Monday, January 19, 2009
Nona Nelson, The Happy Wag
Read Nona's blog, The Happy Wag:
I got a lot of positive feedback for my last column about my boss, Thai the cat. Apparently a lot of other employees of cats found comfort in knowing we have similar problems while we strive to please our adorable tyrants.
Maybe we should form a union. Or a support group.
I do not claim to be an expert on feline behavior; my observations are based solely on my years of service to kitties. But I did get a question about kitties from a colleague last week that I was hard-pressed to answer.
What is a hairball, exactly?
I was intrigued. And by intrigued I mean really grossed out. Still, it's a great question and I thought it would be worth investigating so we serfs can better serve our feline masters.
How serious can it be?
I admit that I have made my fair share of hairball jests, including a reference in my last column. So I did some preliminary Internet research and found this on about.com: " ... [A]lthough hairballs may be the topics of jokes among thoughtless humans, they are a source of discomfort or worse, for cats. Hairballs pose a potential danger by blocking the passage of digested food through the intestines, causing an impaction."
Well thanks, about.com, for calling me a thoughtless jerk and letting me know that hairballs are serious business. Now I had to learn everything about hairballs or, as I often call them, "Kitty's little reminder that he can ruin my carpet anytime he feels like it."
There I go again with another thoughtless joke.
I called a medical expert. Jennifer McFarling is the staff veterinarian at the Roanoke Valley SPCA. Just to make full disclosure, she is married to Roanoke Times sports writer Aaron McFarling.
Hairballs, she told me, are caused from undigested hair that accumulates when kitties go through their typical grooming routine. McFarling said that normally this is no problem because the hair will pass through the cat's internal plumbing and, well, end up in the litter box.
She said there is no cause for alarm if your cat just hacks up the occasional hairball. And every time your feline tosses up stomach contents, it doesn't necessarily mean there's a hairball problem. Because of kitty's impeccable grooming skills, hair is always present and sometimes just comes up with other stuff that doesn't belong in the tummy.
"Cats tend to be finicky about the food that they eat, but they aren't so finicky about eating bugs or other things," McFarling said. "Sometimes they just eat something that doesn't agree with them."
But, she said, if you are frequently hearing that "ack-ack-ack" sound of an incoming hairball from your kitty -- and anyone who lives with a cat knows exactly what sound I mean -- or finding the slimy residue around your house, then a trip to your pet's veterinarian is in order.
"If you are seeing it chronically, that's probably an indication that they are having some sort of inflammation or irritation in their stomach or their intestines that needs to be checked out further," McFarling said.
Pardon me, could you pass the brush?
You can help remove loose hair, and thus the grist for the hairball mill, by brushing your kitty frequently, especially if you have a long-haired cat.
Thai, a short-haired kitty, loves to be brushed. When he wants a job done right, sometimes he does it himself; if I just hold the brush still, he will rub his whole body against it.
But some cats do not like the brush. At all.
McFarling said you have to find what works best for your cat's personality. She has heard some kitties actually prefer lint rollers to brushes, and that rollers will remove excess hair from the cat as well as they do from your clothes.
Hey, whatever works to keep the boss happy.
She also said that some long-haired kitties, especially ones that have a hard time grooming themselves because of age or obesity, may need to be shaved occasionally to cut down not only on hairballs, but matted fur, too.
She added that a high-fiber diet can help some kitties ease the swallowed hair through the pipes and out the preferred end. But sudden changes in a cat's diet also can cause inflammation or irritation, and thus hairball issues. So again, consult your vet.
McFarling did reassure me that there is nothing retaliatory about where kitty decides to deposit a hairball -- like in, oh, let's say, my most expensive shoes. Not that I have Manolos in my closet, but I do own a few pairs of Clarks, and they don't exactly give those away.
"Try not to take it personally," she said, laughing at my little hairball joke.
Hear that? She laughed.
Get a sense of humor, about.com.