hairballs

National Hairball Awareness Day 2013

hairball

Today is National Hairball Awareness Day, and you’ll see a lot of information about hairballs, hairball remedies, and so-called hairball diets online. Hairballs are often the  topic of jokes and cartoons, but there is nothing funny about a cat who gets frequent hairballs. While the occasional, isolated hairball may be nothing to worry about, there really is no such thing as “just a hairball.”

I’d like to offer some information on hairballs that you may find startling, and to shed some light on why some of the conventional remedies may not work, or worse, mask a more serious problem.

In Some Startling New Thoughts on Cats and Hairballs, feline veterinarian Fern Crist offers a different look at how cats get hairballs, what they mean, and what you can do to prevent them.

In When Hairballs are More Than Just Hairballs, I explain why conventional remedies such as Petromalt or Laxatone should not be given to cats, Continue Reading

Giveaway: Furminator De-Shedding Tool

Furminator_deshedding_tool_for_cats

Today is National Hairball Awareness Day, and to celebrate, we’re giving away a Furminator De-Shedding Tool to one lucky reader.

We explained yesterday why a hairball is rarely just a hairball, and that frequent hairballs are not part of a normal life with cats.

Regular brushing and grooming can help prevent hairballs (but it’s not the only thing that can). When it comes to getting rid of loose hair, there are few tools that get the job done better than the Furminator De-Shedding Tool.

To enter the giveaway, please tell me in a comment why you would like to win this tool, and specify whether you’d like the large or small tool and whether it’s for a short haired or long haired cat. For an additional chance to win, tweet about this giveaway or share on Facebook, and post the link in a separate comment. This giveaway ends Friday, May 4.

For more information about the deshedding tool, please visit the Furminator website or their Facebook page.

When Hairballs Are More Than Just Hairballs

big_cats_hairballs

Hairballs are often the topic of jokes and cartoons, but there is nothing funny about a cat who gets frequent hairballs. While the occasional, isolated hairball may be nothing to worry about, there really is no such thing as “just a hairball.”

What is a hairball?

Traditionally it has been thought that hairballs develop because of how cats groom themselves. As cats lick their fur, the tongue’s tiny barbs pull off excess hair. Inevitably, some hair gets swallowed in the process. Ideally, it passes through the body and ends up in stools, but hairballs form when hair wads up in the stomach instead.

However, more recent findings show that hairballs also form because the affected cat’s intestinal motility (the movement of food content from the stomach to the intestines) is impaired, something that most commonly occurs secondary to inflammatory bowel disease, which in turn is caused in almost epidemic proportions by grain-based diets and their adverse effect on the gut flora.Continue Reading

Product review: ShedMonster de-shedding tool

 

ShedMonster Professional DeShedding Tool

Grooming your cat on a regular basis has many benefits:

  • A grooming session can be a relaxing bonding time for you and your cat.   If your cat is not immediately receptive to grooming, start slow, and gradually increase the time you spend grooming.  Eventually, the calming, repetitive motion of brushing will have a relaxing effect on your cat (and you!).
  • More grooming means less shedding, and less cat hair around the house.
  • Grooming increases circulation – it’s like a mini-massage with some of the same health benefits as a massage.
  • A grooming session is an ideal time for you to run your hands and eyes over every inch of your cat’s body.  This may help with early detection of diseases such as lumps and bumps, skin issues, or parasites.

But you’re not going to reap any of these benefits if you don’t use the right tool. There’s a wide variety of grooming tools on the market, ranging from grooming gloves to brushes to de-shedding tool. The newest tool on the market is the ShedMonster deshedding tool.

According to the manufacturer, the ShedMonster is good for all shedding breeds, and removes shedding fur while carving through mats and tangles. Its stainless steel teeth penetrate deep into the coat while its smooth edges provide massaging contact against the skin.

I like the design and ergonomics of the product. The short, thick handle is very comfortable and makes it easy to manipulate the tool. I’m always a bit leery of grooming tools with sharp edges or points, so I first used the product on my own skin, and it felt smooth and glided easily. Allegra and Ruby didn’t seem to mind the way the ShedMonster felt, but I didn’t get any  hair out of either of them. Now that’s not unusual – they barely shed, and even when I brush them with a slicker brush, which they both enjoy, I get almost no hair out of them.

