Don’t Brush Off Feline Dandruff

Dandruff may be a cosmetic inconvenience that many people dread, but cats can suffer from this condition as well.

A tabby cat licking its pawDr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, shares with pet owners the diverse causes of this condition and how to treat dandruff in a feline friend.

“The causes of dandruff in cats can range from relatively simple—such as obesity that limits a cat’s ability to groom, allergies, or the build-up of the undercoat—to more serious issues—such as fleas or a skin infection—to very serious issues—such as cancers like cutaneous lymphoma,” Teller said. “There is also a condition called ‘walking dandruff’ that is caused by the Cheyletiella mite. This mite is usually prevented by flea control products.”

Other potential causes of feline dandruff include other external parasites (such as ticks and demodectic mange), bacterial or fungal infections, malnutrition, or an interrupted ability to groom (caused by factors like kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, pancreatitis, or even discomfort from arthritis).

“If an owner notices dandruff, it is certainly worth having the cat checked to rule out an underlying problem, especially if the cat has other concurrent problems,” Teller said. “If the cat is itchy; losing hair; vomiting; has a change in appetite, water consumption, or litter box use; or if the owner notices skin lesions or parasites, it is worth a visit to the veterinarian.”

Teller also advises that cat owners who are allergic to their pet may be bothered by cat dander and that a veterinary visit may allow for treatment of the cat that can help alleviate allergy symptoms in their owner.

“The treatment for feline dandruff will depend on the cause,” Teller said. “Some parasites may be treated with good flea control. Infections may require topical or systemic antibiotics or antifungals. Certainly, any underlying systemic disease should be treated. If obesity or arthritis is part of the problem, weight loss or pain control may be recommended.”

If no underlying problems are determined, an owner might be advised to brush their cat daily to distribute their pet’s natural skin oils throughout the coat and remove existing dandruff. If a cat has long hair or a thick coat, the cat may need to be brushed several times a day.

Cat owners should consult their veterinarian to determine which grooming practices are best for their pet.

“If the dandruff is more than just a few flakes, if the cat is itchy or is not acting normally, or if anyone else in the family (human or animal) develops skin lesions, it is worth a trip to the veterinarian,” Teller said.

Although it is important for pet owners to practice their due diligence and check in with their veterinarian to rule out the more serious causes of feline dandruff, Teller says that in many cases, dandruff is a minor condition.

“Most of the time, dandruff is a benign problem for the cat,” she said. “Fortunately, other cats don’t judge them for flaky skin, so if your veterinarian gives your cat a clean bill of health, don’t get too bothered by the dandruff.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

The Facts Of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease

Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a common condition in cats, encompassing many disorders that affect the animal’s bladder or urethra. To avoid FLUTD, it is important that owners keep an eye on the bathroom habits of their furry friend to ensure that they are as happy and healthy as possible.

A brown tabby cat looking out the windowDr. Audrey Cook, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, weighs in on the symptoms, causes, and treatments that owners should know about FLUTD.

FLUTD is a syndrome caused by a number of different underlying disorders; therefore, the range of symptoms is broad. Abnormal urination habits, including frequent urination, blood in urine, difficult or painful urination, and frequent “accidents” outside the litterbox may be indicative of a urinary tract disease.

These symptoms may arise from inflammation of the bladder or urethra, the presence of crystals or stones in the bladder, obstruction of the urethra, and more.

“Always seek veterinary care if your cat is straining to urinate but very little or no urine is passed,” Cook said, adding that your veterinarian will likely need to conduct an evaluation to determine the exact cause.

Owners concerned about their cat’s urination habits should consult their veterinarian as soon as possible, as FLUTD may cause more severe problems if left untreated.

“Although many cats with FLUTD will improve within a few days with symptomatic care, cats with this problem can become unable to urinate,” Cook said. “This is a medical emergency and must be addressed as soon as possible.”

Treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause but might involve medication, dietary changes, or surgical removal of stones.

