Cough Up A Hairball Lately?

Give your cat the brush off for good health.

Although their oddly barbed tongues make excellent combs, cats usually need some help keeping themselves well-groomed, particularly in their senior years.
Cats’ tongues are covered on top by backward-pointing barbs called papillae that help prevent matting as they comb through the coat. Unfortunately, they also propel loose hair into the throat where it gets swallowed. Usually, the hairs just take a nature tour through kitty’s innards with no harm done.
However, most cat owners have had the pleasure of seeing what happens when things get backed up – hairballs. Whether they are ejected from the north or south end of the cat, the process can take days to weeks and cause significant illness in the meantime. I once euthanized a cat with a hairball that distended the entire stomach.

Daily brushing significantly reduces the amount of loose hair your cat will ingest and is the most effective way to decrease hairball problems. Ever finicky, cats can even be fussy about what touches their coats, so try a few different styles of brush to find one she likes.

Brushing is better, not to mention easier, than trying to dose Tigger with tubes of messy, sticky Vaseline-based hairball remedies. These products have a place and should be used regularly if hairballs occur despite regular brushing sessions. Frequent hairball problems should prompt a visit to the vet.

As cats age or get fat, they become less flexible. I’m sure many of us can relate. Kitties that have kept themselves looking slick for years may suddenly develop solid matts along the center of their backs, a hard to reach area. The first sign that your cat isn’t grooming well may be a slightly scruffy strip down the back that seems sensitive or itchy when touched. Again, daily brushing is a good solution.

Healthy cats don’t need to have their nails trimmed, but it’s a good idea to start the procedure with kittens to get them used to it. As cats age, their nails stop shedding the outer shells normally. The nails get thick and will grow right into the pads. We see lame cats with infected feet regularly for this problem. Trim your cats’ nails at least once a month if only to keep them comfortable with the exercise.

Only three of my several thousand clients brush their cats’ teeth on any kind of a regular or effective basis. It’s a challenge and takes commitment. Some cats seem to have naturally healthy mouths and those that hunt take advantage of nature’s toothbrushes in the prey they eat. But, for kitties with tartar, brushing daily would make them healthier and happier. If you decide to give it a go, start slowly.

Cornell University has an excellent video online on how to train your cat to accept toothbrushing. Visit Partners in Animal Health. There are a number of other topics covered on the website, including nail trims and managing destructive scratching.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Trenton/Quinte West, Ontario
May, 2013