We have a handsome young tabby cat, Tabitha, who is healthy except for bouts of coughing and vomiting. She acts as if she has to spit up something and a few days ago she did indeed bring up a ball of fur. Is she sick and is there something we can do for her?
Cats spend at least one-third of their waking hours grooming and cleaning themselves. It is this natural instinct that makes them tidy pets. I bet Tabitha is particularly fastidious. All that licking produces hairballs, like the one she threw up. The problem is common specifically for good groomers and long-haired cats.
Hairballs develop from the hair the cat swallows as it cleans itself. Its tongue has tiny barbed-like projections that pull out hair from the coat. Because of the inward angle of the barbs, the hair stays lodged on the tongue until the cat swallows it.
Hair is primarily an insoluble protein that does not break down very easily in a cat’s digestive system. The undigested hair then knots in the stomach and interferes with digestion and elimination.
Tabitha’s dry cough and vomiting are classic signs that hairballs are developing in her system. This includes hair in the cat’s stool and on the inside of the feces.
Sometimes as the hairballs grow, a cat acts lethargic and becomes constipated. In fact, hairballs are the most common cause of depression and loss of appetite in cats.
If untreated, the hairball can completely obstruct part of the intestine and make the cat sick. This is a serious but unusual development that requires surgical removal of the obstruction.
The best way you can help Tabitha is to give her a regular dose of laxative that contains a lubricant and diatase, an enzyme. These ingredients aid digestion and hairball elimination. Your veterinarian can prescribe the best type of laxative for your cat. Most are given twice a week and more often when shedding is heaviest as in the spring.
Cats usually enjoy the taste of the sticky medication and will lick it from a finger. If Tabitha balks, put a dab on the roof of her mouth and she will swallow it. Do not give laxatives close to mealtime. Daily brushing and combing also will reduce the amount of fur Tabitha would remove with her own grooming. This combination of medication and grooming should easily and completely control hairball problems.