Male cats are at a higher risk for urinary tract obstruction caused by FLUTD, such as bladder stones blocking their urinary tract, because their urethras are longer and narrower than those of female cats.

Additionally, this condition has a high rate of recurrence, as some cats are more prone to urinary disorders than others.

It is best practice for cat owners to ensure their pet’s litterbox is kept clean, that there are enough litterboxes for the number of cats in the household (at least one per cat, plus one additional litterbox), and that the cats always have access to fresh water.

Appropriate environmental enrichment may also help prevent FLUTD, since occurrence is higher in cats that are sedentary or obese.

Stress may also play a role in triggering a condition called idiopathic cystitis, a sterile inflammation of the bladder, which is one of the most common causes of abnormal urination in cats.

Although FLUTD may be a stressful experience for you and your cat, prompt and proper veterinary care can help keep your pet comfortable and happy.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Don’t Brush Off Your Cat’s Dental Health

February is Pet Dental Health Month, an opportune time for pet owners to check on in the health of their furry friend’s mouth.

Up-close shot of a cat's face with the mouth open, showing teethWhile pet owners may be more familiar with the importance of the oral health of their dogs, cats especially are at risk for developing dental disease, so regular dental care is paramount to maintaining their healthy set of teeth.

Dr. Bert Dodd, a clinical professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says oral diseases have serious repercussions on a cat’s well-being and that the prevention of developing these, and similar conditions, should be the main goal of dental care.

“Cats are at risk for periodontal disease, caudal stomatitis, tooth resorption, and oral cancer,” Dodd said, adding that an at-home dental care routine for cats should include daily tooth brushing, a water additive, a dental diet, and dental chews.

Liquid water additives that owners can add to their pet’s water bowl can prevent a buildup of plaque and tartar. Many brands will also freshen your pet’s breath.

Similarly, kibble dental diets are designed to gently scrape plaque and tartar from your cat’s teeth as they chew. Both water additives and dental diets promote dental health but should be used in addition to, not instead of, good oral hygiene and regular brushing.

Cat owners should brush the teeth of their feline friend daily, Dodd advised. Special feline toothbrushes and toothpaste can be purchased from most pet supply stores. Human toothpaste should never be used to clean the teeth of an animal, as cleaning agents harmless to humans may cause toxicity in pets.

When first implementing a dental care routine, pet owners may wish to consult with their veterinarian for advice on brushing techniques and acclimatizing their animal to a new routine.

“Dental care chew toys and treats for cats can also help clean the animal’s teeth,” Dodd said.

Aside from a regular at-home dental care routine, Dodd also said owners should bring their pet in annually for a dental cleaning and check-up. Since February is Pet Dental Health Month, many clinics may offer specials on dental care services in the coming weeks—now is a great time to schedule an appointment for your pet!

Cats acting abnormally, including dropping their food, head shyness, and lack of self-grooming, might be suffering from dental problems. Cat owners should not to ignore these signs and should seek veterinary help if they suspect their pet is unwell, according to Dodd.

Preventative dental care efforts pay off in the long run by protecting your pet’s mouth from disease and you from costly dental procedures. Though the notion of brushing a cat’s teeth might seem silly, it is necessary to ensure your pet feels their best.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Barn Cats: Made to Live in the Great Outdoors

Whether your feline friend is curled up next to you on the couch or lives outdoors, cats have a way of making their way into our hearts one way or another.

An orange and white fluffy cat looks out from a window in a stone and wood building

When Dr. Elizabeth Jeter isn’t lecturing in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, she can be found bringing fourth-year veterinary students to care for the animals at the Aggieland Humane Society, including those in the Barn Cat program.

While some cats do prefer living outside, “all cats are considered domestic,” Jeter said, adding that there are some differences that set these felines apart from others.

One of those differences is that barn cats serve a specific purpose.

“Most people seek out barn cats for the main purpose of having a form of organic pest control,” Jeter said. “They help control mice and rat populations, which is especially important in barns due to diseases that can be transmitted to livestock.”

