Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Here's a disgusting analogy for you. Have you ever had a slow drain in your shower? You try pouring chemicals down that promise to clear even the toughest clogs, hoping maybe this time they will spare you the agony of rolling up your sleeves and pulling out what you know darn well is down there. Of course they do not, so after a week of ankle-deep showers in a grime-coated tub that leaves you questioning whether you were cleaner before or after you went in, you get tough and have a look. Gloved up and breath held, you pull out globs of matted hair and soap scum, thinking about how you will be having a discussion with your spouse about how they need to be more careful and not let so much of their hair get in there, since your own body couldn't be even partly responsible for filth of this magnitude. I don't know what plumbers call these hairballs, but in medicine, like every other weird thing you wouldn't expect had a scientific term, hairballs are called "trichobezoars."
"Poe," the long-haired cat came to us last week after several days of vomiting shortly after eating her meals. Her owner knew Poe had some difficulty with hairballs, so she was diligently brushing her frequently, feeding a diet formulated to help minimize hairballs, and when the vomiting began, she initiated treatment with an oral product designed to lubricate hairballs, making them easier to pass (in either direction, I suppose). Here's the analogy: think of your tub as a stomach, the drain as the stomach's entry into the small intestine, the tub residue as vomit, and the hairball, well, as the hairball. The ankle-deep water in the tub is food in the stomach after a meal with nowhere to go but back up. You can think of the oral medication as the chemical you pour down the drain to break up the clog, and going to the vet as finally cleaning the drain out by hand or calling a plumber.
After ruling out other causes of vomiting and taking some x-rays utilizing a special substance that highlights normal and abnormal things along the stomach and intestines, we found Poe's problem: an object obstructing her stomach from emptying into the small intestine. Since she had been unresponsive to medical treatment for a week and symptoms persisted, we took her to surgery and removed what turned out to be a trichobezoar, or hairball.
If cats were guilty of any deadly sin (and it wasn't gluttony,) it would probably have to be vanity, as they certainly spend most of what little time they have not already consumed by eating or sleeping in the act of grooming themselves. The backward-directed barbs on their tongues pull loose hair from their coats, which automatically gets swallowed, usually with no ill consequence. Not surprisingly, long-haired cats, seemingly in a league of their own amongst all other breeds (and species for that matter), in their level of vanity, are especially prone to hairballs.
I don't know what to say about Poe other than she is feeling a lot better now. Her owner was doing everything I would recommend to prevent this already, yet it still happened. Feed a hairball-control diet, have the hairball medication on hand and use it prophylactically if needed, and brush their coats out frequently. Maybe Poe just succeeded in what every long-haired cat wants the world to know: they're special, and rules don't apply to them.
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