Category: Gastrointestinal

The Hairy Truth About Hairballs



Horf horf horf, ack!  Ah yes, the sound you might hear at 3am and don’t make the connection until you wake up in the morning and step in it.  You know, the cold wet clump of fur your cat brought up a few hours ago.  For some cats and their owners, it has just been written off as a part of life.  But for others though, hairballs might be a sign of a larger problem.

In many cases, we can point the finger of blame to evolution whereby we got the joy of long haired cats on Earth and later we can thank the Egyptians thousands of ears ago for worshipping these glorious felines.  From that those days on, cats decided to make us their servants and remind us of our place…  What better way to do this than to make us clean up their recycled hair in a wet, clumped format?  It’s not just long haired cats that provide us with hairballs however as my own domestic shorthair Gremlin almost daily now reminds me with a small gift on my side of the bed.  (It turns out, she was actually constipated and once that was addressed the hairballs stopped!)



Hairballs, or trichobezoars, in most cases are the product of grooming as part of kitty’s normal cleaning habits.  Typically, they might only have an episode every few weeks to months and this is not so problematic.  Brushing your cat (if they’ll let you!) can help remove dead hairs and minimize how much they are ingesting.  For cats that aren’t amenable to brushing or if it still isn’t enough, many veterinarians will recommend using a gooey flavored paste (Laxatone or Tonic-Lax are 2 common products) that can help bind up hairs and grease up the insides a bit to help them pass more easily out the back end.

Sometimes though, hairballs are much more frequent than expected.  But why?  Over-grooming can be a common cause but is often linked to other issues.  Cats may over-groom if they are stressed for behavioral reasons.  Another cause is underlying skin issues such as allergies or infections.  I’ve even seen a few cats lick their bellies clean of fur and they were found to have problems on the inside such as bladder infections or stones and in one case an intestinal tumor.  The most likely thought is the inflammation was so uncomfortable that the licking was almost as if they were trying to relieve the discomfort on the inside.  But then again, they can’t talk to us so maybe their obsessive behaviors in those cases were them telling us there was a problem.

Hairball noted by arrows, Morgan Animal Hospital, Ontario

Hairball noted by arrows, Morgan Animal Hospital, Ontario

Another cause to consider would be gastrointestinal issues.  We know cats eat their own hair, and who wouldn’t like silky smooth hair?  That hair may sit in the stomach for a prolonged time if there is a motility issue such as delayed emptying of the stomach or an excessive amount of tissue that prevents things from passing into the intestine.  On occasion, these clumps of hair can join with other ingested material and cause an obstruction which might involve surgery to remove.  To help with these issues, your veterinarian may recommend a hairball control diet which has certain amounts of digestible fiber to stimulate intestinal movement or, if needed, medications can also be used to help keep a normal flow.  If there is an increased frequency of hairballs, it may often be linked to inflammatory bowel disease.

As I try to tell people, a one time incident in these cases isn’t usually a cause for alarm.  Multiple times or increasing frequency deserves a trip to your trusted veterinarian.  So next time you step in a hairball, maybe you cat is trying to tell you something and you should listen.  Or they’re just getting revenge for that horrible outfit you made them wear at Halloween.

Disclaimer:  Blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and do not reflect that of any current or former employers.

Check back often for more great posts or subscribe on the right to get new posts directly in your mailbox.  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest for more!

Pancreatitis…When Organs Attack

Pancreatitis…When Organs Attack

In the past few years, we as the veterinary community have taken more of a look at the pancreas as a potential cause happy-thanksgiving-cat-dogfor some health issues when your pet comes in with more generalized signs.  We know quite a bit about this integral organ but there are still some mysteries to be solved.  With Thanksgiving coming up in the USA (unfortunately we had ours in Kingston already), this might be a good time to take a look at what it does, how it causes problems, and what we can do about it.

The pancreas sits in the abdomen adjacent to the stomach and upper small intestine.  Among it’s more important functions, it produces enzymes to help digest food and also insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels.  There are actually small tubes that secrete these compounds into the digestive tract and blood stream to help these functions happen.  But there are also inhibitors to keep these enzymes from starting to work too early….like while still in the pancreas.  If these inhibitors fail, reactions begin within the pancreas and it actually starts to digest itself.  Sounds nasty right?


It really can be quite complicated but I’ll break down the essentials.  We can see both an acute (sudden onset) and chronic (long term) form.  Acutely, the pancreas will become inflamed, can become necrotic (dead tissue), swollen, and potentially hemorrhage.  Chronically, the long term inflammation can lead to the tissue itself turning fibrous essentially killing off cells and rendering them non-functional and this can lead to diabetes or another condition called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).

baconBut how does this happen?  That can be hard to distinguish and there are MANY factors.  There is a higher incidence for dogs who get exposed to high amounts of fat whether repeatedly in their diet or the one dog I knew who unfortunately drank from the deep frier at home.  Yes, even bacon is bad for dogs.  Other factors in dogs may include certain drugs, trauma, toxins, and intestinal reflux while in cats, diets & drugs do not play a role but they are more at risk due to infectious diseases, hepatitis, diabetes, and parasites to name a few.  Terrier breeds & miniature schnauzers may be more at risk as well.  Unfortunately, the causes of almost every case of pancreatitis often goes unknown. min schnauzer

But how do you know if your pet has pancreatitis?  Of course there are tests we as veterinarians will do that can give us this answer but first they’ll show you signs at home that will be concerning to you.  Loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea are all possible signs.  Signs in cats may be vague or less noticeable with regards to vomiting and pain.  Cats also uniquely may have hepatitis and inflammatory bowel disease along with pancreatitis; this is often referred to as “triaditis.”  Blood tests will show numerous variations affecting the kidneys, electrolytes, liver, and blood cells.  Diagnostic imaging may be of use in some cases.

sick dog

Once the diagnosis is made, treatment can begin which will often include intravenous fluids, anti-nausea, anti-vomiting, pain, & appetite stimulant medications, vitamin supplementation, and in some cases antibiotics.  In certain cases, plasma transfusions can be given.  For dogs, long term management may often include low-fat diets, whereas in cats diet selection is not as important as getting them to eat what they will eat.  Despite all our options, there is no specific treatment or guaranteed course of action that will resolve a pancreatitis case but many patients will do well with these plans. hospitalized cat

This is just the basics of pancreatitis as there can be more complex problems such as abscesses or tumors though these are less common.  The important thing to keep in mind is that if your pet is showing abnormal signs, don’t delay.  It can be okay to wait a day in case of the uncommon upset stomach but it’s best to not make your pet wait almost a week to get them veterinary attention as it will only make the problem worse.  So this Thanksgiving, keep your pets safe and avoid the table foods just in case (not to mention possible toxicities)!

Disclaimer: All blog posts are personally written and my opinion and do not reflect those of current or former employers.

Don’t forget to check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and now Pinterest to see more events in my day & more shared info!  And on the right side of my blog you can now subscribe so you can always get the updates when a new post is published!