According to Jeter, outdoor cats can have a wide range of personalities—they can be very social and friendly, or they can be feral, meaning they do not associate with humans and may even avoid human contact altogether.

“Each cat is as unique as a person,” Jeter said.

Because of this, the level of interaction between barn cats and humans will depend on the cat as well as the human.

“Some cats become a household icon, greeting everyone who comes to the barn, while others are rarely seen,” Jeter said. “Both cats are still working cats—they just have different attitudes.”

Barn cats have the same basic needs as other pets, but Jeter says it’s important for owners to acknowledge that caring for barn cats looks a little different.

“Special care needs to be taken with these cats, since they do not obey the same rules as friendly or indoor cats and are often treated more as wildlife,” she said. “An example of this special care may be working with veterinarians who understand how to handle feral cats, since they cannot be caught and handled like friendly or indoor cats and may need to be trapped in humane live traps.”

When owners bring a new barn cat home, they should be placed in a secure location, like a tack room or an indoor enclosure, where they cannot escape for the first three to four weeks.

“This allows them to acclimate to their new environment and familiarize themselves with where they will be fed,” Jeter said.

As with any other pet, it is important to provide outdoor cats with protective medical care, including vaccinations and spaying/neutering. Jeter explained that long-term medical care is necessary, especially since barn cats are exposed to hazards such as wildlife more than your standard house pet.

“It is most ideal to spay or neuter barn cats so they are not reproducing or displaying nuisance behavior, such as fighting or yowling,” Jeter said. “Spaying or neutering will also help them to do their job more effectively and make them more likely to stick around.

“Sometimes the barn cat life chooses you, and other times there may already be outdoor cats established in your area,” Jeter said. “It’s important for prospective owners to be willing and able to provide care for their outdoor companions to help them live their best lives.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Feline Fine: The Benefits of Catnip

For many cat owners, busting boredom in their feline friend is a sizable concern. Cats are notoriously choosy about their toys, and an under-stimulated cat might result in shredded furniture and shattered knick-knacks.

Tabby cat face with catnip in foregroundOne way owners can capture their cat’s interest is with catnip. Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains more on what this plant is and how owners can use it to enrich their cat’s environment.

Catnip is a member of the mint family, according to Teller.

Formally known as Nepeta cataria, catnip is a perennial herb that can grow to be up to three feet high. It contains a chemical called nepetalactone in its leaves and stems that can impact your cat’s behavior.

When cats are exposed to nepetalactone by smell, it acts as a stimulant, causing some cats to have an uptick in activity. When ingested, nepetalactone has a sedative effect. It is thought that this chemical mimics natural pheromones, acting on those receptors to elicit a response.

“Catnip has a psychoactive effect, meaning that it can make cats high for about 15-30 minutes after exposure,” Teller said.

Cats under the influence of catnip may roll around, dart across the room, flip over, and exhibit general hyperactivity. Others may be very chill. However, Teller warns that “not every cat is susceptible to these effects.”

Cat owners interested in introducing this herb to their pet’s environment may do so by purchasing toys containing catnip, or they may purchase the herb loose and sprinkle it over areas they would like their cat to frequent, such as a scratching toy.

The herb can be given fresh or dry, though some cats might have a preference in which form they like best. Crafty cat owners might consider growing the herb themselves, as it thrives in most of North America and is relatively easy to care for.

Though catnip can be a great way to enrich your furry friend’s routine, owners should be cautious in how often they expose their cat to this herb.

Catnip is unlikely to cause an overdose, but too much can cause nausea and vomiting. If this occurs, pet owners should remove catnip from their cat’s environment.

Frequent exposure might also reduce the effect catnip has on your cat.

Pet owners concerned about introducing catnip to their pet’s routine should, as always, consult with their veterinarian. Catnip can be a unique and stimulating treat for your pet that may enrich their playtime and provide an adorable display of activity for you to watch!

