Ask the Cat Doc: Frequent Vomiting, Cats and Young Children, Hyperesthesia, and More

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Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Doc With Dr. Lynn Bahr” segment! Once a month, Dr. Bahr answers as many of your questions as she can, and you can leave new questions for her in a comment.

Dr. Bahr graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991. Unlike most veterinarians, she did not grow up knowing that she would become a veterinarian. “It was a cat who got me interested in the practice and I am forever grateful to him,” said Dr. Bahr. Over the course of her veterinary career, Dr. Bahr found that the lifestyle of cats has changed dramatically. As the lifestyle of cats has changed, so did Dr. Bahr’s client education. In addition to finding medical solutions, she also encourages owners to enrich their home environments so that their cats can live long, happy, and healthy lives.

This new understanding led Dr. Bahr to combine her passion for strengthening the human-animal bond with her veterinary background and knowledge of what animals need and want to start her own solution-based cat product company, Dezi & Roo, inspired by two cats of the same names.

For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit Dezi and Roo on Etsy.

Frequent vomiting

My Calico cat Lucky is 14 yo. She throws up hairball w/ bile. We hd bought Feliway to calm her it’s a plug-in, She gets Hart’s hairball remedy plus every day. She overgrooms herself. It seems as she gets older it’s mainly every day or maybe she skips a day. Otherwise she’s healthy & her weight is fine. Can u give me any suggestions? Thanking you in advance! – Mary-Ellen

Hi Mary-Ellen, this is a commonly asked question and I am so grateful that you wrote in. It allows me the opportunity to alert owners like you to the fact that frequent vomiting is NOT normal. It makes no difference whether the vomitus consists of hair, bile, food, or otherwise – chronic vomiting is a medical problem. The fact that Lucky is healthy and her weight is unchanged is a good sign; however, she needs to be seen by a veterinarian who will take her problem seriously. Otherwise, it will be harder to treat as the condition progresses.

Bloodwork is a good place to start, but cats with gastrointestinal diseases typically require an ultrasound exam too. None of these tests are invasive so don’t let that stop you from having Lucky’s problem diagnosed. Depending on what is found, will depend on how she will be treated. There are many options available to help her vomit less often and she will be so much healthier for it. Please don’t be lulled into thinking there is nothing wrong just because she acts fine.

I appreciate you writing in to ask for suggestions. Unfortunately, the only one I have is to have her seen by a veterinarian with expertise in feline gastrointestinal issues. You, and Lucky, will be grateful you did. Let me know how it turns out.

Cat swipes at young children

My friend’s daughter has 2 children, age 2 years and 4 months and a 12 year old cat. She has had the cat 12 years, now enter the children. The cat swipes at the children and has scratched the 2 year old. The daughter has not tried anything to help the situation and at this point has given up. She keeps the cat in a room by herself all day and lets her out at night. The daughter is tired at night and does not play with the cat. She and her husband used to play a lot with the cat, but since the children came have not played much with the cat. She is at the point where she is thinking of rehoming the cat, though she loves the cat. I have suggested many things, but my friend said her daughter does not think anything will work. Is there anything I can suggest to her? – Jo Louise Klein

Hi Jo Louise, I am saddened to hear about the plight of your friend’s daughter’s cat. At one point in this kitty’s life it was loved and an important member of the family. Like you, it pains me to know that is no longer the case.

When my son was young, he would often run after our cats or try to pick them up when they did not want to be held. They expressed their displeasure by swatting at him and left several battle scars to prove it. I used those opportunities to teach my son how to properly handle and live with cats. He soon learned that unless he respected their space, he would get scratched. It took a while for him to learn, but he did eventually become a gentle, kind, animal-lover.

Children benefit from growing up with pets in so many ways. This is a good opportunity for your friend to help her kids become animal lovers. I would recommend that instead of rehoming her kitty, she bring it back into the fold and go back to treating it like an important family member. This is the best solution for everyone and will help her children learn the joy of living with, and loving, cats.

