Why Do Cats Gag When They Smell Food?

A cat gag may feel gross to almost all the pet parents, but it can also provide a lot of information. When you offer your kitty a kibble/food, she may gag at it. There are several reasons for it. Here in this article, we tell you everything about cat’s gagging and why cats gag when they smell food.

Cats have almost 60-63 million olfactory receptors present in their nose, so there is a good chance that food is the possible cause of gagging if she does not like it. Below, we will consider some of the reasons why your cat gags and want you to replace their food plate!

Reasons for gagging in food

We’ll start with the most straightforward and easily understandable reasons why your cat may gag to food plate: They may not like the smell of food. The cat’s vomeronasal sac, also known as Jacobson’s organ, is part of a complex system linked to its ability to process different odors or smells. This sensory organ is located in the upper part of the mouth. The cat frowns at bad/stinky smells, and all the felines use their tongue to direct the scent to the back of their throat, which ultimately creates a gagging sound.

If your cat rejects the prescribed food, you can try mixing it with something yummy like adding sweet or meaty treats, giving food at different temperatures warm or cold food), or adding flavor enhancers.

Giving your cat a new commercial or home-cooked food that doesn’t smell good can also cause this reaction. Choose something else, if your cat gags at the new food. It may take some experimentation to see your cats’ favorite foods, especially if you have a new cat. The more natural proteins are included in your cat’s commercial food, such as chicken, tuna, or turkey, the more likely the cat will respond positively.

Cat food should be made with at least 30% protein, although 35% or 40% is also recommended. Avoid ingredients such as gluten, cornmeal, and byproducts that are bad for your cat or may not be acceptable by your cat.

Texture of food

Your cat’s food may have all the proper ingredients and aromas, but the texture is also important. Cat food comes in various textures such as sliced, grilled, pate, minced and more. Cats prefer how their food is served because it affects how food feels in their mouths and their ability to swallow it. Your cat may like various food or may stick to a single taste, mainly if they are old or have teeth and gums problems. Gagging is the first sign that they don’t like the taste or texture of the food.

Flavor of food

Sometimes a cat sniffs the scent of food and gag due to the cat food mix with other house flavors. It is essential to make sure your cat can eat in a neat and clean environment. It is recommended to set up their eating place away from their litter box, and in a place where they are not sickened by other elements.

More complicated causes of gagging

What happens if you’re on a roll with your feline’s food cravings and all of a sudden they start gagging again? They may have suddenly changed their priorities, but it can also be a cause for concern.


Excessive grooming causes all cats to get hairballs. They are more frequent in some cat breeds than in others. The scent of cat’s food, especially new food, can trigger a reflex in their throat and cause them to start hacking the fur they accumulate. Average hairballs are standard, but it is not ideal for your cat to cough up after smelling food every time. Time to change the menu!

Stomach issues

Although stomach problems are not always a symptom of gagging acid reflux, indigestion or other gastrointestinal issues may lead to it.

It is important to remember that food that works for one cat does not necessarily work for another. Cats are all individuals and can have fundamental problems with how they digest food, making certain foods unsuitable for them. It is necessary to take your cat to the doctor as soon as possible if you think they have stomach problems.

Bacterial infections

Indeed, cats can get a bacterial infection, especially from food that is not adequately cooked or prepared. Clostridium perfringens is a bacterium that is common in raw or uncooked lean meat and poultry. These harmful bacteria grow in an environment with little oxygen. Cat food that is not processed correctly or contaminated served as an excellent breeding ground for bacteria. If your kitten eats this cat food, she may face the loss of appetite, gagging, nausea and vomiting.

This clostridium contamination is less common with commercially processed foods, and more common in home-cooked feline foods. While it’s great to cook your cat food, you need to know what you’re doing and take great care of the ingredients while following all the safety and hygienic standards. The temperature at which you serve food, proper preservation of ingredients and protein levels, and food thickness are all factors which increase or decrease your cat gagging level.

Bad  smell in the surrounding  environment or house

Cats’ sensitive noses are not only to sniff food. It smells like individual flowers, citrus, many spices, and many houseplants are very offensive to cats and may trigger cats’ gagging response. Some of these fragrances are used to keep cats away from the furniture. If you have recently used a spray or similar scent to keep your cat away from your furniture or furnishings, know that it may also be the possible cause of excessive cat gagging.

Throat obstructions

If your cat suddenly starts drooling, pawing their mouth and gagging with difficult breathing (dyspnea), make sure there is no food stuck in their throat. Cats that play with plastic toys near their food, or find cardboard scraps in their food, are particularly vulnerable.

When you take your cat to vet? (In case of gagging)

Now, if you notice abnormal gagging (or recurrence) in your cat, it may be time to take them to the doctor. The professional veterinarian will help diagnose and treat your pet as soon as possible to avoid serious consequences.

Consider the following before taking your cat to the pet veterinarian. Here is what you look for in your cats:

  • The cat coughs up all its food
  • Loud meowing (during and after gagging)
  • Debris in the nasal passages
  • Unusual cat litter color
  • Frequent visits to the bowl of water for drinking
  • Dry cough (this may be asthma)
  • Visual obstructions in the food tray that your cat has eaten

Of all the points mentioned above, the most abnormal and harmful is the abnormal litter color due to abnormal stool/feces. A dry cough is the most difficult to diagnose, as it can be more than a hairball. Cats that cough after drinking water or eating food can have some form of asthma.

You can also use some stress-free feline supplements to reduce gagging behavior in cats. Because changing food stress is the top reason for gagging in the cat. So, here at Two Crazy Cat Ladies, you can find a list of stress-free products and non-toxic sweeteners and flavors for your felines

Understanding the cat’s signals for normal or annoying gagging

  • Productive gagging is that type of gagging which also initiate vomiting which allows the owner or pet parent to see and understand (usually by seeing indigesta) what is going on with their feline companion.
  • Basing on the amount of hair, mucus, bile, blood, vomiting, and gagging is the cat’s way of telling her pet parent that something is wrong.
  • If along with the gagging are loud sounds or muffled voices that resonate distress, you must want to make an appointment with a veterinary doctor as it is a clear red flag that indicates an increasing pain.
  • If this is your cat’s environmental concern, you can contact your pet’s behavior specialist for the solution.

Do you need to worry about your cat gags after smelling food?

Not usually. Cat gagging behavior is a reaction to the smell of a particular scent or pheromone from unbearable food. When your cat gags, she appears to frown and uses her tongue to direct the smell to the organ.

Has the cat’s gagging produced anything?

The cat’s body will naturally reject anything offensive or harmful to them, especially since their digestive system is very advanced and well protected.

Usually, when they gag, all they have is related to their instinct to expel something to stay healthy and have a high survival level.

Conclusion: Why do cats gag when they smell food

The primary reason for cat gagging is the smell/flavor of food which your kitty finds gross. The abrupt change in food or offering expired or contaminated food also lead to it. We all know cats are very picky eaters and they feel the difference quickly.

It is essential to know the reason behind the gagging. The vomeronasal sac also known as Jacobson’s organ is a part of the cat’s sense organ known as the olfactory organ that can be found behind the teeth in the upper portion of a cat’s mouth. It is responsible for detecting odor particles having a high moisture level, and a cat responds by opening its mouth and curling its upper lip while breathing.