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Cat Vomiting


Vomiting In The Cat - More Than A Hairball?

by Dr. Sue A. Whitman, D.V.M.

Dear Dr. Sue,

I am so tired of my cat's vomiting! Sometimes she vomits a hairball, but other times it is food that clearly has no hair in it. She is 4 yrs. old and has short hair. We give her a hairball remedy in a tube when she does vomit hair, but I can't say it helps. Does she have a serious problem? Mike K.

Dear Mike,

Let me go into some detail on cat vomiting. I have a feeling there are many frustrated kitty owners such as yourself that are tired of stepping on a cold hairball when they hop out of bed in the morning!

Most people believe that a cat with a hairball will vomit hair. I know this sounds logical, but it is really not the case. Some hairballs of course, do get vomited (otherwise the comic strips would be without one of their favorite topics!). But, more often, the hairball is leisurely parked at the exit to the stomach (called the pyloris) when the cat decides to eat a meal. The act of eating stimulates the stomach to contract and push Kitty's big meal out into the intestines to be digested. The forceful waves of stomach contractions send the food toward the pyloris with the intent of emptying the stomach, but the pyloris is blocked by the hairball napping in the road. The food essentially crashes into the blockage and surprises Kitty by reappearing on the floor 10-15 minutes after she thought it safely cached in her tummy. The food is generally undigested, and since the cat experiences no real nausea or cramping, the cat usually goes back to her dish to begin satisfying that mystifying, returning hunger. Meanwhile, the hairball is being tossed and churned by a stomach that has begun the mixing stage of the digestion process, and is either dislodged from the pyloris to float freely in the stomach, or is forced into the intestines to be digested and passed. So you see, hairballs can cause vomiting of hair, food, or even water soon after drinking. A normal cat can vomit in this matter an average of one time per week. Most cats with a hairball will vomit once or even twice in one week, then be fine for 2-3 weeks before another episode.

For a hairball remedy to work (these are malt-flavored petroleum jelly in a tube), they need to be used as a preventative measure, not as a treatment after vomiting is a problem. These products physically coat the hair ingested during routine grooming to prevent it from entangling and joining other hair already in the stomach, thus preventing the dreaded hairball. If the hairball is already present, a petroleum product will not be able to penetrate the densely packed hair in a hairball. The most the hairball remedy can do if a hairball has already formed is slime the surface of the hairball, encouraging it to get on its slippery way into the intestines.

If your cat vomits more than an average of once weekly, see your veterinarian! Vomiting can be caused by a huge list of kitty problems, some of the most common being the ingestion of a foreign body (such as toys or string), infiltrative or inflammatory bowel disease (very common), stomach tumors, kidney disease, diabetes, and thyroid disease. REMEMBER that "routine" hairballs do not cause a cat to feel sick or miss meals! If your cat is avoiding food or losing weight, get to your veterinarian…

Here are some other hairball facts for those of you striving to be true hairball experts:

Hairballs are frequently associated with a characteristic "hairball cough" caused by a presumed "tickle" in the cat's throat as hair is about to be vomited. HOWEVER, this cough is identical to the dry, honking cough of "feline asthma", the only difference being frequency. If you are hearing this cough more than once weekly, it is time for chest x-rays! The scientific name for a hairball is TRICHOBEZOR (try-koe-beez-or). Try that word on a pet owner to sound informed in hairball science! Many cats actually have a motility disorder in their stomach that creates hairballs. Instead of propelling food toward the pyloris in a synchronal fashion, their stomachs contract erratically, tossing hair together to clump and accumulate. These cats have more than the average vomiting frequency, and yet feel hungry and happy and do not display weight loss. These cats benefit from a safe prescription medication to synchronize their stomach contractions. Although they need daily medication (as pills or liquid), the carpets can stay clean once you make a trip to the veterinarian.

Copyright 2000 by Suevet, P.C., Dr. Sue A. Whitman, President.

Sue A Whitman D.V.M.
8262 Switchboard Road
Spencer, Indiana 47460
Emergencies call above number.