A simple hairball can be fatal to your cat
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By Mickey Zeldes   May 17, 2013 12:00 am

A simple hairball killed our cat. Even now I find it hard to believe. It seems I’ve heard about the dangers of hairballs forever, but I never really knew anyone that had a bad experience. I mean anyone who lives with cats knows the sound of the retching that precedes the upchucking of either food eaten too quickly or that tight little wad of fur known as a hairball. In my house, it seems someone is giving back a present every day, and I’m not even one of those crazy animal people with 20 or 30 pets.

All our pets, though, are longhaired – two dogs, now three cats and a very fluffy bunny. I spend a lot of time brushing and combing to try and remove the excess fur, especially now as it warms up outside and they are losing their winter coat. The amount of fur I get off each one is amazing. They are definitely in full shedding mode right now after the heat wave a couple weeks ago. So, I thought I was doing enough by brushing each one every other day or so, but apparently not.

When Sterling, my 10-year-old polydactyl grey cat, had projectile vomit one morning and in it was the stinkiest hairball ever, I was actually relieved. I knew what caused the vomiting and at least, I thought, it was out of him. Glad that he was able to get it out, I thought nothing more of it and went to work. That evening he didn’t greet me at the door nor did he come out to sit in my lap after dinner. Very unusual for my super social cat, so I went to look for him and found him crouching in the corner of the bedroom under a chair. I could tell he wasn’t feeling well, so I gave him some Pepcid, tried to bribe him to eat and thought I’d see how he was in the morning. 

To make a long story short, he was no better in the morning and vomited again when I tried to pick him up. His tummy felt like a balloon and you could hear the gurgling in his gut. Not a happy tummy at all. Having gone through a blockage with my dog a couple of years ago, it’s always in the back of my mind and these were the same symptoms. So into the vet we went! Three days later after x-rays, a blood panel and an ultrasound, along with fluids, anti-nausea drugs and other therapies, we had no answer and a very sick cat with a stomach filled with fluid. The next step was exploratory surgery to see if there was a physical obstruction and that’s when the rest of the hairball was found - completely blocking his small intestine.

Technically, it actually wasn’t the hairball that killed him. He came through the surgery, but with all the fluid in his stomach he must have vomited again and aspirated some of the liquid into his lungs. Hard and sad lesson learned, though, about something as simple as a hairball, and one worth passing along. We are now trying out various hairball remedies and treats to see what our cats will eat. Be aware because some of those remedies are petroleum based, which is not digestible and can cause its own problems. So far our cats are favoring the Greenie hairball treats.

Do your cats have a favorite? Please let us know.

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Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at mzeldes@rpcity.org.

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