Cats and Hairballs

National Awareness Sheds Light on Potential Problem


National Hairball Awareness Day is celebrated on the last Friday of April.

The National Museum of Health and Medicine launched the annual event in 2006 to showcase a variety of collected hairballs from cows, oxen, a horse, a chicken — and three humans — from the late 19th century.

Cat owners commiserating about their pets’ unpleasant gastrointestinal habit should know: recurring vomiting is not normal for cats and could indicate a serious health problem.

What are Hairballs?

Cats can develop hairballs from routine grooming. After swallowing loosened fur and ingesting it, the fur becomes caught in the cat's stomach and forms into a ball.

Hairballs are usually passed naturally but, occasionally, a cat may have difficulty passing one through the digestive tract; it may then be coughed up, much to the dismay of owners who are left to clean up the mess.

Cat being groomed

Can Hairballs be Prevented?

One way to help prevent hair from collecting in your cat’s belly is to groom your cat on a regular basis. The less amount of hair that can get in your cat’s mouth the less chance that hair can form a hairball in the stomach.

Petco has a Hairball Relief Shop featuring specialty cat foods and treat remedies and grooming brushes; Hills Science Diet Hairball Control Formula to help move hair safely through a cat's digestive system.

Hairballs May Indicate Health Issue

Many cat owners assume that regular hairball hacking is normal. Be careful, cautions Dr. Jennifer Hawkins, an Orange County, Calif., veterinarian who works closely with cats and has three cat companions at home.

"Vomiting is not normal behavior for cats," says Hawkins. "If your cat vomits more often than every eight weeks, she likely has a chronic underlying problem."

If cat owners notice that food is also being coughed up along with a hairball, then it's not really a hairball.

Chronic intermittent vomiting, explains Hawkins, may be caused by organ dysfunction, inflammation of the pancreas, inflammatory bowel disease, gall bladder disorders and cancer.

Remember: Cats are very good at hiding health problems. They may appear fine even after vomiting. Contact your veterinarian if you notice that your cat is vomiting and schedule a routine checkup.

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