This Friday, April 25, 2014 is Hairball Awareness Day. Most of us think of hairballs left for us by our pet cats as an annoyance, found typically between the bedroom and the bathroom. Their peak occurrence is somewhere around 3am and appear only when you have bare feet. As annoying as hairballs are to us, to pets they can actually cause a surgical emergency. Here to prove it is my patient Toby.
Toby is an eight year old long-haired cat, but in this photo you can see he has been clipped, thanks to a hairball emergency. The second photo shows him with a full coat. Toby’s story starts with a voice change and trouble breathing. In addition, his owner noticed Toby had not been eating well and was not grooming himself. A visit to The Animal Medical Center emergency room found a tumor on his larynx. Ultimately Toby’s diagnosis was lymphoma of the larynx, readily explaining his voice change and respiratory difficulties. Because the tumor was also obstructing the opening to his esophagus, a soft food diet was prescribed, instead of his normal crunchy hairball prevention formula.
A few days later, Toby started chemotherapy. Within days he could meow, was breathing and eating well and resumed his normal grooming routine. But just before his fourth chemotherapy treatment, Toby vomited up a six inch long hairball and initially seemed to be fine, however, on the day of his chemotherapy appointment, he vomited twice and we began to worry about a hairball obstruction since Toby seemed painful when we examined his abdomen. An abdominal ultrasound confirmed the presence of a hairball obstruction. Surgeons at The AMC discovered a hairball blocking his small intestine and removed it. Toby recovered uneventfully and resumed chemotherapy once he recovered from surgery.
Today, Toby is back on his hairball prevention diet, has completed chemotherapy and is enjoying a complete remission of his cancer. Whenever we sedate him to evaluate his larynx, we clip his fur to prevent another hairball emergency.
How to avoid a hairball crisis in your pet:
- Feed your pet food or treats designed to move hairballs efficiently through the intestine.
- Brush, brush and brush your pet daily.
- Use a deshedding tool to efficiently remove loose hairs before your pet swallows them.
- Use caution when removing hair mats as scissors can cut the underlying skin if the mat is tightly adhered.
- Consider a professional grooming if your pet is severely matted.