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October 2010 Hairball 101: Avoid a hairy situation!
By Kimberly Hammer, VMD, DACVIM
Believe it or not, vomiting hairballs should not be a normal part of a cat's life. Cats have evolved to groom themselves, groom other cats, and in the wild, they eat furry wildlife. Veterinarians call them "trichobezoars," pet owners call them hairballs and more commonly they are known as "just gross."
Their digestive tracts are designed to digest and pass that hair along with food and bones and all the other things they eat. When hair accumulates in the digestive tract, it is usually an indication of an underlying disease process that is keeping the digestive tract from working properly. Most hairball remedies contain a lubricant in them that allows hairballs to pass but do not address the underlying cause.
A careful discussion with your family veterinarian about the frequency of your cats vomiting may lead to further testing or diet changes which will diagnose and/or treat the underlying problem. Your veterinarian may recommend routine blood work and based on that add in some specialized blood tests. In extreme case where all steps have been taken they may recommend a referral to an internal medicine specialist for further consultation and other tests such as an abdominal ultrasound.
In more severe cases, biopsies of the gastrointestinal tract may be recommended. If your cat is vomiting hairballs frequently, it may not be just a ‘hairball problem’ but rather a ‘vomiting problem’ which happens to contain hair, in other words a "hairy situation." Review your cat’s history carefully with your veterinarian to learn more about how to further address this problem.