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Don’t Sugarcoat It: The Facts of Feline Diabetes

November is Diabetes Awareness Month, a time that calls attention to the impact this disease has on millions of Americans and to the daily health choices we make. But while most associate diabetes with humans, many do not realize that our feline friends are also susceptible to the disease.

Orange tabby cat sitting next to a string toy

Dr. Audrey Cook, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences who is board certified in feline practice, shares with cat owners how this condition may present in their pet and how it can be managed.

“Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a fairly common endocrine disease in domestic cats,” Cook said. “Although there are many reasons why cats become diabetic, most cats have underlying insulin resistance, much like people with type 2 diabetes. This means that an affected cat may still be able to produce some insulin, but the body does not respond to this appropriately and the insulin produced is not enough to control blood sugar concentrations.”

Symptoms of feline DM include excessive urination, excessive thirst, lethargy, weight loss, and increased appetite. Cats who are obese, older than 7 years, inactive, male, and neutered are at a higher risk for developing DM. Certain breeds may also be predisposed, and some commonly used medications, such as glucocorticoids (steroids), may also increase the risk of diabetes.

“If your cat shows any signs suggestive of diabetes, please talk to your veterinarian immediately,” Cook said. “Most cats respond well to treatment with insulin, but a delay in starting therapy can cause serious problems.”

Most cats will require insulin injections twice daily, though a variety of treatment options are available. A veterinarian will likely recommend a specific diet and will address weight issues if the cat is carrying any extra pounds.

Owner participation plays a key role in the management of feline DM. In addition to the administration of insulin, owners must monitor their cat’s daily activities, including water and food intake and urine production. Many owners also check blood-glucose levels at home, although this is not a requirement for successful diabetic regulation.

“We have a lot of options for monitoring our feline diabetic patients,” Cook said. “Some of our diabetic cat owners learn to collect a tiny amount of blood and others prefer to check the blood glucose using a device that is placed on the back of the cat’s neck and scanned with a smartphone. We can also run tests in the hospital that let us know how well the insulin is working.”

Regular veterinary visits are important for long-term disease management, as insulin doses may need to be adjusted over time. Some cats undergo remission, in which case insulin is no longer needed.

Although a diagnosis of DM can be daunting, many cats do well with treatment and live happy, comfortable lives.

“Owners should find a veterinarian who is interested in this disease and who has experience in caring for cats with DM,” Cook said. “Treating a cat with DM takes some extra effort, but most owners are very satisfied with the outcome and say that caring for their cat made the bond between them even stronger.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

A Scent-sitive Subject: Essential Oil Diffusers and Your Cat

Essential oils are often presented as a naturalistic approach to personal care and home fragrance. However, just because these oils are derived from plants doesn’t make them healthy, or even safe, for your cat.

Dr. Murl Bailey, a professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), advises pet owners to use essential oils with caution.

When essential oils are used in fragrance diffusers, the oils are widely distributed within a room. Because many of the oils commonly purchased in stores can be toxic to cats, if a cat breathes in a harmful oil, it may cause respiratory irritation.

“Diffused oils are very dangerous, as the oils are inhaled,” Bailey said. “Not only are these oil droplets dangerous themselves, but the inhalation of these oils can cause a foreign body pneumonia in cats.”

Symptoms of respiratory irritation include a watery nose and eyes, drooling, vomiting, and difficulty breathing. In cats, difficulty breathing may be mistaken for the animal trying to expel a hairball. Difficulty breathing can be distinguished by the cat crouching low to the ground with little abdominal movement and no hairball production.

If a cat owner suspects that their pet is in distress, they should move their cat to fresh air immediately. If the cat does not quickly recover, the owner should seek emergency veterinary care. For any instances of poisoning, owners can also call the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661 or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

Essential oil diffusers also pose the hazard of tipping over. If this happens, there is the possibility that a cat might ingest spilled oils, which Bailey warns against.

“Essential oils should never be given by mouth or in the animal’s food,” Bailey said. “Oral ingestion can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and central nervous system depression, which can cause symptoms such as decreased heart and breathing rate. Seizures are also possible from large doses.”

