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Hairballs Are a Feline Fact of Life

Hairballs Are a Feline Fact of Life, but There Are Ways to Keep Them Under Control By Dr. Elaine Wexler-Mitchell Your CAT's first hairball. Finding your first hairball can be a scary experience. They can be large, tubular structures, or they can be small and mixed with food or fluid. Hairballs are a normal physiological occurrence in cats, who ingest their own hair while grooming themselves. While there is no veterinary consensus on how they should be managed, four common remedies exist to help decrease the frequency or size of hairballs: lubricants, fiber supplements, special diets, and improved grooming. The most important thing to remember about any hairball remedy is that it is a management tool for a normal process. Hair is not digestible, and it needs to pass out of one end of the cat or the other. A run-down of remedies As for lubricants, mineral oil should never be used to control hairballs. If a cat does not swallow the oil properly, small droplets can enter the airways and cause problems. There are numerous safe lubricants: flavored petroleum pastes, such as Petromalt, that help Kitty pass hair more easily. Some cats love these products and readily lick them from fingers or off of their paws. But others refuse the lubricant or shake it off. Some cat treats, such as Pounce Hairball Treatment and Hartz Hairball Remedy, contain a lubricant in the middle. Dosing regimens for lubricants vary from daily to a few times weekly. The only problem with giving too much lubricant is that it can lead to soft stools. Fiber supplements, often containing psyllium, are sold in powder, capsule, or chewable-treat form as a hairball remedy. They can be administered directly into a cat's mouth or mixed in with food. The fiber helps cleanse the lining of the intestines and promotes normal intestinal contractions. This helps hair pass in the stool. Special hairball diets, such as Science Diet Hairball Control Formula, Iams Hairball Care Formula, Pro Plan Advanced Hairball Control, and Amore 9-Lives Hairball Control (canned), are widely available. These diets contain fiber and are formulated to reduce hair buildup in a cat's stomach and intestines. Many owners like giving their cat these foods, but there are no published scientific studies supporting the claims of the diets. But owners have reported success with them. Finally, you can help reduce the amount of hair your cat ingests by combing and bathing your pet more frequently. You can also reduce hairballs by trimming your cat's coat, because shorter hair means less hair mass will build up in the stomach or intestines. When to worry When should a cat owner be concerned with hairballs? While a cat with infrequent hairballs does not need treatment, I would recommend trying one of the above remedies if you find your cat vomiting up a hairball once a week or more. Taking action is important: If a cat cannot hold down food and water because of hairballs, there is a danger of dehydration. Also, it is possible for hairballs to become impacted and cause gastrointestinal obstruction; these obstructions require surgical removal. While hairballs are the most common cause of vomiting in cats, if your cat is vomiting but not producing hairballs, another problem is likely. She may have eaten too quickly, or she could be sensitive to a particular diet. Or she may have a viral or bacterial infection. In some cats, frequent vomiting is a sign of serious disease, such as inflammatory bowel disease. Also, if your cat is gagging but not actually spitting up anything, she could have asthma. Remember that hairballs are normal, but if your cat starts having them with increased frequency or the common remedies aren't working, something else may be going on. Seek veterinary advice in these situations. Smokey's owner was relieved to learn that her cat's problem was a hairball. Smokey was relieved that his visit to my office was short and that he would not need any medication. He also enjoyed the hairball lubricant he started getting at home, and being combed more frequently.

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