Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cat Hairballs: Treatment Options for Hairballs in Cats


Dear Dr. Gordon: My 12 year old cat has had a problem with vomiting most of her life, but now it is happening much more frequently. Sometimes it is hair, sometimes it is food and hair and sometimes it is just fluid that she throws up. She seems to be losing weight and doesn't have the same appetite she did even a few months ago. I am thinking that she might have a hairball problem. What do you think? EM

Dear EM: There is no question that cat’s ingest a lot of hair during grooming and that this hair can be the source of a lot of problems. Fortunately for most cats, the ingestion of hair during grooming seldom presents much of a problem IF the cat is healthy otherwise.

It is essential to use Wildside Salmon Oil or Amazing Omegas to help your pet feel better. Wildside Salmon Oil or Amazing Omegas will reduce shedding, improve coat quality and reduce hairballs overall.

If you have ever examined you cat’s tongue closely, you will notice tiny bristles on the dorsal (top) surface of the tongue that do an excellent job of removing debris and hair from the cat’s body. During the course of grooming, it is inevitable that large amounts of hair will be ingested .
The interesting thing to me is that every cat in the world grooms and grooms excessively, but not every cat in the world is prone to problems with hairball. Why is that? Most veterinarians involved in feline medicine and research now believe that cats developing hairball problems are either otherwise sick and debilitated OR they may have an underlying intestinal motility disorder that allows the hair to accumulate in one area and not pass safely through the intestinal tract.
By cats being sick and debilitated, I am referring to aging cats that are not drinking enough water to stay hydrated or have underlying disease states that cause excessive water loss, like renal insufficiency. When these cats go from mildly dehydrated (barely detectable) to moderately dehydrated (with obvious tenting of the skin when you lift up the skin), the net result is that any water present in the ingesta becomes absorbed through the intestinal lining leaving behind a dry mass of stool, food, and hair. Since these cats are sick or debilitated otherwise, they probably do not have enough strength to push out this hard mass. The end result can be a difficult or painful defecation or worse, a complete obstruction of the intestine or colon. Sometimes this is so dramatic that surgery must be performed to remove the obstruction. Occasionally younger cats will ingest string or other foreign material that will serve to trap hair in the stomach and intestine. This can also cause an obstruction by this foreign material.
There are some simple things you can do to prevent your kitty from developing hairballs. Older cats (cats 10 years of age or older) should be checked by the veterinarian twice yearly to assess their health status and state of hydration. The veterinarian will be able to detect subtle changes in hydration and also be able to catch potential problems early enough to avoid costly procedures and/or surgery. If cats are in early renal insufficiency and are having trouble maintaining their hydration, subcutaneous fluids can be administered by the doctor or the owner to aid hydration. In addition, adding Omega 3 fatty acids to their diet such as Wildside Salmon Oil or Amazing Omegas (available on www.AskAriel.com) will reduce shedding, improve coat quality and reduce hairballs overall.

Frequent brushing will remove excess hair and discourage your cat from ingesting excessive loose hair. There are also commercial hairball formulas available (laxatone, petromalt) that can be given to your cat to aid in lubricating the hair so that it can be easily passed through the digestive tract. These are flavored petroleum jelly products that are flavored so that they will be acceptable by the cats. They are usually very palatable and easy to give. Typical directions on these products say to administer them twice weekly, but if your cat is having trouble passing hair, I usually have the owner give it twice DAILY. I have never had a problem giving the product too often, but I have had problems not having given it enough.

Motility modifiers (medications that allow the intestinal tract to aid in peristalsis or the rhythmic contractions necessary to move the ingesta) may be prescribed by the veterinarian to aid in this problem. Reglan or metoclopramide is a common drug used for this problem. Again, giving your cat Omega 3 fatty acids such as Wildside Salmon Oil or Amazing Omegas, available on www.AskAriel.com will not only help with hair quality but may help increase motility and bowel movements. Pumpkin may be helpful as well.

There are hairball treats and a hairball diet that can be given to discourage the accumulation of hair in the digestive tract. These products contain enzymes that act to break down the hair and prevent the hair from creating a problem.
Most of the time, hairballs are harmless and can be controlled by simple means. Occasionally, hairballs can be a big problem and require costly hospitalization and surgery.
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