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Cat Vomit, Hairballs, Diarrhea, and Poop

Sooner or later, everybody’s cat produces some form of yucky stuff: vomit, hairballs, diarrhea, and poop. Learning how to deal with these vile substances is just part of the job.

Vomit

Cats often give warning signs that they are about to vomit, whether what’s coming up is food or hairballs. Some cats will “yowl” once or twice shortly before throwing up. Sometimes they’ll run around the house very fast while drooling and smacking their tongue on their lips. Or they’ll begin to dry heave and convulse, a sure sign that vomit will soon appear. If you notice any of these, immediately put a newspaper under him or move him to a noncarpeted area before he does the deed. But you have to move fast. In most cases, you won’t get there in time before he vomits, so keep carpet cleaners and sponges on hand.

Cats often vomit after eating too much too fast, or eating something that doesn’t agree with them. There also may be a medical problem, such as FUS (feline urologic syndrome), cancer or poisoning.

If you think your cat is eating too fast, feed him smaller servings more frequently. Also, help slow him down by spreading out his regular serving on a larger plate.

If your cat vomits after he eats a certain brand or variety of food, change to something different, or try lesser amounts of what he’s been eating.

Your cat also may be having trouble with certain kinds of meat. If, for example, he’s been upchucking beef, try a different meat, such as lamb or chicken. Or try raw or homemade food (see “Homemade Food” in the Cat Diet section).

Medical problems and poisoning are best left for the veterinarian to treat. To rule out medical problems or poisoning, you need to call your veterinarian.

Hairballs

Cats ingest loose hair as they groom themselves. The hair collects in the stomach and must occasionally be coughed up or excreted in his poop. Sometimes hair gets stuck in his throat, which can lead to a dry cough.

Hairballs are the same size and shape as poop. It’s easy for a new cat owner to mistake the two. Hairballs, however, have a different texture and color. If you were to try to “separate” your cat’s stool, it wouldn’t separate. It would be sticky and would stay clumped together, just as human stools do.

While hairballs are yucky, they serve a useful function. If the hair builds up for too long in the cat’s stomach, he may not be able to cough it up or pass it through. This can result in a very, very sick cat.

The first step you should take is to make sure that you brush your cat regularly to reduce the amount of hair he swallows. Then try these suggestions to help your cat get rid of the hair he does ingest:

  • Hairball remedies, which can be found in pet stores, mail order catalogs, and veterinarians’ offices, will make it easier for your cat to pass his hair in his stool. Many cats will lick the gooey substance directly from the tube or container. If yours won’t, rub some on his leg for him to lick off. Use a small glob, or he’ll shake the excess off and get stuff on your walls. You also can rub the substance into his hair with the nozzle of the applicator. Buy hairball remedies that don’t contain sugar or benzoate of soda, which is a preservative.
  • Half a teaspoon of butter once or twice a week also can help him pass the hair in his stool. Rub it on his paws or let him lick it off a plate.
  • Add fiber in powder or tablet form to his diet. Fiber supplements are available at pet stores, health food stores, or through mail order. Follow the directions on the package.
  • For additional fiber, grow “kitty oats” or “kitty grass” indoors. Cats will nibble on the young shoots. Catnip is another source of fiber.
  • If he’s coughing, try rubbing his neck and shoulders; it seems to help.
  • Take him outdoors. Eating grass in the yard will help your cat throw up the hair— and the grass will come up with it. Keep your cat away from lawns that have been treated with weed killers for as long as the manufacturer recommends.

(See the Cat Products section for hairball remedy resources.)

Warning

Don’t let your cat out into the yard if weed killer, garden supplement, or pesticide was recently applied.

Diarrhea

Cat diarrhea looks like melted chocolate and smells really bad. If your cat has a diarrhea problem, pay attention to what he’s eating. Milk is a common culprit. Remove suspected food from his diet, and vary the diet so that he doesn’t have more of any one particular food than he can handle.

Warning

Call the veterinarian immediately if your kitten has diarrhea. Diarrhea causes dehydration, which can quickly kill a kitten. If an adult cat has diarrhea for more than two days, call the veterinarian.

There also are certain foods that can improve the consistency of your cat’s stools. Try giving him:

  • Homemade meals
  • Organic catnip
  • Cooked brown rice or brown rice cereal
  • Cheese or cottage cheese
  • Blueberries
  • Low sodium chicken broth with a pinch of ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
  • Dietary fiber recommended for hairballs, which also can help prevent diarrhea

If your cat continues to have diarrhea problems, call the veterinarian.

Poop

Cats shouldn’t poop outside the litter box. If you think your cat is pooping outside the litter box, look again. The little gifts could be coughed-up hairballs. Remember that they resemble each other, so look carefully.

When you’ve determined he’s really pooping outside of the litter box, consider the following.

  • He may be constipated. Add more moisture and fiber to his diet with homemade meals, table scraps, and canned food. For additional fiber, include catnip and kitty oats. Provide at least two wet meals each day to help keep his “internals” moist. If the problem continues, stop feeding dry food altogether. Laxative-based hairball remedies also can help relieve constipation.
  • Switch to a litter that doesn’t contain sodium bentonite as a clumping agent. If ingested, it can contribute to constipation problems.
  • Clean the litter box. It may be too dirty. Cats are tidy creatures. Some will poop outside, yet near, the box if it is too dirty.

Shopping List

Optional

  • Brown rice
  • Low sodium chicken broth
  • Cottage cheese
  • Ascorbic acid crystals (vitamin C)
  • “kitty oats” or “kitty grass” seeds

See Cat Products for more information regarding hairball remedies.