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Hairballs in Cats: Advice From Holistic Veterinarian Dr. Cook

Posted 2020-05-20


Cat hairballs—that cold, squishy, tubular hairy mass— it may be an unpleasant experience for cat owners, but cat vomiting due to hairballs is one of the common issues in my holistic veterinary practice. Although not entirely preventable there certainly are things that the caring cat guardian can do to reduce the frequency and severity of hairballs in cats.

Why do cats get hairballs?

As your cat routinely grooms himself or herself, they swallow some of the loose hair and debris from their coat. In most cases, the loose fur and debris passes through the digestive tract and comes out in the stool. However, some of the hair forms a lump or hairball in the stomach, which your cat will usually vomit up. However, in some cases hair can remain in the stomach, and if left for a long time, the hairball will harden into a dense mass. This can irritate the stomach and may even block the digestive tract.

Some long-haired breeds, such as Persians, Ragdolls, and Maine Coons are much more likely to get hairballs; as are cats who groom themselves compulsively.

Have you seen “The Hairball Hack”?

No, it’s not the latest dance craze; the “the hairball hack” is that awful coughing sound that cats make when trying to expel that terrible ball of fur. It may be disturbing to watch, but so long as your cat is not in danger allow them to vomit up the hairball without disturbing or preventing them from doing so.

Should I see my Vet?

Although vomiting can be due to a cat hairball issue, your veterinarian should rule out other major underlying concerns such as:

  • Metabolic conditions (kidney disease, liver disease)
  • Endocrine problems (hyperthyroidism, diabetes)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Asthma
  • Parasites
  • Other miscellaneous causes

Also, if you see your cat coughing, and no production of a hairball occurs it may be likely that your cat has asthma or another issue and a visit to the vet is recommended.

Diagnosing the underlying problem of why a cat is throwing up requires presenting your veterinarian with a thorough history, including what the cat vomitus looks like and how the cat is vomiting. It is always entertaining to watch my clients mimic their cat’s vomiting motions and noises. When bringing a sample of the cat vomitus make sure it is an airtight bag—please!!

What should you do to prevent hairballs in cats?

1. Brush your kitty. Although not all cats will allow this, it can significantly reduce the amount of hairball occurrences. For shorthaired cat breeds, I have found that a fine-toothed flea comb works well to remove the undercoat and dead fur. In longhaired cats, use wide-toothed combs.

2. Try the “lion cut”. The “lion cut” is when the fur is shaved down to the skin. Although a little shocking for cat parents, I’m always surprised at how well tolerated the “lion cut” is by the kitties themselves; in fact, they seem to feel fabulous after!

3. Add Fiber to the diet. Try pumpkin or cilium for a natural approach.

4. Cat Hairball Remedies. Supplements, like lubricant hairball remedies, can help alleviate and prevent hairballs. I prefer products without petroleum. A natural formula, which I use is NHV Hairb-Ez, which helps support the liver in addition to helping to dissolve hairballs.

If your cat is throwing up frequently, and any of the above techniques and remedies do not help, a trip to the vet is necessary to diagnose any underlying problems.

If any of you have any questions, just email me for a consultation or ask one of the NHV pet experts!

Yours in wellness,
Dr. H. Cook (DVM, CVA)

Dr. Hillary Cook is a graduate of Virginia Maryland Regional Veterinary Medical school. She has been practicing holistic and integrative veterinary medicine for fifteen years. She certified in Veterinary acupuncture and is fully qualified in Western and Chinese herbalism. She is the owner of Animal Wellness Center, an integrative veterinary clinic in Crozet, VA. She enjoys spending time with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of pets including dogs, cats and chickens. When time allows, you can find her in the garden or on the tennis court!

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