I wanted to give this product a fair shot, so I passed it on to several of my cat clients. The reviews were mixed. Some cats really loved it, some didn’t like it at all. It removed hair well for cats that had a history of shedding a lot, but it didn’t remove much hair from the average shedders. None of the cats in my “test group” were long-haired, but  I’ve seen several reviews online that state that the tool works really well for long-haired cats, including one from fellow cat writer Dena Harris.

ShedMonster Deshedding Tool free grooming kit

If you’ve tried other grooming tools and aren’t getting the results you want, this is probably worth a try, especially if you have a long-haired cat.  At $19.99, it’s a good value, and it comes with a free five-piece deluxe grooming kit. For more information about the ShedMonster, and to order, click here.

If you’ve used the ShedMonster, I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

This product was sent to me for review by the manufacturer. I am not being compensated for this review.

You may also enjoy reading:

There’s no such thing as “just a hairball”

Some startling new thoughts on cats and hairballs

2011 Petties Best Cat Blog Best Overall Pet Blog

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There’s No Such Thing As “Just a Hairball”

feline-soul-mate

Most cat owners accept that hairballs are just a normal part of life with cats.  While the occasional, isolated hairball may be nothing to worry about, there really is no such thing as “just a hairball.”

What is a hairball?

Traditionally it has been thought that hairballs develop because of how cats groom themselves. As cats lick their fur, the tongue’s tiny barbs pull off excess hair. Inevitably, some hair gets swallowed in the process. Ideally, it passes through the body and ends up in stools, but hairballs form when hair wads up in the stomach instead.

However, more recent findings show that hairballs form because the affected cat’s intestinal motility (the movement of food content from the stomach to the intestines) is impaired, something that most commonly occurs secondary to inflammatory bowel disease, which in turn is caused in almost epidemic proportions by grain-based diets and their adverse effect on the gut flora. Gut flora is the collection of microscopic organisms that live within the intestinal system. Predominantly made up of healthy bacteria, it carries out many important functions for the cat’s health, such as the absorption of nutrients, support for the immune system, and the ability to fight disease-causing organisms.

A healthy cat with a healthy gut system should be able to eliminate hair ingested through grooming in her stool. Vomiting as a daily, or even weekly, method to eliminate hairballs is almost always an indicator that there is something else going on. Take your cat to the veterinarian for a good check up.

What can a cat owner do to eliminate hairballs?

Regular brushing or combing to get rid of loose hair before your cat ingests it certainly helps. But even more importantly, there seems to be a strong connection between diet and hairballs. More and more evidence points to a grain-free canned or raw diet as the answer to hairball problems. Cats are obligate carnivores, and their digestive systems are not designed to digest grains and carbs well.

What about diets marketed as hairball diets? These diets are high in fiber, and the theory behind them is that the fiber helps propel the hair through the digestive system. However, the opposite seems to happen in many cats, and the unnaturally high fiber levels contribute to impaired intestinal motility and actually lead to more vomiting. Since impaired intestinal motility is often a precursor to IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and intestinal lymphoma, a grain-free diet seems to be a much better way to go.

What about hairball remedies such as Petromalt or Laxatone? These products are petroleum based, and petroleum is derived from crude oil. Does this really belong inside a cat’s stomach? Says feline veterinarian Dr. Fern Crist: “A cat is not a car.  And in no way could a cat have naturally evolved to require the dosing with ‘lubricants’ to survive or to thrive. Feeding a cat something wildly different from the diet it has evolved on is more likely to result in harm than in good.”

My own personal experience with cats and hairballs goes all the way back to Feebee, my first cat. I didn’t know any better back then, so he grew up on a vet-recommended commercial diet, and he ate mostly dry food. He coughed up hairballs at least a couple of times a week, despite frequent brushing and regular dosing with Laxatone. He also developed all the classic feline diseases now associated with dry food and foods high in carbohydrates: urinary bladder stones, and later, IBD and intestinal lymphoma, which eventually took his life at age 16 in April of 2000.

When I adopted Amber three months after he died, I transitioned her from the vet-recommended dry food with the occasional canned grocery store brand canned food that she was fed at the clinic to a quality natural, protein-based grain-free canned diet. She didn’t have a lot of problems with hairballs even prior to the diet change, but after the change, she never had a hairball again.

Buckley had a major hairball problem while she was my office cat. She, too, was being fed the standard clinic diet of dry food with occasional canned food. When I took her home, she ate the same grain-free canned food Amber ate, and her hairballs virtually disappeared.

