Fuzzy Side Up: Hairballs not a good thing for you or your cat | PostIndependent.com

Fuzzy Side Up: Hairballs not a good thing for you or your cat

John was so excited; he was finally going to make his first bungee jump.

As he stood at the edge of the bridge, he saw a little airplane curling below him. That’s odd, he thought. Why are they flying there? The buzzing of the planes engines became louder, until he realized it was his alarm clock screaming at him. He hit the off button and grudgingly pulled himself up, stumbling towards the bathroom in the dark – and that’s when it happened. His left foot came down onto something cold and wet, squishing between his toes before he could stop himself.

“What the … !” he exclaimed as he hit the lights. Looking down, he recognized it. “Honey,” John bellowed down the hall. “Your cat threw up again! I’ve had it!”

“Stupid cat,” he thought, “always hairballs. I thought short haired cats weren’t supposed to have hairballs all the time. I mean once in a while, but every week? That’s crazy,” he grumbled to himself.

Guess what? John is right. Cats should not throw up hairballs once a week, no matter how long their hair is. In fact, as a general rule, cats should rarely throw up at all. If you have a long-haired cat that is a meticulous groomer, then hairballs once or twice a month is probably OK. But a cat that doesn’t groom well, or has short hair, should very rarely be throwing up hairballs or anything else.

Over the last 10 years, veterinarians have been learning a lot about the feline gastrointestinal tract, and why some throw up so frequently. What they are finding is that cats can suffer from inflammatory bowel disease, just like dogs or people. Cats can also get intestinal infections and parasites, like giardia, that can cause intermittent vomiting.

What we are learning now about cats that throw up a lot is that things like food allergies or inflammatory bowel disease cause inflammation in the intestines and can slow down their normal gut motility. This means food doesn’t move through like it should, it tends to sit in their stomach or intestines. Any hair they swallow with grooming should normally pass through with their food. When it doesn’t, they end up throwing up things that sit there. One day it may be a hairball, the next time maybe its food, or even just some yellow foamy liquid.

This is not a normal, healthy situation. With inflammation in the intestine, cats start to lose their ability to absorb nutrients, and can actually become malnourished despite an apparently healthy appetite. So they eat well but are very slowly losing weight; it’s hard to see.

The other big thing we are finding is a relationship between long-term inflammation in the intestinal tract and cancer. It is believed that untreated inflammatory bowel disease or other chronic inflammatory diseases can predispose the cat to some types of cancer. There is no way of knowing if this progression will occur, so treating early signs, like frequent vomiting or diarrhea, is very important.

Some cats do have trouble with just hairballs, and giving them hairball treats may be all that is needed. But if your kitty still throws up after you try that, a visit to your vet is very important. Sometimes a simple food change will solve the problem, but a good physical exam is necessary. It’s neither true nor normal for cats to throw up frequently.

Remember, cats are not small dogs; they react to illness differently and are true magicians at hiding disease from us. Therefore, any small change in your cat’s routine should be checked out by your veterinarian. We want to help you and your pet enjoy a healthy long life together.

Rebecca Lemmon is a veterinarian at The Valley Veterinary Clinic in Rifle.

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