Dry heaving in cats is a non-productive attempt to vomit. Pet Health and Care explains that during a dry heaving episode, a cat displays forceful muscular contractions in its abdomen, torso and throat. Some dry heaving produces bile or saliva, but many cats do not produce anything during these spells.
Common causes of feline dry heaving include hairballs, a poor diet and ingestion of toxins. Cat Behavior Associates explains that owners of cats prone to hairballs often find it helpful to groom their cats frequently and add hairball-suppressing dry food to their pets' diets. Many cats with chronic hairball problems also benefit from regular doses of a digestive lubricant paste. This helps swallowed hair proceed through the animal's digestive tract with the rest of its stomach contents.
Dry heaving not caused by hairballs is sometimes caused by the ingestion of mild toxins such as over-the-counter medication or household plants. The only way to prevent this type of dry heaving is to keep toxic plants, medicines and chemicals in secure locations inaccessible to the cat. Adequate supplies of dry food, wet food and clean drinking water also discourage cats from consuming other substances.
Other potential causes of feline dry heaves include illnesses, infections and intestinal blockages. These require prompt veterinary evaluation, diagnosis and treatment.