She can start by playing more with her cat in front of the kids so they can see how amusing and fun cats are as they jump in the air, run, chase and pounce on wand toys. This will also help the cat become more comfortable around the kids and vice versa. She should encourage the 2 year old to help feed the cat which will also get both kitty and the child used to being around each other in pleasurable ways. Let the 2 year old throw a treat across the room as this will also bond the two together. Allowing the cat to sit close by while reading to the young ones and encouraging the cat to be present more will be beneficial for everyone.

Using these opportunities to teach her children that kitty is an important member of the family and showing them how to treat her properly will benefit them in so many ways. She can turn her kids into cat lovers by example as opposed to giving this cat away. It would be a shame to discard her and miss out on the chance to have her children learn the joys of growing up with a cat, even, if it means getting scratched a few times before learning how to respect her space. Thank you for being a concerned cat lover and trying to help. I hope it works out well for everyone.

Cat chews on and ingests string

Hello Dr Bahr, I’m a long-time cat owner, but took a 4 yr break after our last cat died. We recently adopted a kitten who is now nearly 6 months old. She’s a joy to have around, but she has two behaviors that are a problem. First, she bites a lot. It’s always play-biting/play aggression. I have already read all the suggestions and do everything I can to not engage with my hands, to disengage from play as soon as she starts biting (she clearly thinks it’s just a fun game and I am her favorite toy), hissing, providing tons of toys and spending lots of time playing with her with those toys. I think she was separated from her mother and litter mates too young and never learned good cat manners.

However, the other problem may be related: She ingests strings. All kinds of strings. She has completely eaten the tails off of nearly every mouse we have, both rawhide/leather types and string types. She has swallowed quite a few lengths of string from toys she’s played with. She chews on the strings and eventually something goes down her throat, she can’t get it out herself, and unless I catch it happening, it’s gone. I’m sure she swallowed at least 8″ of a heavy-duty thread that she used to play with, and I’ve found bits of floss that she’s nearly swallowed. And those are the ones I know about. The problem is, string is her absolutely favorite thing to play with. I cut a toy off one of her wand toys recently, and she went nuts for it with just the string. Of course she ended up eating a few inches of the string before I realized and took it away. I’m trying heavier cording, ribbons, etc. But it is such a concern.

And I’m wondering if the biting behaviors could be related to this incessant string chewing. She also bites on the edges of cardboard boxes, furniture, the edge of our mattress, and various other items. I understand that she could be teething (at 6 months though?) and have provided chewy toys, which she isn’t thrilled with. She doesn’t care at all about catnip, FYI. She will chew on the silver vine sticks, but doesn’t have any other reaction to them either – they’re just good for chewing, I guess.
So how worried do I have to be about all these leather tails and lengths of string that have ended up in her belly? And is there anything I can do discourage her from swallowing the stuff? And can you suggest anything new for the play aggression. – Jan Wolfenberg

Hi Jan, cats that eat string scare me to no end because it can be deadly for them. Linear foreign bodies are extremely serious and dangerous, and many cats suffer painful deaths because of it. You should be very concerned about your kitty’s strong attachment to eating tails and string, and you will need to make sure she never has access to it.

Cats are born without teeth. Their baby ones erupt quickly and grow until approximately 5-6 months of age at which time the adult teeth emerge, pushing the sharp baby teeth out. Your cat is still going through the teething stage and her gums are still feeling sore.

She has discovered that chewing on string feels good and is oblivious to the fact that it can be dangerous. As you have observed, string catches easily on the barbed tongue, and because cats don’t have fingers, they are unable to detach it. So, they try by swallowing instead. When it gets wrapped around the base of the tongue, it becomes anchored and turns into a linear foreign body that becomes a serious surgical problem. You definitely want to avoid this happening to your kitty under all circumstances.

