Why is my cat still hacking?

July 2017, I discussed the topic of hacking cats and wrote more about hair issues and only briefly mentioned other causes. That blog has the 4th highest views on our entire website. People do not like hacking when it comes to their cats! It is messy and ruins fabric and carpets which can make having a cat less desirable. Follow this link to see how to handle hairball issues in your cat. If you have already made changes and are still dealing with a hacking cat, read on.

What other reasons cause cats to hack? This list is extensive and difficult to determine sometimes. One thing that owners can do after addressing a hairball issue is look at what the cat is eating.  If the cat is not dropping weight and acts completely normal but is vomiting up bile and/or hair on occasion, consider removing all treats, people food, and canned food first. Go for 2-3 weeks with only dry food and see if any vomiting occurs. If no vomiting, then you can feel confident the dry diet is not responsible.

The way to determine if it was one of those other 3 things is to add each one in separately and go for 2-3 weeks independently and see if any reactions occur.  For cats that act completely normal and are not dropping weight this method is okay while trying to figure out the puzzle. People food can always be a culprit especially if owners do not offer this to their cats regularly. Cats can be sneaky and mischievous and find people food on their own.  Once consumed it causes a digestive issue usually 2-3 days after the intake. It is not an immediate response like most people think.  It is important to watch friends, family, and young children who offer people food without your awareness. 

If doing these two things independently at home and your cat “is still hacking”, I would encourage you to seek veterinary care.  Cats can have other digestive or respiratory issues that can trigger hacking as well. We can have inflammation of the digestive tract that triggers vomiting of bile. We can have respiratory tract concerns that can trigger vomiting of a white foamy substance. Heart issues can cause cats to cough but after the cough some will spit up phlegm that is not yellow in color. This can be coming from the respiratory system. There are lung worms that can be present in a cat’s respiratory system. This is most common in outdoor or stray cats that have been introduced into your home.

Taking video of your cat during the episode can be helpful for your veterinarian to view.  These videos can help solve the puzzle. Paying attention to when they occur.  Does it happen with activity, after eating or drinking, after sleeping or resting, etc. What does it look like? Again, a photo can be helpful. We do not need to have you bring it in on a paper towel.  It is important to know what their stool looks like and the volume of stool. This is easy with one cat but can be complicated with a multi-cat household. Many times, an answer for hacking is not a quick and easy diagnosis. Getting frustrated with your cat or veterinarian is not going to fix the problem either. Switching from one cat food to another cat food or veterinarian to veterinarian is also a bad idea. This can prolong the situation and make it more challenging to control.

With many conditions in our furry friends, sometimes a cure is not meant to be but managing a condition with diet, supplements, medications, feeding routines can be achieved. One of my favorite diets to manage hacking of bile in cats is Royal Canin’s Hydrolyzed Protein dry cat food. This diet has allowed many cats to continue living in their homes and reduced the frequency, if not eliminating it completely, of hacking (vomiting) up bile. They cannot get any other foods or treats or people foods to be successful. It is a prescription diet and must be prescribed by your veterinarian.   If you are seeing more white frothy phlegm than bile in what is hacked up, this usually points to a heart or respiratory issue. It is important to seek veterinary care early since a delayed diagnosis can have long term complications.  Some of these episodes can occur seasonally and may be a form of asthma in cats. There is no one treatment fixes all “hacking cats”!  Just remember to be patient with your cat and your veterinarian as they help you work through all the causes of “hacking cats”.