Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
My 5-year-old female cat, Myrtle, is ill. She has been vomiting up her food on the odd occasion for the past six weeks. She is now bringing up clear liquid, but sometimes foam and sometimes yellow liquid as well. She has become lethargic and depressed. She is not eating properly. She has long, fine hair so I do worry about hairballs, but she drinks lots of water and I give her the hairball syrup once a week.
Myrtle is now hiding under the bed and won’t come out. If I touch her, she growls at me and yelps if I touch her belly. Do you think she has hairballs? I’ve heard hairballs can twist cat’s stomachs. I am very worried.
Siouxsie: This does sound serious, Rachael, and we’d recommend a trip to the vet as soon as possible.
Thomas: Whether the cause of your cat’s stomach trouble is a hairball or something else, she’s clearly sick and in a great deal of discomfort.
Dahlia: That’s right. When your cat hides and acts lethargic, that’s a good sign something is wrong. But when you add to that the fact that she’s yelping if you touch her belly, that’s good sign that something is wrong.
Siouxsie: We cats do swallow quite a bit of fur when we groom ourselves, and generally we do OK with getting the fur back out with a good upchuck once in a while, but sometimes the hairball gets so big that it blocks our stomach and we can’t get it out on our own. When that happens, we need the vet to help get it out.
Thomas: Long-haired cats are particularly prone to hairballs, as you know. Feeding your cat hairball syrup on a regular basis can help keep the problem under control, but the best way to keep your cat from getting hairballs is by grooming her regularly.
Dahlia: Most cat care professionals recommend brushing long-haired cats at least twice a week. But for fine-haired and flat-faced cats like Persians or Persian crosses, daily brushing is imperative — not only to prevent hairballs, but to prevent mats.
Siouxsie: You can also prevent hairballs by giving your cat a dietary supplement. These come in two forms: the syrup or paste such as the one you’re using, and high-fiber additives. The syrup lubricates the hairball and helps it pass through the intestines more easily. The fiber supplements make the stools more solid, which can also help push the hairballs along.
Thomas: A variant on the high-fiber method is to plant a tray of cat grass. Cats naturally tend to eat grass when they go outdoors. Cat grass has the effect of either irritating the stomach enough to induce vomiting — which brings the hairball out through the front — or adding fiber to the diet so that the hairballs come out the back.
Dahlia: Thomas ate a piece of clear packing tape yesterday while Mama wasn’t looking, and he horked up a great big hairball!
Siouxsie: Let us be totally clear that we don’t recommend packing tape as a hairball remedy! Thomas was just being naughty.
Thomas: Hey, it worked!
Dahlia: Anyway, there are also lots of varieties of hairball-control cat foods on the market. You can find them in dry kibble form, and they’re made with extra fiber to get things moving along, if you know what I mean.
Siouxsie: Cats can eat other foreign objects that cause stomach blockages. Fabric and yarn are pretty common culprits, so if you knit or crochet or sew, keep your goods away from your cats. Tinsel is another blockage-inducing material, so we recommend that you not use it as a Christmas tree decoration if you live with cats.
Thomas: And believe me, the “tinsel-butt” phenomenon is not pleasant for cats or humans!
Dahlia: On a related note: if you ever see yarn, thread or tinsel sticking out of your cat’s rectum or mouth, do not pull on it! You could cause serious and potentially fatal internal damage! Take your cat to the vet and have him or her remove it.
Siouxsie: So what it comes down to for you, Rachael, is a trip to the vet right away. In the future, you can help to prevent hairball problems with daily grooming, high-fiber food, cat grass, and giving Myrtle hairball syrup on a schedule recommended by your vet.
Thomas: Even if you do everything we recommend, it may not prevent Myrtle from having hairball problems in the future. But at the very least, it will vastly decrease the chance of a serious incident like this from happening again.
Dahlia: Good luck, Rachael. We sure hope everything comes out OK.