Some diffusers, which act by aerosolizing the oil, release micro-droplets into the air that may collect on the fur of a pet cat. When the cat grooms itself, the oil may be ingested and the cat may suffer the above consequences.

Though cat owners should consult with their veterinarian before introducing new products to their pet’s environment, Bailey provides a list of more common oils that are toxic to pets:

  • Basil
  • Bergamot
  • Bitter almond
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove Leaf
  • Eucalyptus
  • Geranium
  • Juniper
  • Lavender
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Lime
  • Mint (Including wintergreen, spearmint, and peppermint)
  • Myrrh
  • Orange
  • Pine
  • Rose
  • Rosemary
  • Sandalwood
  • Sassafras
  • Tarragon
  • Tea tree
  • Thyme
  • Wormwood
  • Ylang ylang

Other less common essential oils that are also toxic include Armoise, Bay leaf (W. Indian), Birch (sweet), Boldo leaf, Buchu, Calamus, Clary Sage, Cornmint, Horseradish, Japanese Yew, Hyssop Lanyana, Mustard, Oregano, Pennyroyal (N. Am.), Pennyroyal (Eur.), Sassafras (Brazilian), Savin, Savory (Summer), Southernwood, Spruce, Tansy, Thuja, Tree wormwood, large wormwood, Western Red Cedar, and Wormseed.

These products offer a natural method of home fragrance, but what works for you may not always be best for your pet. When using essential oils in the home, a cautious approach is best. As always, pet owners should consult with their veterinarian about any hesitancy they have before using these products to ensure that they are acting in the best interest of their pet.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Eating Your Greens: The Basics of Cat Grass

When confronted with the topic of healthy eating, we, as humans, are frequently reminded of the importance of including daily greens in our diets. Does your cat’s diet need the same?

Dr. Lori Teller, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the basics of cat grass that every cat owner should know.

“Cat grass isn’t any one type of grass but can be a combination of grasses, such as rye, barley, oat, and wheat,” Teller said. “Cat owners can buy kits at many stores to grow cat grass for their kitties.”

Most owners don’t need to rush to the store to purchase this grass for their pet cat, however, as it is not always necessary to complete their diet.

“Cat grass is not a required part of a cat’s diet if the food they are eating is well-balanced, but it is something that many cats enjoy,” Teller said. “Especially for indoor cats, it can be a source of environmental enrichment. In some cases, it may provide some micronutrients, such as vitamins A and D.”

The reasons cats seek out such grass are still unclear. Though veterinarians have yet to come to a consensus on one definitive answer, several theories exist.

“One theory is that cat grass is a source of fiber that can either act as a mild laxative or trigger vomiting,” Teller said. “When cats lived in the wild, they may have eaten grass to trigger vomiting to rid their stomachs of the non-digestible parts of the prey they ingested. It is also thought that the chlorophyll contained in the grass could serve as a mild pain reliever and help keep the cat’s breath fresh.”

Teller also advises that owners shouldn’t be nervous about introducing cat grass to their pet’s environment, even if it something their pet hasn’t yet encountered.

“For outdoor cats, homegrown cat grass will be safer than what they may nibble on outside because those plants may have been exposed to chemicals or water contaminated with bacteria that may cause disease,” Teller said. “While it would not be dangerous to have the cat grass freely available, if a cat seems to eat it voraciously, then it may be worth consulting with a veterinarian to determine if the cat’s diet is meeting all of its nutritional needs.”

Owners residing in multiple-pet households can also be assured that cat grass is likely a safe addition to their home.

“It is not likely that cat grass would be a problem for other animals in the household,” Teller said. “The bigger concern would be if a cat or other animal confused cat grass with other plants in the home that are potentially toxic. It is important to keep those plants out of reach of any pets.”

