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Hairballs are common in cats and often result in constipation. Dr Alex Niven relates his encounter with Betty the constipated cat in a shortened excerpt from his book The Cow at the Window.
The consultation began, ‘Please, please Mr Vet, you have to help me, my old cat cannot make a poo!’ Mandy Thompson’s plea was a common one.
Cats are interesting creatures. Cats are different. They are more aware than most animals and in my articles on homoeopathy I discuss how cats have the uncanny knack of turning up, and disappearing, at the right time. That was the case with Mandy’s friend Betty and she delved into her feelings in more detail: ‘Betty is a friend, she sits and listens to me and I talk to her. I tell her all about my life and she means a lot to me.’
My left arm slipped comfortably round Mandy’s shoulders and gave her a reassuring squeeze, ‘I will examine her right away.’
A large, cardboard box with Betty inside was put on the table. Andrea, my head nurse, lifted Betty out of the box and placed her on the table. Never one to enjoy her clinic visits, Betty growled away like a small dog, and glared at me with deep, yellow, penetrating eyes.
DIAGNOSISMy practised fingers walked through the bowels. There was a large mass in the stomach, but she hardly flinched when I squeezed it, ‘Good, I know what the problem is. Most importantly there is no evidence of cancer, nephritis or liver disease. She does have a medium-sized hairball in the stomach and that is what is causing the constipation.’
Many cats develop hairballs. Grooming results in the ingestion and swallowing of loose hair, which is either subsequently passed in the stools, or vomited up. When there are excessive amounts of hair present in the stomach or intestine, the cat may be unable to successfully clear out the foreign material and the hair gradually accumulates and sticks together, forming a mass that becomes a space-occupying problem. There may be regular throwing-up with the unpleasant vomitus containing the sticky little mass of hair. If the unfortunate creature is able to pass the hair further down the tract then constipation may be significant. In severe cases surgery may be necessary, but in Betty’s case the treatment was simple.
TREATMENTI was confident Betty would respond to 3 ml of internal lubrication with liquid paraffin given orally four times daily until the obstruction cleared. I explained my thinking. Mandy listened carefully as I outlined my plan for Betty’s treatment.
Mandy felt that she could cope with such a plan, ‘I should be able to manage that, and I am in luck. My sister arrived yesterday to stay with me for a few weeks. She is good with cats, and will help me to handle Betty.’
A MESSY MISUNDERSTANDINGMandy’s next appointment arrived three days later. She was obviously upset and stressed as she presented me with the same cardboard box. Even before I opened the box a terrible stench rolled up and attacked my nose. The contents of the box revealed a most distressed Betty who was covered in diarrhoea. She was a frightful mess.The problem unfolded, ‘We dosed her with the liquid four times daily and, as you suggested, we have kept her in the box all of this time. Can we please let her out of the box?’
What had gone wrong? I thought, ‘How have my instructions failed?’
Andrea slipped in a comment, ‘I think I know what has happened. When we were giving you instructions the boss arrived and blew his top. It must have been then that things went wrong.’
I remembered vividly how I had been dealing with Betty at the time the boss had thrown his tantrum. Whatever instructions I delivered had either been inadequate on my part, or had been completely misconstrued. Mandy thought I had advised her to continue dosing, and not to release Betty from the box until we met again. Wrong! I was embarrassed and sorry for both of them, and babbled on with an inadequate apology.
Andrea took charge and said, ‘Come with me Mrs Thompson, let’s get Betty tidied up in the new treatment room.’
The three ladies ignored me and disappeared in the direction of the innards of the clinic.
My remaining appointments soon satisfied, I visited the treatment room where I found a single large cage inside of which was the newly bathed Betty licking her feet dry. She looked calm until she recognised me and responded in her usual manner to my polite enquiry with a hissing that was if anything more powerful than ever.
Betty was none the worse for her experience as her hairball problem had most definitely been cured.
If communication is not everything in business, it is a great part of it.
REV DR ALEX NIVEN, BVMS, MRCVS, SAVC.
He has a Veterinary Medicine and Surgery degree and is a Deacon in the Roman Catholic church. He is a member of the South African Veterinary Council and the South African Veterinary Association. He completed a classical human homeopathy course for medical practitioners in Johannesburg and, following extensive success of clinical homeopathy with animals, formulated a range of homeopathic animal products under the Eco-Vet label.
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