DEAR DR. FOX: My cat Boris has a serious hairball problem. He is a compulsive washer, but his fur is short and really shouldn't contribute to this problem. I comb him every other day or so, and collect a bit of fur, not much. I can't comb the belly, for obvious reasons. I bought hairball medications at PetSmart, which he dutifully eats, but that doesn't seem to help. -- E.J., Trenton, New Jersey
DEAR E.J.: Fur balls can be a serious health issue in some cats, filling up part of the stomach or blocking the intestines.
Cats normally swallow some fur in the process of grooming themselves. Excessive grooming and excessive shedding can be associated with stress/anxiety, hyperactive thyroid disease or lack of omega-3 fish oil in the diet -- especially with most dry kibble cat food. Pet store remedies rarely work, nor do special diets in most instances -- readers who have found success with such products need to let me know!
I advise adding a few drops of olive oil and mashed green, butter or lima beans to your cat's food, the combination of which will help the smooth passage of fur balls in the stools, or facilitate regurgitation.
A full abdominal palpation by a veterinarian may reveal a stomach filled with one or more trichobezoars (tight wads of swallowed fur), which can be confirmed radiologically. Too large to be voided either way, surgical removal under general anesthetic is the only solution.
ARTIFICIAL SWEETENER HARMS DOGS
A recent Food and Drug Administration warning emphasized the danger posed to dogs by the artificial sweetener xylitol. The sweetener is found in many products, but the agency warned pet owners to check the label of nut butters in particular, which many owners use to coat pills or as treats for dogs.
Xylitol is also found in some ice creams, sugar-free gelatin products, yogurts, puddings, toothpaste, lip balm and gum, among other products. Dog owners with a suddenly sick dog who suspect ingestion of xylitol should take the product packaging and dog to a veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital immediately.
SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT BANS WILD ANIMALS IN TRAVELING CIRCUSES
The government of Scotland is taking a significant step for animals, backed by a statement from the British Veterinary Association and its Scottish branch: "As the leading representative body for veterinarians, we have long campaigned on this issue. The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within a traveling circus in terms of housing not being able to express normal behavior."
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DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 2-year-old male yellow tabby. In February, he became very ill, and we took him to the vet -- his kidneys were shutting down, and he had an infection.
The first thing the vet asked me was what kind of houseplants we had -- we have none. The vet thinks our cat might have ingested something from the trash, possibly something that was poisonous. The vet prescribed antibiotics and a liquid vitamin. Four days later, we took him back to the vet, and he was dehydrated and had a fever. They put him on an IV and kept him for the night. In this time, he had dropped at least a pound, was lethargic and was not eating. Now he will eat canned chicken, drink water and urinate OK, but he is still very lethargic and super thin; he does not groom himself.
He used to play and kept his coat clean. Now he sleeps most of the day. My dogs used to play with him, and they don't even go near him now. We did try all-natural yogurt, and he seemed to feel a little better, but there is obviously something still wrong. -- S.D., St. Louis
DEAR S.D.: Your cat is awfully young to develop renal (kidney) failure, the acute nature of which your veterinarian was right in thinking a poisonous plant, such as any member of the lily family, could have caused. But the fever suggests possible infection.
It is imperative that your cat keeps well hydrated. Make salt-free boiled chicken juice to encourage drinking, even using a dropper in the cat's mouth if he will accept it. I would break open some probiotic capsules and add a couple to this liquid. Many cats will eat Gerber baby food (the meaty and fishy kind), and a teaspoon or two of canned sardines will provide protein and beneficial oils. Your veterinarian may consider prescribing cyproheptadine to stimulate appetite. Regular gentle body massage will help stimulate circulation.
Your veterinarian should take a blood sample to evaluate kidney function. Chronic kidney disease may be evident and require special treatment and monitoring. Avoid high-fish-content cat foods containing tuna, because the levels of mercury contamination could possibly harm your cat's damaged kidneys.