Fortunately, she is exhibiting normal behavior for a kitten of this age. I would recommend you continue to play with her several times a day, making sure to remove all toys when you are done. Keeping her active will help engage her mind and body and is the key to successfully treating most behavioral problems. Consider growing safe grass for her to munch on, as well as, finding oral care treats that are meant to be chewed rather than ingested whole. Have you had a veterinarian give her a good oral exam to make sure she isn’t dealing with a gum problem? Juvenile stomatitis is rare but something she should be checked for.

I have known many cats that enjoy using their molar teeth to chew on acrylic or plastic wands. Some even like plastic straws. You may have to hold it horizontally and off the ground so that it is positioned optimally for her. Cardboard is a much safer outlet and you won’t have to be as concerned about her chewing on it. She will always seek out things that feel good to chew so it is important that you find safer alternatives for her to indulge in. That will help deter her from seeking out harmful items like tails and string. Use your creativity to find safe items that will tap into her need to exercise the back molars and help satisfy her urge to chew.

You mentioned catnip and silver vine sticks. Kittens do not generally react to catnip, silver vine or other cat attractants until they become adults. It takes them time to develop the “sensibility” and your kitty may enjoy it when she gets older. Offer it to her again when she is closer to a year of age. There is even a chance she might grow out of her incessant need to chew string too. I hope that is the case. But if she doesn’t, please make sure is never allowed to play with it unsupervised. I wish you the best of luck.

Hyperesthesia

Hi Dr. Bahr, I have a cat who is about 3 years old who has hyperesthesia. They say it’s a rare syndrome and there isn’t a consensus of opinion about what it is or what causes it or how to treat it, yet there seem to be a lot of cat owners online who have cats with hyperesthesia. Is there any research being done? I have found a toy (Laser Tower) that helps distract my cat (Doodle) when she’s having a “spell” and I use it a lot. Sometimes a little catnip also calms her down. Her spells seem to be less frequent as she gets older but she still does have some severe ones that cause her to run around frantically like she’s being chased and she attacks her tail so violently that it sounds like a cat fight. Oddly enough she’s been more “touchy feely” with me (which I like) but I’ve noticed that sometimes sitting next to me or on my lap causes her tail to start swishing which triggers a hyperesthesia spell. We’re a multi cat household and we’ve made adjustments so Doodle is supervised when she’s around the other cats and it seems to be working fine. I am wondering if there is any more research being done or any trials for medications etc. I wouldn’t want to sedate her but I’d be interested in any tips on how else to handle her more severe spells. – Nancy

Hi Nancy, as you mentioned, hyperesthesia is not a common condition, but I have encountered enough cats who suffer from it to know that it is a complicated and frustrating problem. While it is a heartbreaking to observe, I am happy to hear that Doodle is growing out of it. It is my belief that providing cats with lots of playing opportunities and ways to stay active helps keep them happy and healthy and distracting Doodle when she is having a “spell” is purrfect! It may also be helpful to avoid touching or petting her back area to avoid triggering an episode. Has your veterinarian ruled out other causes that may be causing her “attacks”?

I am not aware of any earth-shattering research or break through therapies in regard to hyperesthesia. It is still a mystery and, unfortunately, there are still no definitive treatments for it. Several researchers and clinicians are working on it and hopefully, they will gain a better understanding of what causes it and how to treat it, soon. Fortunately, hyperesthesia is not life-threatening and Doodle is an otherwise happy, healthy, and enriched feline. She is lucky to have you as her caretaker and I appreciate your interest in trying to help her without resorting to administering sedatives. Especially since her symptoms appear to be on the milder side.
Thank you for being such a conscientious owner.

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16 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: Frequent Vomiting, Cats and Young Children, Hyperesthesia, and More

  1. Lilo Huhle-Poelzl
    April 3, 2019 at 7:11 pm (2 months ago)

    Hi, Dr. Bahr,

    I have had cats all my life, and for the past 22 years my husband and I have had up to 35 indoor/outdoor rescue cats (all fixed). So I am rather experienced with cats. Yet now, I am at the end of my wits. Three of our 4 existing tomcats don’t get along with 2 tomcats we adopted last November and will fight until blood is flowing, whenever they have a chance. (We have to rotate the 2 groups of tomcats between our house, the guest room, the garage, the sun room, and the outdoors, several times a day. That’s quite a task!) I wrote you a letter asking for help, a few weeks ago, but this letter never showed on this website. It must have landed in the abysses of cyber space.

