This month I’m continuing with my focus on our feline companions. I’m guessing that most of you, along with me, missed celebrating Hairball Awareness Day on April 25. However, I’m sure many cat owners are all too often “aware” of hairballs. One of the most memorable emergency calls I can remember is when a client called me in a panic, “Help me, I think my cat is dying.” She put the phone up to her cat so I could hear the characteristic retching noise a cat makes when producing a hairball. I heard the cat present the hairball to the owner, and in the background I heard, “EEEEEW, GROSS!”
Hairballs are commonly considered a normal part of owning a cat. Here are some ideas to help decrease the frequency of hairballs. Regular grooming is the most important thing a cat owner can do to decrease the amount of hair your cat ingests. If your cat is an indoor cat, providing entertainment for your cat can also help decrease licking secondary to boredom. Scratching posts, climbing structures and providing playtime and interaction are all part of keeping an indoor cat happy and healthy.
Vomiting with or without producing hairballs more than a few times a month can indicate a more serious problems. Additional reasons for concern would be weight loss and changes in activity and appetite. To make a diagnosis we start with full blood work, including cbc, blood chemistry and thyroid testing. Fecal testing is also a simple and important test to rule out an easily treatable disease if the cat has intestinal worms. Radiographs (x-rays) can also be indicated. If these tests do not give us an answer, further more specific tests are indicated.
The current recommendation is to use an ultrasound (a non-invasive procedure) to evaluate the thickness of the intestines. If the intestines are thickened, the two main rule outs are inflammatory bowel disease (ibd) and intestinal lymphoma (a type of cancer.) Full thickness intestinal biopsy taken during surgery is required to make a definitive diagnosis of either disease. Prior to surgical biopsies, many people may choose to try symptomatic therapy, including dietary management and a combination of antibiotics, probiotics, vitamin B 12 injections and dewormer medications. IBD isn’t considered a curable disease but is manageable long term treatment. With treatment a cat with IBD has a very good prognosis. Intestinal lymphoma can often be managed with chemotherapy, with an average time of remission of two years.
I know many people often try to manage their cat’s vomiting by buying hairball medication and hairball diets. However, there is evidence that when IBD is left untreated it can convert into intestinal lymphoma. Early detection and management can actually slow or prevent conversion to cancer and greatly improve the cats long-term prognosis. So if your cat is vomiting more than twice a month or showing any other digestive changes, consider having a medical work up sooner than later. It could make a significant difference in the quality and length of your cat’s life.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website at wildernessvet.com and our Facebook page. I’ll see you at the Farmers Market and look for our employees and their pets in the Maple Valley Days Parade.