Allegra is my first raw-fed kitty. She has never had a hairball in the year she’s been with me. She also doesn’t shed. I’ve always brushed all my cats daily, but I’ve never had a cat who doesn’t shed. She also has the shiniest coat of all of my cats. I brush Allegra every day because she likes it, but the amount of hair I pull out of the brush after each session, compressed into a ball, is smaller than the size of my thumbnail.

Are hairballs a problem for your cat?

Today is National Hairball Awareness Day, which is sponsored by Furminator, Inc., and to mark the occasion, they have generously offered a Furminator Deshedding Tool for Cats to go to one lucky reader. Come back tomorrow to enter our giveaway!

Photo: Feebee.

You may also enjoy reading:

Some startling new thoughts on cats and hairballs

Inflammatory bowel disease and diet

Another Furball? It Might Be Feline Asthma

Guest post by Andrea Tasi, VMD

Has your cat been coughing? Watch the video below and you may recognize that sound. Many people assume that the cat is trying to cough up a hairball and don’t realize that their cat could have asthma. Untreated, asthma can progress and even be fatal. But, like human asthmatics, cats can be treated and the disease can be managed.

It is estimated that about 1% of cats suffer from asthma. Siamese, Burmese and other Oriental breeds show a greater incidence, but any breed can have asthma. It usually first occurs in young to middle-aged cats between the ages of two and eight.

It is widely recognized that asthma attacks can be triggered by allergens in the environment such as pollens, dust, smoke, fumes, mold, fragrances and aerosols. Heat, cold, stress and exertion can also trigger attacks.

What is Feline Asthma?

Feline asthma is a disorder of the lower airways, called bronchi and bronchioles, in which inflammation causes increased production of mucus, spasms of the airways and difficulty moving air out of the airways. It is considered to be an immune-mediated condition, which means that the inflammation is triggered by some allergic or over-active response of the cat’s own immune system.

What are the Symptoms of Feline Asthma?

Different cats may be affected in different ways, but the most common symptom is a wheezing or gagging cough, often called a hairball-type cough. In my professional experience however, hairballs do not cause coughing, as they are gastrointestinal and not respiratory in origin. Hairballs can cause retching, gagging and vomiting. With an asthmatic cough, most cats will stretch their necks out, get in a hunkered down posture and then cough in either a dry or moist sounding fashion. They may stick their tongues out a bit when coughing. Often it sounds and seems as if they are coughing some mucus up and then swallowing it.

Other symptoms may include decreased activity, becoming winded by normal activity, increased rate and effort of breathing and even open-mouth breathing in severely affected patients who are having trouble moving air out of their lungs.

Feline asthma in its most severe form can cause death by asphyxiation: the cat simply can’t breathe.

How is Feline Asthma Diagnosed?

A cat presenting with a history of coughing, wheezing and/or respiratory difficulty will usually need the following tests to determine what is going on:

• A thorough physical examination, including listening carefully to the lungs and heart.

• Chest radiographs, commonly known as x-rays. These help rule out other causes of respiratory symptoms like heart enlargement, fluid in or around the lungs, tumors or pneumonia. Many cats with feline asthma have prominent airways and hyperinflated lungs, which means too much air is trapped in the lungs. It is important to note that cats can be severely asthmatic and have normal chest radiographs.

 • A complete blood count: a blood test which looks at red and white blood cell numbers and helps determine if a patient is responding to inflammation or infection. Many cats with feline asthma have an increased number of eosinophils, a white blood cell type that responds to allergic and parasitic inflammation.

• A heartworm test. Heartworm disease can mimic the symptoms of feline asthma.

• A fecal test for intestinal parasites. Some intestinal parasites have life stages that migrate through the lungs and can cause inflammation and respiratory symptoms.

In general, the diagnosis of asthma is made by ruling out other causes of coughing and respiratory difficulty, as there is no one test that determines with 100% assurance that a cat has asthma or not.

How is Feline Asthma Treated?

Conventional medical treatment of feline asthma is based upon two main drug types:

• Corticosteroids: This class of drugs is anti-inflammatory in nature. Oral prednisone or prednisolone, and/or inhaled forms of corticosteroids are used to reduce the inflammation in the airways. Side effects of corticosteroids can include increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, weight gain, diabetes, lowered resistance to infection, and even behavioral changes.

• Bronchodilators: This class of drugs helps open up the airways. Both oral and inhaled forms of bronchodilators are used. Side effects are generally minimal with bronchodilators, but these drugs should never be used alone, as that can actually worsen the condition. Special inhalant masks are available for cats to administer these medications.

