Time to Celebrate…April 26th was National Hairball Day!

We cat lovers know that this is not something you want to celebrate by being greeted by a big hairball presented by your cat. A celebration would be NOT waking up to a hairball on the rug!

For the past couple of years, there have been all kinds of events to celebrate this day including a celebrity lookalike competition where people were asked to brush their cats and take the fur and style it into a celebrity. I took part last year and got my cats’ shedded fur to look like Howard Stern – well sort of…but that’s for another post!

It’s so important to remember that while cats are self-groomers, they still need help from their pet parents, especially if they have long hair. This is also true if they are elderly and simply are not agile enough to groom themselves properly.

Most cats are able to expel hairballs by vomiting them up. But often the hairball you see is the tip of the iceberg of hair, so to speak. Hair that is ingested can cause a serious blockage in the intestinal tract and lead to all sorts of complications.

There are lots of excellent grooming tools on the market, which help to get rid of thick undercoats. I am always telling my friends with cats that grooming should be considered a fun way to spend quality time with your cat rather than a chore. And of course Sergeant’s makes their SENTRY Petromalt Hairball Relief in both a fish and a malt flavor, which is a laxative product to prevent the formation of hairballs. It’s simply a matter of putting a dollop on a front paw and letting the cat lick it off.

The medical term for a wad of indigestible hair is a bezoar. Cats are not the only domestic pets that suffer from hairballs; rabbits do too. So do cud-chewing animals such as cows, oxen, sheep, goats, llamas, deer and antelopes. And, wait for it…so do people! A human hairball is called a trichobezoar. It’s common in people who compulsively play with their hair and swallow it.

In fact, the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland has an exhibit of hairballs! Many of the museum’s veterinary specimens were collected in the late 1800s by U.S. army surgeons and were part of the museum’s comparative anatomy collection. At that time, army surgeons working in remote outposts who had infrequent opportunities to collect pathological materials for the museum instead contributed natural history specimens in order to promote the museum’s mission to become a general pathology museum with examples of “all forms of injury and disease.”

A Washington, D.C. resident contributed an unusual hairball in 1897 that he removed from a young chicken. The chicken was a pet and associated with a dog with which it had formed a strong attachment. It picked the hair from the dog, supposedly because there was no grass accessible. The chicken had been unable to eat for several days and was threatened with starvation. The owner surgically removed the hairball, and the chicken survived.

Entrance to the museum is free. If you are in the area, the address is 2500 Linden Lane, Silver Spring, MD 20910. If you go, please do post a photo on Pet Health Central’s Facebook wall!

Now remember, note to self – brush the cat!


-Photo Credit: From flickr by Steve Garner




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