All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cats and Hairballs

Dear Marie,
We have a fairly new cat that constantly hacks up hairballs.  We inherited her from a friend who had to move away.  At first we thought the cat wasn't using her litter box because the hairballs we found looked like cat droppings.  But one day, I saw her throwing up, and sure enough, the thing that came out was exactly what I have been finding all over the house.  I talked to one of my neighbors about it and she said it was definitely a hairball and that her cats do that too sometimes.  I can handle “sometimes”.  But this is an everyday event.  What can I do?  Our cat has long hair and a very thick coat.  I’m sure that has something to do with it.  Thanks for any advice you have to offer.

Dear Jennifer,
Many cats suffer from problems associated with hairballs and there are many different opinions as to how to deal with the situation.  The simplest method for controlling the ingestion of too much hair is daily brushing. 

Most cats enjoy being groomed by their owners.  Generally, I brush my cats while I catch the evening news.  My kitties love the attention and frankly, I think they would prefer the news to last all night long.  They stretch out and roll around on my lap to ensure I don’t miss a single spot.  They enjoy grooming time so much, that when they hear the closing soundtrack of the evening news, they usually grab a hold of my arm to try and keep me from leaving!

Usually, this type of grooming is enough to keep hairballs from forming.  But cats who are under stress tend to shed more than well adjusted, happy cats.  Given that your feline buddy just came into your home and left her familiar surroundings, she is probably experiencing quite a bit of anxiety and hence shedding significantly more than she normally would.

Your best bet is to make her feel as comfortable as possible.  You may need to groom her several times a day during this adjustment period, just to keep on top of her nervous shedding.  If you notice that she is licking her fur excessively, try and interrupt her by introducing another activity.  Playtime is always a good distraction.  In addition to keeping your kitty’s mind off losing her previous home, it also keeps her body fit.  Sedentary and obese cats tend to have more problems with hairballs than active, svelte felines.

Aside from hairballs being a hassle for people – especially while walking barefoot at night – they can be a health hazard for cats.  If enough hair accumulates in the esophagus, it can get stuck and create a blockage.  In the stomach, a hard matted hairball may need to be surgically removed.  This can also occur anywhere in the intestinal tract and could potentially be fatal.

Some experts believe that feeding only dry cat foods compounds this problem and suggest providing canned cat foods with dry for a healthy, balanced diet.  Furthermore, cats that seem to have a propensity for hairballs should be given special lubricants with their food such as Petromalt, Laxatone, CatLax, or any other brand that your cat will take without a fight.  Many cats like the flavor given to these products and will lick the appropriate portion straight out of the tube.

Finally, check your cat for fleas.  External parasites cause a lot of discomfort and itchiness that leads to licking and biting the fur.  If you do notice fleas, I would urge you to use a once-a-month flea control product such as Advantage or Frontline to eliminate these pests and make your cat very happy.  The less time she spends licking her fur, the less likely she is to develop hairballs.

If after trying all of these suggestions and giving your cat time to settle in to her new surroundings, you still find that she is expelling excessive amount hairballs, you should check with your veterinarian. But for now, enjoy your new friend and welcome her whole-heartedly.  Your love and attention is the best medicine she can receive.

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