• Several other drugs, such as antihistamines and anti-leukotrienes, are also used by some veterinarians. Holistic veterinarians may use alternative medical therapies to treat some asthmatic cats.

If a cat is in an emergency situation in a veterinary clinic, oxygen therapy will also be used.

How Does Diet Relate to Feline Asthma?

In over two decades of feline practice, I have attended many continuing education seminars on feline asthma and rarely heard diet discussed as a potential cause or trigger for the condition.

However, I have had several clients who, on their own initiative, changed what they fed their cats and found that the symptoms of asthma were either greatly reduced or eliminated. What was the change they all made? They removed all dry food and all grain-based products from their cat’s diet.

Most did this by simply switching to grain-free canned cat foods. Some used balanced commercially prepared or home-made grain-free, raw meat cat foods, either as the only food fed or in combination with some grain-free canned foods. After observing this effect, I incorporated diet changes into my case management of cats with asthma. I began to see many cases where my patients no longer needed medication — or much reduced doses — to control their asthma symptoms. It is important to note that not all cases of asthma will improve with the elimination of dry food and grains. But it is worth considering this change as a much less intrusive method of reducing or controlling symptoms. I have never observed a worsening of a cat’s asthma from a gradual and nutritionally balanced diet change.

Why does this diet change help some cats? It is my opinion that the processed and fractionated grain products in many cat foods are strong triggers for allergic or overactive inflammatory responses in some cats. Remove these triggers, and these cats get better or are even cured.

If you have an asthmatic cat on medication and are interested in this approach, you must do this in consultation with your veterinarian. Do not, under any circumstances, simply stop giving your cat his/her medications.

If your cat is on high doses of corticosteroid drugs, it is also important to remember that these drugs can be suppressive to the immune system, rendering a cat more susceptible to infection. In these cases, I would advocate using either a canned or home cooked grain-free, nutritionally balanced food, not a raw diet.

httpv://youtu.be/NuNy_WubRrI

Andrea Tasi, VMD owns and operates Just Cats, Naturally, a housecall based, feline-exclusive practice dedicated to the holistic, individualized approach to each cat. Dr. Tasi uses classical  homeopathy, nutritional therapy, and behavior/environment-related techniques to help healthy cats stay well and help ill cats regain their health.

This article originally appeared on the Feline Nutrition website, and is re-posted here with their permission. The Feline Nutrition is dedicated to providing thoroughly researched information on feline health and nutrition. If you care about cats and their health, please consider joining the society. Membership is free, and a growing membership base will help the organization spread the word about species-appropriate nutrition for cats.

Continue Reading

Giveaway – FURminator Deshedding Tool for Cats

Tomorrow is National Hairball Awareness Day, and we’ve teamed up with Romeo the Cat and FURminator, Inc. to shed some light on this issue that plagues so many cats.

As we learned from Dr. Crist’s article Some Startling New Thoughts on Cats and Hairballs yesterday, hairballs actually have very little do with the fur that cats naturally ingest when grooming, but there are still numerous benefits from grooming your cat on a regular basis:

  • A grooming session can be a relaxing bonding time for you and your cat.   If your cat is not immediately receptive to grooming, start slow, and gradually increase the time you spend grooming.  Eventually, the calming, repetitive motion of brushing will have a relaxing effect on your cat (and you!).
  • More grooming means less shedding, and less cat hair around the house.
  • Grooming increases circulation – it’s like a mini-massage with some of the same health benefits as a massage.
  • A grooming session is an ideal time for you to run your hands and eyes over every inch of your cat’s body.  This may help with early detection of diseases such as lumps and bumps, skin issues, or parasites.

I’m giving away one FURminator Deshedding Tool for Cats.  If you’d like to win, leave a comment on this post and let me know why you would like one for your cat(s).  For an extra chance to win, tweet about the giveaway or share on Facebook and post the link in a separate comment.  This giveway is open until Sunday, May 16.

Some Startling New Thoughts on Cats and Hairballs

Guest post by Fern Slack, DVM

It is always the case that we vets deal with the same problems at home that we counsel our clients about.  And not always terribly well.  I’m certainly no exception.  Years ago, I had a long-haired cat who threw up hairballs frequently, but unlike most hairball-barfing cats, she did not just hack up the offending wad and then go about her business as though nothing had happened.  Nope, she would obviously feel ill for minutes to hours afterward.  And probably beforehand, too, had I had the vision to see it.

