Ask Dr. Anna: hairballs worthy of veterinary attention

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Hairballs, are they just a normal nuisance or a sign that something is wrong?  Most cat owners believe that hair balls aren’t worthy of veterinary attention.  However, frequent elimination of hairballs can be an indication of an underlying chronic skin or gastrointestinal disease. 

Anna Coffin is the Veterinarian at Guthrie Pet Hospital and can be contacted at (405) 282-8796.
Anna Coffin is the Veterinarian at Guthrie Pet Hospital and can be contacted at (405) 282-8796.

In a recent study, 10 percent of healthy shorthair cats vomited two or more hair balls every year.  The incidence of hair balls in longhair cats is twice as common as in shorthair cats.  Cats spend about 25 percent of their waking hours grooming, which helps explain why they ingest so much hair every day.  Most of the time, this hair is passed in their stool without causing any problems.

Fleas, flea allergy dermatitis, itchy skin disease and over grooming due to pain or anxiety are the most common reasons that cause cats to have excessive hair ingestion.  Older cats grooming excessively over the hind end most likely have arthritis.  Hairballs occur with excessive hair ingestion because the hairball becomes too large to pass into the small intestines and must be eliminated by vomiting.

Frequent vomiting of hairballs in shorthaired cats may be due to chronic intestinal disease such as dietary intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease, or delayed emptying of the stomach.  Management of these problems typically leads to a significant reduction in hair balls.

Here are some preventative strategies that may help reduce hairballs in your feline friend.  Daily brushing or even shaving your cat’s hair coat can help reduce the incidence of hair balls.  I have even seen short haired cats benefit from a lion clip every three or four months.  Gastric emptying appears to be quicker when fed smaller meals compared to larger meals.  Hairball control diets contain increased amounts of fiber and increase kibble size which helps improve stomach emptying.  In my clinical experience, I find many cats respond to a prescription diet that is made specifically for cats with sensitive stomachs.  Twice weekly doses of gastric lubricants (Laxaire) can help move hair from the stomach into the small intestines.  In rare cases and after all other options have been explored, long term medications can be used to reduce the incidence of hair balls.

Please e-mail me with your questions at ACoffin@aol.com and put “Ask Dr. Anna” in the subject line or mail your questions to 123 West Harrison Guthrie, OK 73044.

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