257-261.

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