I tried all the time-honored remedies that I prescribed every day for my patients.  I dosed her with various brands of flavored petroleum jelly.  I fed her diets purporting to help with hairballs by the inclusion of extra fiber.  I brushed her constantly, which fortunately she loved.  None of these things helped.  Eventually I shaved her, leaving the adorable puffs on her legs and tail that made her look like a fat little old lady in tight leotard and legwarmers.  As long as I did this three or four times a year, there were no more hairballs.  Oddly enough, however, she continued to have vomiting episodes, albeit less frequently, and minus the hair.  Diagnostics revealed inflammatory bowel disease, and eventually my poor sweet girl succumbed to intestinal lymphoma.

While rooming with a brilliant feline practitioner at a medical conference shortly after, still grieving, I confessed my frustration with the seemingly insignificant problem of hairballs.  Her answer blew me away.  There is no such thing as “just a hairball,” she says to me.  Think about it.  Cats developed stringent grooming behaviors in the course of evolution because grooming is a positive survival factor, probably through  controlling parasitism  and other diseases.  So they are going to ingest a lot of hair.  Does vomiting as a daily method for expelling this hair seem evolutionarily sound?  Stomach acid hurts the esophagus and teeth, and frequent vomiting upsets the electrolyte balance.    While vomiting as an emergency mechanism to rid oneself of the occasional nastiness seems reasonable, it seems unlikely that the daily vomiting of hairballs is the “normal” thing that the medical community has assumed it to be.

I’m hooked.  Go on, I say.  She continues.

Why would we think that “lubrication” of the gut with petroleum products would help?  A cat is not a car.  And in no way could a cat have naturally evolved to require the dosing with “lubricants” to survive or to thrive.  Likewise, cats in the wild would never eat a “high-fiber” diet, and so would seem unlikely to benefit from one.  On the contrary, it would appear logical that a cat would thrive better on what a cat has been evolved to eat – namely a mouse or a reasonable facsimile thereof – and that feeding a cat something wildly different from the diet it has evolved on is more likely to result in harm than in good.

No, she says, I think it likely that a “hairball,” far from normal, is probably a common early symptom of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  Impaired motility of the gut would account for the balling up of hair that should pass right through, if stomach-emptying time is the 0.2 – 2 hours it is reported to be in a normal cat.  A cat shouldn’t be able to swallow enough hair fast enough to outrace normal stomach emptying time.

This is making sense to me.  Particularly as I just lost my own cat to this.  And as I think back, I realize that “hairballs” have been in the histories of a disproportionate number of the patients I’ve treated with IBD and lymphoma.

She tells me that she’s been changing her patients over to low-fiber diets (grain-free and low carbohydrate) for a while now, and she’s seeing a precipitous drop in the whole “hairball” thing.  I can see the long-term implications of this line of reasoning:  if cat food containing an unnaturally high level of fiber and carbohydrates is associated with an increased incidence of  impaired GI motility and vomiting, and if cats fed this way are at higher risk to develop IBD and lymphoma, then a drop in hairball vomiting might mean that a cat has a lower risk of these two nasty diseases.  Sounds as though a grain-free diet might be a better way to go.

This all made sense to me.  No science to it back then, but neither was there any to support the idea that hairballs are normal.  No one had at that time asked if a carbohydrate-based diet could possibly have long-term negative consequences for cats.

Well, they have now.   Every day, there’s more scientific evidence that these “mere” hairballs we see so often may respond, not to grease and not to fiber, not to brushing and not to shaving, but to feeding a diet that looks like what a cat was evolved to eat.

In the intervening years, I’ve changed my own cats over to grain-free, low-carb canned foods, and I’ve seen nary a hairball from anyone for a very long time.   In my esteemed colleague’s footsteps, I’ve been changing my patients over to these same diets.   I hear about fewer hairballs, and my patients  are slimmer, fitter, and healthier in many ways.  Is this a panacea?  Of course not.  There’s no one cure for everything.  But I now have serious trouble believing that a feline diet in which the calories are derived primarily from carbohydrates, which are much cheaper than proteins, is beneficial to anything other than the manufacturer’s bottom line.

So next time someone tells you that malt-flavored grease, fiber additives, brushing or shaving are the only ways to help with those annoying hairballs, think again.  Hairballs may be more than just a stinky mess for you to clean up.  They might well be a sign that your cat has a real health problem, and should see the veterinarian.  And your cat might be telling you that her gut would be happier with “mouse” than with breakfast cereal.

Dr. Slack graduated from the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia, and has been working exclusively with cats since 1993. She is the owner of Uniquely Cats Veterinary Center in Boulder, CO.