What did I just watch my cat do?
January 27, 2013 4:37 AM   Subscribe

Why did my cat just fall over onto her side during Standard Hairball Procedure?

Alternative title: "(hair)ball so hard."

Time for my first alarmist internet post about the cats. My cat sleeps next to me on or my partner on our bed (especially when it's so cold). Sometimes she wakes up and decides it's Hairball Time, usually depositing them right where the foot of a person getting out of bed would land. Clever girl. Every once in a while, though, she prefers to leave them on the bed. Needless to say I'd rather clean hairball from hardwood.

I've become attuned to the little retching noise. This morning I woke up to see her standing next to me, doing the full-body heaving with which she summons these things. Not thinking clearly, I picked her up and deposited her on the floor next to the bed. She was clearly thrown off her rhythm, and after another heave, she stumbled and flopped over onto her side. No hairball, heaving stopped. She lay there for a second as if puzzled, then got up and trotted away to use her box and boss around the other cats as usual. Everything's normal now.

What did I just see? Obviously I shouldn't have interrupted the natural Hairball Time ritual. But was stumbling and falling over just a result of being picked up and flung about while in the middle of such an energetic, full-bodied procedure? Can you hairball so hard you drop?

The reason I ask is because I've never seen this before and in the haze of early morning it was terrifying, and because she's on a small dosage of a medication the vet said has a low but nonzero incidence of neurological side-effects. Yahoo Answers & the like are suggesting this is about the hairball interfering with her oxygen and her passing out briefly, which I might have exacerbated by moving her - can anyone verify? Her hairballs are usually mostly liquid (as opposed to the thick uncanny solids our other, hairer cat leaves for us). Is there a safe way to move a hairballing cat?
posted by Theophylactic to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My cat has done this during the hairball evacuation process without me moving him and throwing off his aim. Once I came in to the retching happening on the counter, and he then flopped over on his side, eyes glazed over, and fell off the counter.

I ended up zipping him right to the vet because it was happening so much. She told me that he was basically working so hard to get the hairball up that he kind of seized/stroked out.

Since then it's happened a few times, but not excessively. Knowing what it is helps, so if he does the fall-over-eyes-glazed routine, I just pet him nicely and talk to him until he gets up and trots away.

Not sure if it's the same thing for your kitty, but hopefully this helps... it is slightly disconcerting to watch happen!
posted by slyboots421 at 5:33 AM on January 27, 2013

Maybe slyboots' vet meant "passed out", from lack of oxygen from holding his breath to strain.

And this would not surprise me of your cat. Which makes it un-ideal but not immediately dangerous.

Can you groom your cat more to reduce hair balls?
posted by taff at 5:47 AM on January 27, 2013

Taff, that's how she explained it but I specifically remember her saying it was a "sort of stroke" (because that totally freaked me out). She assured me it wasn't anything to be incredibly worried about.
posted by slyboots421 at 5:50 AM on January 27, 2013

Have you thought about switching to a food that helps control hairballs? One of our cats was barfing every day until we switched, and now it's down to once a week or less.
posted by bcwinters at 6:13 AM on January 27, 2013

My previous cat did this whenever she threw anything up. It was like she fainted. She would hurl, fall over, lie there for a second, then raise her head, make an assessment of the situation, get up and walk away.
posted by y2karl at 6:20 AM on January 27, 2013

Yup, seen this. It's super freaky. She is probably just fine.

It's definitely time to assist the cat with the hairball situation. At least Petromalt; but more likely, a diet change. And lots of brushing.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:24 AM on January 27, 2013

Whew, thanks all. The hairballs are actually related to overgrooming that we're in the process of treating - the meds she's on are meant to be soothing the irritation and actually keeping the grooming/barfing cycle down - but I'm going to check in with the vet because it does seem like an escalation. I'll also be on the lookout for it to happen in the future.
posted by Theophylactic at 6:39 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

You just described what my mom's cat did when it had a stroke in November. Yes she got up and then acted like nothing happened, until the next stroke a few weeks later. Now the cat is dead. I'd take the cat in for a check up, it's generally easy for them to tell if the cat has had a stroke or has a brain lesion/tumour without x-rays etc.
posted by zarah at 6:44 AM on January 27, 2013

IANYV. That sounds like an episode of vasovagal collapse. Kitties can sometimes die during these episodes.

You should take your kitty to the vet for a GI workup. The best way to prevent the episodes is by treating the vomiting that precedes them. Your cat may be having motility problems; that is, difficulty moving ingesta (including hair from grooming) through her digestive tract.

The small dosage of medication she is on may be causing gastric reflux that is causing her to vomit. Many vets these days treat hairballs with Pepcid to combat acid reflux.
posted by Seppaku at 7:01 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I routinely moved hairball-heaving cats to a more-cleanable surface. In a gazillion years of cat ownership, no one has ever passed out during a hairball, period. So: you didn't cause this. And yes, I would be inclined to have her checked at the vet in the next week or so.
posted by MeiraV at 7:39 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend Petromalt to help her get the hairballs up (it's an intestinal lubricant). It worked wonders for our cats -- hairballs are rare now, and when they come, it's much quicker and easy on the cats.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:55 AM on January 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

2nding vagal response. The circumstances (retching) are more suggestive of vasovagal reaction i.e. fainting than having a stroke.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:24 AM on January 27, 2013

Seconding MeiraV -- we move our cats onto tile when they began the retching process, and they just carry on retching. So the passing out was not necessarily because of that action.
posted by losvedir at 8:52 AM on January 27, 2013

Thanks again all, the vet also pointed to the vagus nerve and has seen it before. What she's on is actually meant to be controlling this, so we are increasing the frequency of that. Today I learned something new about how cats work.

The cat is not old and has not done this before. This isn't the first time I've moved her but I may have mishandled her this time (in the future I'll throw down some tissues instead). She's been eating and pooping as usual. I'll come back and update with any developments.
posted by Theophylactic at 10:06 AM on January 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older End-to-end nutrition book   |   Help me figure out how to keep working out during... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.