    Yet now, we have an even worse problem: One of our tenants found her cat, Gates, missing last December. She was overjoyed to find a picture of him on Facebook, posted by a local Cat Rescue Organization. She picked him up, and everything was fine and dandy, except that Gates, who had always been friendly to the very lively huge puppy, now suddenly was “mean” to him. And then, 2 days ago, the real Gates came back (after having been missing since early December, when our tenant first moved into our property). The cat she had picked up at the Cat Rescue had been a look-alike of her cat.

    Even though, the two Gates (after first hissing) seemed to get along with each other, our tenant cannot keep both cats for a number of reasons. So she asked us to adopt Gates II.

    We had met Gates II before and had found him an exceptionally friendly and affectionate cat, and I had spent quite some time petting him while my husband had been busy repairing the furnace of the duplex-apartment.

    My husband and I are in our late 70s. We were now down to 16 cats. And we no longer adopt more cats (except when one walks in or gets dropped off). But with this cat we made an exception because we had found him such an adorable cat (and also because we wanted to be helpful to our tenant). So I picked up Gates II, last night.

    And now there is disaster!!!

    As we had done before, when we adopted a new cat, we put the opened pet carrier with Gates II into a huge dog cage in our living room, so that he could see our other cats, while being in a safe place. Some cats came over to greet the newcomer, but Gates II remained in the pet carrier, within the dog cage.

    Some time before we went to bed, we moved the pet carrier with Gates II to our guest room (which, since last November, had been the main refuge for the, then, newly adopted 2 tomcats, Ginger, and Link). Since Ginger is a very mellow cat, we left him in the guest room (on a tower of boxes), while my husband and I sat down on the futon trying to coax Gate II out of the pet carrier with a selection of cat food. Gates II finally emerged, ate some of the food, but the exchanged glances between Gates II and Ginger were anything but friendly. So we removed Ginger from the room.

    This morning (while I was still asleep), my husband entered the guest room, and Link (the other cat who had considered the guest room his main refuge since last November) dashed in right behind my husband. Before my husband could make any move, Gates II attacked Link fiercely, and after my husband had managed to get Link out of the room, Gates II attacked my husband’s legs and left injuries, even though my husband was wearing jeans and long johns underneath.

    When I got up, several hours later, my husband and I entered the room again (without any other cat around), and we talked to Gates II and petted him. He seemed to wish to “apologize” to my husband for the attack he had landed on him several hours earlier,. He liked being petted, and he brushed against both of us.

    I eventually picked up Gates II and put him over my shoulder (careful not to get him close to my face). He seemed relaxed. Then I walked 2 steps with him and put him down softly on the little desk by the window. (This window is on the 2nd floor, and there is nothing to see from it but vehicles–no cats in sight.) The moment I had put him down, he turned around and put his long claws into my left hand, deeper than I had ever been clawed by any cat. (I, right after, applied antibiotic ointment, but where one of his claws hit a vein, my hand is swollen now and might have infection.)

    I could somewhat understand that seeing Link (a huge cat) come into the room, this morning, Gates II was so upset that he attacked my husband’s legs, but shouldn’t he have simmered down after several hours being in the nice, bright room by himself, with no other cat in sight?

    Is there any chance that he’ll adjust and get along with the other cats of Happy Cats Ranch? (And remember, we already have trouble between 2 groups of tomcats.) We live 10 miles from town. And our cherished vet, who lives 20 miles from us, has retired 15 months ago, and is now only rarely available. The remaining 2 vet offices in town are difficult to get appointments with. Thus, if a cat gets injured, we do have quite a problem.

