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Diagnosing the Cause of Hairballs in Cats

Margie Scherk, DVM, DABVP (Feline Practice) catsINK, Vancouver, British Columbia

Internal Medicine

September 2012
Peer Reviewed

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Hairballs at a Glance

  • Clients may use the term hairballs (ie, tubular wads of ingested hair) to describe loose strands of hair in vomitus or regurgitated/vomited food; it is important to clarify what they are defining before determining diagnostic and therapeutic approach.
  • The extreme hairball is a trichobezoar—a hard concretion of hair lodged in the stomach that is too large to vomit or pass through the pylorus and intestines.
  • Cats normally ingest small amounts of hair that pass in feces; increased hair ingestion (eg, skin/coat problems) or abnormal passage of hair (ie, changes in GI motility) may result in hairballs.
  • Hairballs signify disease and, although common, are not normal.

Related Article: Overgrooming in Cats
Related Article: Feline Hyperthyroidism
Related Article: Feline Anorexia

MARGIE SCHERK, DVM, DABVP (Feline Practice), opened Cats Only Veterinary Clinic in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1986 and practiced there until 2008. Her interests include all things feline, particularly analgesia, the feline digestive system, and enabling positive human-feline interactions. Dr. Scherk has published several clinical trials and written numerous book chapters. She has served extensively at the AAFP and other veterinary organizations and is an active international speaker involved in online CE. Dr. Scherk graduated from University of Guelph, Ontario.


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