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Ask Einstein the Cat: What's the Deal With All the Hairballs I'm Hurling?

Those gooey turd-shaped land mines don't have to be a regular occurrence. Here's some tips to help cut down on hairball hurling.

 |  May 5th 2014  |   1 Contribution


Dear Einstein,

I can’t believe it. I practiced for an entire year to compete in the Sochi Winter Olympics Hurling event, but didn’t make the cut. In regional competitions I tossed a perfect 10 on the Linda Blair scale for form and accuracy. Just tonight I landed a wad on a pile of completed income tax extension forms. (You should have heard my owners cheer when they found them!)

But I choked during the Olympic preliminaries. I’m so disappointed in myself. Now, I’m going to have to find some other way to gain international recognition. Any suggestions?

Ralphie O’Hurley

Does your cat love to toss and hurl? Cat by Shutterstock.

Hey Ralph,

You know what they say -- “hairballs happen!” There’s always the 2016 Summer Olympics. You can start working out for the projectile vomiting and shotpuke events right now.

We kitties spend much of our day grooming loose fur from our coats with our barbed tongues. Because we’ve never mastered the ability to spit out the fur once it’s become tangled on our oral organ, we have to swallow all that hair. As it moves along our digestive tract the loose strands wad into a tight tube, looking a lot like hairy anal output.

If you're a fluffy cat, you're probably going to produce hairballs at some point. Photo by Tomi Tapio

A little bit of fur can move through the digestive tract with no problems. However, when you shed a lot, the gob grows too large to pass out of the stomach’s exiting sphincter. (Yes, Ralphie, our bodies are teeming with sphincters.)

So you hack it up and Mom finds those gooey turd-shaped land mines, conveying a message similar to, “Kilroy was here.” More accurately translated, it says, “Kilroy needs brushing,” or “Give Kilroy hairball remedy.” While hairballs usually curse longhaired cats, any kitty can spew them out. Most of the time, hairballs are just a nuisance, but globs that are required to display wide-load signage can sneak past the stomach and cause constipation or even a life-threatening intestinal blockage. So your love of sports is not without risks. 

To put a stop to your production of new carpet accessories, your mom can gently brush out the loose fur once or twice a week. G-E-N-T-L-E is the operative word here. If she doesn’t understand that, then I suggest that you deposit one of your presents in her favorite shoes. During the fall and spring shedding season, she might want to run a brush through your coat every day, especially if you sport longer locks.

During shedding season your mom should use a slicker brush or a Zoom Groom (my fav cuz it feels like a massage) two or three times a week (more frequently if you’re longhaired), if only to reduce the amount of fur she finds all over the furniture and her clothes. If you’re shorthaired, she needs to get the brush out once a week, and tend a medium or long coat at least every few days, more often if the fur is longer or denser. Persians coats need to be brushed daily. When she’s finished brushing, she should run a pin brush or comb through the fur to find any remaining tangles. If Mom finds one, and it’s not too dense, she might be able to work it out with a slicker. And Ralph, if you have a matted coat, never sit still for a bath cuz those mats will tighten as they dry and that hurts. 

Regular brushing helps prevent hairballs and tangles. Cat grooming by Shutterstock.com

Remember, we kitties have thin skin, more so than a dog. Mom should only use a soft wire slicker brush labeled for cats, and only brush in the direction the hair grows -- not against it. She should start brushing at your tail end and work her way toward your head.  

To make sure everything is sliding in the appropriate direction, she can give you some commercial hairball remedy, add one-half teaspoon of safflower oil to your food or try some canned pumpkin (it really doesn’t taste too bad). If that doesn’t stop the barfing, you may need to show some of your athletic abilities to your vet. Your occasional puking may not be hairballs at all, but symptoms of lurking disease.

Longhaired cats groom themselves and swallow a lot of fur. Persian cat by Shutterstock.com.

Once you’ve reduced the amount of material available for projectile production, your human won’t be able to witness your puking prowess, but I’m sure she will understand. I would love to see a brother (or sister) feline represent our species in Rio. So instead of the shotpuke, you might train for some less stressful events like the long jump, the triple jump and the standing jump. And just think how much fun you can have in the broad jump sandboxes between competitions.

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Got a question for he who knows everything feline? Just Ask Einstein in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. (Letters don't have to be written from the cat's point of view.) Remember, any change in your cat's behavior or activities could be a symptom of disease and should be investigated by your vet, even if it unfortunately involves glass tubes and cat posteriors.

About the author: Einstein’s assistant, Dusty Rainbolt ACCBC, is the vice president of the Cat Writers’ Association, editor-in-chief of AdoptAShelter.com, and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She’s the award-winning author of eight fiction and non-fiction books including her most recent paranormal mystery, Death Under the Crescent Moon. 

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