Authored by: Dr. Lindsey, DVM
Anyone who is a cat owner is probably familiar with these lovely “gifts” our cats leave us. The hairballs they leave us always seem to be in the worst places or during the worst time but it’s a common part of owning a cat. The scientific term for hairballs is trichobezoars. While today I’m just going to be talking about hairballs in cats, dogs can also have hairballs.
Sometimes clients ask me why cats get hairballs. Cats ingest their hair when they groom themselves. The hair can’t be digested so, if we are lucky, the hair will be passed out in the feces. Sometimes the hair can become tangled on itself though. This mass of hair is too large to pass in the feces so a cat will vomit it up. Occasionally, the mass of hair can block the intestinal tract and cause an obstruction in which case prompt care at a veterinary office would be necessary.
A veterinarian may recommend some testing like bloodwork or an x-ray if your cat has hairballs out of the normal amount. This would be to make sure that there isn’t something else underlying. There are several strategies that can be used to try in preventing hairballs. One would be to make sure there isn’t an underlying medical or behavioral condition. It’s important to get cats used to being brushed and to brush them regularly. There are hairball specific diets that are high in fiber in the hopes of moving the hair down the intestinal tract. Lastly, ask your veterinarian about supplements that may also aid in hairball relief.
Dr. Lindsey graduated from Colorado State University in 2009 and works in general practice, shelter medicine, and more recently as a civilian contractor veterinarian for the Army. She is also certified in acupuncture and resides in Palm Springs, CA.