    Can Gates II even be adopted out by the local shelter or the local Cat Rescue Organization? Even if there were no other animals around, I would not trust him with children. (Most people in our area have children and/or grandchildren. We don’t.)

    I am afraid that if we return Gates II to our tenant (who will have to return him to the local Cat Rescue Organization or to the local shelter), he will end up euthanized (or he will get adopted out and hurt somebody).

    Is there any chance to get this cat re-socialized and save his life?

    And do you have any suggestions how we can stop the outright war between our other 2 tomcat groups? (Add to this a newly dropped of tom, who is also at war with our existing “gang of three”.)

    As I said, we have had up to 35 cats ever since 1987 (when we got settled at our 18-acre country property, bordering federal lands), and we have never ever had such problems with cat wars (and even less with cats attacking us).

    HELP!!!

    Reply
  2. Nancy West
    April 2, 2019 at 9:32 pm (2 months ago)

    My cat suffers–or used to suffer from hyperesthesia. It was terrible to watch him. He would even bite and chew on his tail. BUT I put him on Zylkene for small cats and dogs (open capsules and mix in food) and he has been totally fine for two years! Zylkene is available on Chewy and Amazon. He started with two capsules a day, but now needs only one. At one point I tried stopping the medication and the condition returned, so he’s now on it for as long as it works! My vet told me about it, as her cat was also taking it and it worked beautifully! It takes about one to two weeks to begin working.

    Reply
  3. Holly
    April 1, 2019 at 1:33 pm (3 months ago)

    Kids and Cats
    Amen. They are all our kids. Some just have a little more hair.

    Reply
  4. Marie Pyle
    April 1, 2019 at 9:53 am (3 months ago)

    My 4 yr old Ocicat male has had his 3rd eyelid up more on than off for several months now . My vet could not determine a reason for this. He was given a shot of “convinia ” he ran a low grade temperature and thought he might have been constipated from having a mouse, he does go out as we have a farm, his outings are brief and loosely supervised. We have had a neighbor male spraying from time to time and I have been using the calming spray inside and out. 3 months later the eyelids are still up more than down. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    Reply
  5. Janine
    April 1, 2019 at 7:30 am (3 months ago)

    Speaking of the cat who chews and swallows strings. I had a cat that did the same thing. I had to cut the tails and eyes off cat toys and put away all blankets that had strings that she could pull out. She even chewed my clothes one time. Not only did she she strings, she liked beads and buttons on clothing. luckily, we never had any problems with her, but it sure was scary when I would find something she destroyed.

    Reply
  6. darlene
    April 1, 2019 at 7:11 am (3 months ago)

    Cat and kids I have had cats all my life I would never get rid of my cats for anyone even my son he had too learn to respect them and vice a versa and I had 5 cats when he was born. I nevered left my cats alone with my son.

    Reply
  7. Janice Davison
    April 1, 2019 at 7:05 am (3 months ago)

    Hello, my cat came out of general anaesthetic ‘flat’ 2-3 years ago, and has never recovered. Her walking, claw retraction, and orientation are all affected. She has now stopped going outside to toilet and uses a litter tray. Is this likely to continue to deteriorate? What can we do?

    Reply
  8. Eunice Kane
    April 1, 2019 at 4:51 am (3 months ago)

    Hi can you give me some advice please? My cat keeps getting sore eyes please can you help Thank you

    Reply
    • Holly
      April 1, 2019 at 5:19 am (3 months ago)

      Allergies, esp if first showing this time of the year? Sore as in weepy? red?…not that one could see much of that. Or eyelid turning in and eyelid hair rubbing on the cornea? Had one like that. Vet operated. Removed a crescent shaped piece of eyelid skin. Healed. All was well. But you dont want to mess with eyes. Take her to the vet.

      Reply
    • Nancy West
      April 3, 2019 at 10:13 am (2 months ago)

      Definitely need to have your vet check it out. If the vet says that it’s chronic herpes, which many cats have, then give an L-lysine supplement that’s made for cats every day until episode clears up. (If it comes back then administer L-lysine again) It’s available specifically for cats on Amazon or Chewy. Be sure to get the one made for cats–not humans! It comes in either powder to mix into food, or as a “treat” BUT be sure to have a vet see the cat first uncase it’s a different problem!

