Hairball A Week Is Normal For Most Cats
Hairballs are normal for cats, but they're a nuisance for cat owners
to deal with. There are a few things you can do, though, to reduce hairballs
and other feline dietary upsets.
Cats ingest a lot of hair because their tongues have tiny tentacles (papillae)
that act like brushes when they clean, according to Dr. Karen Halligan,
author, TV consultant and director of veterinary services for the Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Los Angeles.
When hair builds up in a cat's stomach, it turns into balls
or wads, causing the cat to vomit. Once a week is normal
and nothing to worry
about, "but more than once a week is too much," Halligan said.
A number of over-the-counter dietary supplements such as Petromalt can
be given to cats to help prevent hairballs, but Halligan uses a simple
home remedy. She puts a dab of petroleum jelly on her fingertip and lets
her cats, Kinky and Nathan, lick it off.
Lynea Lattanzio has a lot of experience with hairballs as
founder of a sanctuary where 1,000 cats live called Cat House
on the Kings, on the
Kings River in Parlier, Calif. "I give people a lot of advice on
hairballs," she said. "You can put mineral oil on their food
to help them slide it out, or Vaseline on their shoulder so they can
Just "don't put it on their paws," she added. "They
shake and it gets all over the walls. Put it where they can't
shake it off."
Halligan and Lattanzio agree brushing is probably the best remedy.
" I brush mine every day. It pulls out all the dead hair so they don't ingest
it when they groom," Halligan said.
If your cat doesn't like being brushed, you might be pressing too hard
or using the wrong type of brush, she said.
This time of year, cats are shedding their coats and getting
ready for summer. At Cat House on the Kings, the 20-plus
employees — one
does nothing but change litter boxes all day long — brush as many
cats as they can each week, Lattanzio said.
" Their hair goes poof; it seems to come off of them in clouds. If you don't
remove it by brushing, then they will remove it by grooming, and then they will
eat it, and they will get hairballs," Lattanzio said.
Lattanzio says older cats are brushed first because "they
are less likely to groom and more likely to suffer the adverse
She also gives some of the long-haired cats what's called a Himalayan
cut, leaving hair only on their heads, feet and tails.
But Halligan advised caution in close cuts for light-skinned cats because
they can develop cancer from exposure to the sun, even if they live indoors
and lie in front of a window.
If a cat is vomiting and there is no hair in it, hairballs probably aren't
" The most common is kidney disease, then pancreatitis and then food allergies," Halligan
said. Even flea sensitivity can cause a cat to vomit — and go bald.
Halligan's cats eat only canned food. She recommends owners
feed their pets at least 50 percent canned food — and believes 75 percent
would be better. "The only benefit of dry is that it's cheaper," she
said, adding: "My cat Nathan, if I give him regular dry cat food,
he vomits like crazy. Once I switched over to canned, no vomiting."
Excessive vomiting might require blood tests or X-rays to reveal the
problem. Cats will eat catnip, mice, needles and thread, buttons, earrings,
erasers, tin foil balls, and almost any other small thing they can bat
around, Halligan said.
" They will play with it, then swallow it. My cat has a fetish for rubber
bands. Those things keep vets in business."
Hairballs can also get stuck in a cat's intestines. A cat that stops
eating for 24 or 48 hours and repeatedly vomits is at risk of dehydration
and liver failure. In as little as three days, jaundice can set in, with
telltale symptoms of yellowing of the gums, ears and whites of the eyes.
Fast treatment by a vet is essential at that point.
"If you get them to us on time, we can probably save them," she said.