Furballs

May 16, 2013 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Tips & Advice

How often does this happen to you? You are awakened from a sound sleep by the unmistakable sound of your cat about to cough up a furball on the comforter next to you. If you are lucky, you will be able to move kitty safely to the floor or be resigned to washing the comforter again! Many cat owners think that vomiting hairballs is normal behavior in a cat. But that is not always true. For example, one of my patients is Francis, a 14 year old handsome red and white tabby, who was diagnosed with diabetes several years ago. Up until last year Francis flourished, his weight went back to normal, his appetite was consistently good, and his litter box habits were regular. Then 6 months ago, Francis came in with a few days history of decreased appetite and vomiting. His physical exam was normal; his basic blood tests and urinalysis were normal. A few days later Francis vomited a furball. His owner was happy figuring this was the reason for the symptoms. Over time his weight began to decrease, and he intermittently repeated his pattern of exhibiting a poor appetite and then a few days later vomiting a furball. Additional blood tests and an abdominal ultrasound indicated the possibility of pancreatitis and/ or inflammatory bowel disease as the cause(s) of his symptoms. For now, we are keeping a close eye on Francis. If his condition changes, we will discuss confirming this diagnosis by biopsy and possibly diet changes and medication to treat those diseases.

To his owner, Francis was just having furball trouble. To his doctor, Francis’ furball vomiting was an indication of an underlying problem. Why was I suspicious? A review of Francis’s history indicated that he was vomiting furballs much more frequently than he had in the past. Vomiting furballs more often, particularly in a middle aged or older cat – even as the only change in a cat’s behavior; can be an indication that something is amiss. Either Francis was ingesting more fur because of increased grooming activity – meaning itchy skin (see recent post), or there was a change in the way food was moving through his upper digestive system. There are multiple reasons why this might have happened. Chronic inflammatory disease is the most common explanation. Pain or hormonal changes can also result in alterations in intestinal movement. Just as with Francis, a visit to your veterinarian is a good place to start to rule out an underlying problem.

A few months ago Francis’ owner told me, “ You were right doctor”. What he meant was that he had been skeptical when I had expressed my initial concerns that Francis’ vomiting reflected more than just furballs. Francis’ owner is a loyal reader of this blog. When he was in the other day, he suggested that I write about furballs. He had overheard a comment between cat owners that furball vomiting was routine ( i.e. normal). He now knows that it isn’t necessarily so. He asked that I write about furballs to educate other cat owners about this situation. I am happy to oblige.

Dr Kathleen Keefe Ternes

Dr. Kathleen Keefe Ternes grew up in western Massachusetts. She received an undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1974; a BS degree in 1978 and a DVM in 1979 from Michigan State University. Dr. Keefe Ternes returned home to New England in April 1980. In 1984, she achieved one of her professional goals by opening The Feline Hospital in Salem, MA. . Dr. Keefe Ternes, a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP), initially certified as a companion animal specialist in 1990. She became certified as a feline specialist in 2000 and recertified in 2010. Dr. Keefe Ternes is a member of AAFP, the AVMA, the MVMA, and her local organization, the Veterinary Association of the North Shore (VANS). Her involvement in organized medicine includes having been a past president of VANS and current member of the board of directors. She is also a case reviewer for the ABVP and recently joined the Feline Welfare Committee of the AAFP.

Dr. Keefe Ternes lives in Salem with her husband and two college age daughters. Her two senior cats Toby and Petunia keep her on her toes medically.

The Feline Hospital
81 Webb St
Salem, MA 01970

Phone: 978-744-8020
Email: thefelinehospital@gmail.com

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  • Michelle

    I know this was years ago, but I came across your post as my kitty is going through the same thing right now. So I was curious what the outcome was and what info/treatments you found helpful along the way.

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