I was 22 years old. It was my first year out of college, and I was sharing an apartment in Maine’s largest city with two college friends. My life consisted of going to my McJob during the day, watching MTV dramas on weeknights, and partying every weekend.
I’d borrowed Shaughnessy, one of my family’s cats, to keep me company during my first year as an official member of the Grown-Up Club. She got along great with my roommate’s Maine Coon cat, curled up with me on the couch when we hung out and watched The Real World and Beverly Hills 90210, and slept next to me on my secondhand futon every night.
One day, about six months after Shaughnessy and I began our new lives together, I realized that she hadn’t eaten much for the last couple of days. She looked uncomfortable, and the look in her eyes told me that something was Not Quite Right.
I may have been young and foolish, but I had enough brains in my head to see that she needed to go to the vet. I looked through the Yellow Pages and called a local clinic.
The next day, Shaughnessy and I got on the bus and took the half-hour ride to the veterinarian. My hands were shaking, and I was in a cold sweat. All I could think was, “I borrowed my family’s cat and now she’s gonna die and it’s all my fault!”
Yeah, I had a slight anxiety problem back then.
At the clinic, the vet gave her a quick once-over and said, “She’s probably got a hairball. Give her some Petromalt and if she doesn’t get better, come back in.”
Later that day, I dutifully gave her a dose of Petromalt. An hour later I heard that unmistakable “URK-ch, URK-ch, URK-ch ÔÇª splurt!”
I ran into the kitchen to see Shaughnessy staring at a sopping, grease-covered clump of matted fur. She looked up at me, and the relief in her eyes was palpable. Then she trotted over to her dish and started munching away on her kibble.
I was relieved, too, but I’ve got to admit I had to work pretty hard not to retch as I cleaned up after her.
That was my first hairball experience, but it certainly wasn’t my last. Those that came afterward were much less dramatic, but certainly no less icky.
Like many cat lovers, I’ve staggered half-awake and half-blind down a darkened hall … and planted a foot solidly in the middle of a pile of fur garnished with Kitty’s most recent meal and a goodly share of cold, slimy stomach juices.
I’ve found hairballs on the floor, on the carpets, on the couch, and even on one particularly memorable moment, on my quilt. I found that one when I rolled over to hit the snooze button on my alarm clock and dragged my arm across it as I was about to tuck myself back under the covers.
But these days, my cats are much less inclined to be of the hairball-ish persuasion. Once I began feeding my cats a combination of commercially prepared raw foods and grain-free, low-carb canned food, their coat condition improved dramatically. Of course, good coat condition doesn’t stop cats from shedding, but when cats eat the food they’re designed to eat, the fur seems more likely to take its intended route through the digestive system instead of getting lodged in their stomachs.
That’s not to say my cats never huck up hairballs anymore: They do. But those hairballs are more like hairball-bearings, and they’re very rare. My cats are happy that they don’t have to endure the discomfort of a stomach full of matted fur, and I’m happy that I don’t feel like I should be buying stock in paper towel companies because of all the cleaning up I’m doing.
What was your most memorable hairball experience? Share your story in the comments!