      Reply
  9. Holly
    April 1, 2019 at 4:38 am (3 months ago)

    CAT CHEWS ON STRING
    Everything and I mean everything…string, etc. must be removed immediately from the cat’s reach.
    Sorry to say…I had a cat that would not eat, didnt eat, vomited, etc. Went to vet. Xrays $$. Nothing wrong. Still not eating. Then we saw a thread hanging out of her anus that would not pull out. We did not know that she knocked a spool of thread off the table and ingested who knows how much. It had eventually wended it way thru her whole digestive tract and the last part had wrapped itself way back at the end of her tongue. (as you said) Not visible to the naked eye. We did NOT KNOW she loved thread that much.

    Of course, it could not be pulled out, even after cutting thread from the tongue area.
    So they operated. It could not be pulled out, so they made an incision every few inches and pulled out a piece. She came home to recover, but she never did. She didnt eat again. We figured that with all those incisions and stitches and healing that some of that healing did not occur properly and some portion of her intestines or whatever closed off instead of healing like a tube.
    It was a terrible time for everyone. In the end we had to put her down anyway.
    Do not leave string, thread or anything like that around when your pet has such an interest!!!
    My question is why do you even bring things INTO the house with strings and such? Cut them off when you bring them home, before you GIVE them to the cat. Then you dont have to hide the toys.
    My current cats LOVE rubber bands, so there are none around. They are in the drawer with no access and that is just the way we have to live.

    Reply
    • Abby Frank
      April 3, 2019 at 8:42 am (2 months ago)

      If a cat is eating string and is getting sick then why not eliminate all dangers of that immediately? Yet, many people with cats or kittens laments after the cat becomes ill time and again.. Blows my mind.

      Reply
      • Holly
        April 3, 2019 at 10:13 am (2 months ago)

        Amen.

        Reply
  10. Lana Verplank
    April 1, 2019 at 2:31 am (3 months ago)

    My Dynamite who just turned 5 had 3 episodes of Hyperesthesia in the last year and a half to maybe 2 years. After researching and figuring out this is what was happening to him I started him on CBD oil. He hasn’t had another episode. It’s been about 6-8 mo. I give it to him daily and sometimes every other day. I would highly recommend trying this for your cat.

    Reply
  11. MJ Raichyk
    April 1, 2019 at 2:04 am (3 months ago)

    Just one suggestion, for the kitty that seems healthy but vomits occasionally and maybe overgrooming…

    Before going to the heavy expensive office tech, you might try adding digestive enzymes to her food or kibble…

    We do a [raw food, naturopathic] cat rescue and have a lot of cats that are especially fond of kibble, so we started out to limit it drastically to ‘treat time’ with very small amounts… AND when we thought about the fact that cats don’t have the digestive enzymes to process carb-loaded kibble, we decided to try adding a sprinkling of dry enzymes for carbs to the kibble treats [but the store-bought sources covered all nutrient types incl fats and protein]… and lo and behold even the few kittens who occasionally had hairballs after a grooming fest, they stopped having hairballs, PROVIDED the blend of enzymes had a larger proportion of lipase [for fats] so it seemed to us that they needed enzymes for more than just the carbs in the kibble.. Just a favored treat of kibble-n-enzymes [and sometimes a sprinkling of brewers yeast for vitamins and such] is now a favored snack or dessert.. ttyl

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 1, 2019 at 5:15 am (3 months ago)

      I’ve been using a product that is a blend of probiotics and digestive enzymes (http://amzn.to/YRaNcE) for my own cats for years, and recommend it a daily supplement to my readers and clients. Most already feed wet food, and they’ve seen good results. It’s interesting that you are seeing positive results with dry food as well. Thank you for sharing your experience!

      Reply

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