April is filled with holidays honoring our animal companions. There are so many that I’m writing write multiple articles to cover all of them. The two dates in this article are dedicated to one of my favorite pets: cats!
April 24: National Hairball Day
Like many pet holidays, National Hairball Day isn’t about a celebration but about bringing awareness to an issue. We can all do our cats a favor by educating ourselves on how to prevent hairballs and also how to recognize when hairballs are a sign of a more serious health issue.
Cats spend so much time grooming themselves, it’s no surprise they get hairballs. T he little barbs on their tongues strip away undercoat hairs. Most of that hair passes naturally through the digestive tract and is expelled into the litter box. If hair gets caught in the stomach, however, it’ll form a clump that will keep getting bigger and bigger in size. The longer this wad of hair is stuck in the stomach, soaking up bile, the more likely it’ll trigger regurgitation. Then owners are left with a mess of vomit to clean up.
The amount of hair a typical cat swallows while grooming varies. Long-haired cats are most prone to developing hairballs, especially in the warm months when more shedding happens. But short-haired cats aren’t immune. Also, cats with certain skin conditions or allergies might feel the need to groom themselves more often, and may ingest more of their own hair. Older cats are also more likely to develop hairballs.
Most cats get hairballs. For that reason, one might think hairballs are no big deal beyond their grossness. Unfortunately, sometimes that hair being collected in the stomach or the small intestine can stay there and cause a potentially life-threatening blockage in the digestive system. In this case, surgery might be required to remove the hairball. In addition, according to Cat Time, cats who frequently regurgitate their hairballs may have an underlying medical condition such as inflammatory bowel disease or even cancer. Finally, sometimes the hacking sound that cat owners typically associate with regurgitation is a symptom of something else. One cat owner writes in Catser of bringing her cat to the veterinarian and discovering the cat had asthma that was serious enough to require medication. For all of the above reasons, if a cat retches without producing a hairball or if a cat seems particularly susceptible to hairballs, call your vet.
I tell cat owners that more than one or two hairballs a year is not normal. Frequently, when a cat vomits there is hair mixed in, so owners often assume that it was just a hairball—something they think is a normal occurrence. In fact, there may be something else going on with the cat medically.
Assuming there isn’t another ailment behind hairballs, how can we as caring owners help prevent this build-up of hair in the stomach of our cats? We can brush our cats regularly, so that they swallow less hair during grooming. Dietary options include buying treats that contain natural vegetable fibers to help control hairballs, switching to a food formulated for this purpose, and making sure there’s plenty of water as hydration will keep the digestive tract in optimal shape. A hairball lubricant might be an option too. Because boredom can cause cats to groom more frequently, indoor enrichment (including extra playtime) can also help. Finally, a little stress prevention might also be in order if your cat has been recently exposed to changes in routine.
National Hairball Day is listed as one of the Pet Health Awareness Events of the American Veterinary Medical Association. However we decide to honor this day, we would all do well to ensure that our feline companions have all the remedies that they might need to cope with the hairballs that will inevitably affect them.
April 27: Free Feral Cat Spay Day
President of Alley Cat Rescue, Louise Holton, believes that cat rescue organizations cannot tackle the problem of 40 million homeless cats alone; they need the support of the veterinary community. Begun in 2010 by Alley Cat Rescue, Free Feral Cat Spay Day was designed to build and strengthen relationships between the public and the veterinary community. On the launch of Free Feral Cat Spay Day, Holton asked veterinarians to participate by offering at least two free spays or neuters to homeless and/or feral cats. 150 vets participated in the event.
Annually, Free Feral Cat Spay Day encourages community vets across the country to provide free spay/neuter surgery to homeless cats. According to Pet Health Central, since the introduction of this special day, more than 800 veterinarians from the United States, Canada, and South Africa have sterilized more than 9,000 cats. In addition to this one-day promotion, many communities are trying to publicize this issue year round.
For readers who follow LAA Talk, you might have read our January series about Trap-Neuter-Release being the best way to help our country’s epidemic proportions of homeless cats. TNR can help manage feral populations, as well as reduced euthanasia rates at shelters and also properly manage feral cat colonies.
TNR isn’t just spay/neuter. It’s also about the provision of food, water, and shelter to these community cats. Because they don’t have owners, they rely on caretakers to survive and to have healthy lives. However, the first step is to get feral cats spayed and neutered so that their populations will diminish over time. Help honor Free Feral Spay Cat by promoting awareness of TNR.