Hairballs Can be Dangerous!

Friday, April 29th is National Hairball Awareness Day and I have the poster patient for this disorder. Sunshine looks just like her name, a sunburst of calico color on one very charming cat.

Photo: Rachel Bob

So how did she get to be the poster patient for National Hairball Awareness Day? A hairball nearly killed her.

Sunshine has been a patient of The Animal Medical Center since last summer and is under treatment for a fairly common form of intestinal cancer. One night, her owner came home and could not find Sunshine. When she did, Sunshine was hiding and refused to eat dinner. Her owner brought her straight to the AMC Emergency Room.

This is Sunshine’s abdominal x-ray; the black circle outlines a gigantic fluid-filled stomach. The black arrows point to just a few of her gas-filled intestinal loops. AMC’s radiologist, Dr. Anthony Fischetti, honed in on these abnormalities immediately and diagnosed an intestinal blockage. We were worried the blockage was due to a recurrence of the tumor, but we couldn’t be sure with the information we had.

The same night, Sunshine had an emergency exploratory surgery by Dr. Courtney Ikuta of the AMC’s Surgery Service. Boy was she surprised to find a hairball lodged in Sunshine’s intestine as the cause of the blockage!

Hairball obstruction is very uncommon, although a couple of medical issues might have contributed to this dangerous hairball. Sunshine receives chemotherapy bi-weekly. Her haircoat appears normal, but she probably has more hair loss than the average cat. Her cancer is responding well to treatment, but her intestines are not normal and may not have been able to handle the excess ingested hair. Finally, Sunshine has just been diagnosed with an even rarer condition than a hairball obstruction, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. She doesn’t make adequate digestive enzymes, contributing to a buildup of hair.

So in honor of National Hairball Awareness Day, brush your cat, use a deshedding tool and give plenty of hairball reducing treats.


This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.

2 Responses to Hairballs Can be Dangerous!

  1. […] problem preventing normal passage of hair out in the stool. My patient Sunshine developed an intestinal obstruction from a hairball when intestinal lymphoma disrupted her ability to pass hair in her […]

  2. Dog Dentist…

    […]Hairballs Can be Dangerous! « Fur the Love of Pets[…]…

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