Ultimately, the decision to introduce cat grass to a feline friend is up to their owner. As always, cat owners should consult with their veterinarian if they are concerned about nutritional deficiencies in their cat’s diet.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Detecting the Subtle Signs of Pain

The first step in caring for a sick or injured animal is being able to recognize the signs of pain that indicate something is wrong. Acute pain tends to be easier to identify, but chronic pain can have a variety of less-noticeable symptoms.

To help pet owners recognize these symptoms, Dr. Daniel Eckman, a veterinarian at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the most common indicators of pain in cats and dogs.Cat licking its paw

“Signs of chronic pain in cats may include a reluctance to jump or a change in jumping, a change in overall mobility, a change in sleeping locations or positions, and the inability to get comfortable when laying down,” Eckman said.

Chronic pain may cause cats to have changes in appetite or thirst and to use the litter box less often, especially if it has a high rim to climb over. Odd grooming behavior, such as excessive licking, biting and scratching at one spot, or lack of grooming, can also indicate that a cat is in pain.

Cat owners may notice more subtle behavioral changes, as well, such as odd facial expressions, increased vocalization, or a reluctance to be petted.

Similarly, dogs also tend to be more withdrawn while in pain and may even show aggression when approached or touched.

“Signs of chronic pain in dogs may include limping, difficulty getting up or down from a lying position, changes in jumping ability, restlessness, and difficulty walking on a slippery floor or going up and down stairs,” Eckman said.

Like cats, dogs may also exhibit odd grooming behaviors or facial expressions, and may even pant or tremble when in pain.

“Determining the cause of pain may be difficult, so it is best to team with your veterinarian to identify the sources of pain and the best ways of treating it,” Eckman said.

Dogs and cats often have the natural instinct to hide signs of pain, as this would keep them alive in the wild, so it is very important that pet owners know the subtle signs of pain and take pets to a veterinarian if they exhibit any signs.

Eckman recommends visiting the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management blog (https://ivapm.org/pet-owner-blog/) for more information on recognizing signs of pain in cats, dogs, large animals, and exotic pets.

Our pets may not be able to verbally communicate with us, but they do have their own ways of telling us when they need help. As pet owners, it is our job to recognize those behavioral changes and do what we can to keep our animals free from pain.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Handling A Hairball Hassle

As every cat owner knows, hairballs are not very pleasant for the cat or the person who cleans them up. They can also be an indication of other health issues, especially if they are happening frequently.cat

In honor of National Hairball Awareness Day on April 26, Dr. Carly Patterson, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the causes of hairballs and how to reduce their occurrence.

She said that while any cat can get hairballs, they tend to be most common in long-haired cats.

“There are two basic mechanisms by which hairballs are generated,” Patterson said. “Hairballs form when too much hair accumulates in the cat’s gastrointestinal tract or when there is a change in overall gastrointestinal tract motility.”

Frequent hairballs can be a sign of an underlying disease or health issue, so if a cat is having hairballs regularly, it should see a veterinarian.

“Cats may have itchy skin and groom excessively, which causes them to ingest more hair than usual,” Patterson said. “Cats may also over-groom when they are in pain.”

Once the cause of the hairballs is known, a veterinarian can recommend a personalized treatment plan, often involving diet changes, daily grooming, and sometimes even medications.

“If a cat frequently vomits hairballs and it is not due to gastrointestinal disease, then it is possible that increasing overall dietary fiber may help minimize hairball formation by moving material through the gastrointestinal tract,” Patterson said.

Feeding multiple small meals throughout the day rather than one or two big meals can also reduce hair buildup in the gastrointestinal tract, she said. In addition, daily brushing can reduce the amount of excess hair, especially for long-haired cats.

If the problem persists, the cat’s veterinarian may recommend medications such as lubricant laxative drugs to promote hair movement through the gastrointestinal tract and to reduce hairballs.

“It is important that an owner work with their veterinarian to address any underlying medical problems first,” Patterson advised. “Long-term medical management with drugs should not be the first choice.”

Hairballs may be a common problem, but they can usually be greatly reduced with simple changes in diet and grooming. Life without regular hairballs will be much happier, both for you and your cat.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.