Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. $12 for 12 weeks.
Lifestyle Pets

Ask the Pet Expert | Hairballs could be a sign of bigger problems

My cats have always had occasional hairballs, but one cat seems to have more than most — two or three a week. How can I prevent them, and should I worry?

Unfortunately, cats that vomit hairballs two or three times per week may be suffering from something much more serious than the common excuse of "just hairballs." Sometimes chronic vomiting may be due to a dietary hypersensitivity. But it could be something much more serious.  

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that of 100 cats with chronic vomiting studied, only one had normal gastrointestinal tissue biopsy results. The fact is that cats with chronic vomiting, even of hairballs,  may be dealing with underlying inflammatory bowel disease or even cancer of the small intestine.  

You should see your veterinarian if your cat has a problem with chronic vomiting of hairballs. We are discovering that this is not a stomach disease, but a small intestine disease. An abdominal ultrasound is recommended to evaluate the small intestine and if abnormalities are found, biopsies should be performed via abdominal surgery. A biopsy diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is the most common and overall carries a good prognosis. IBD is usually not curable, but proper treatment can help control chronic vomiting and weight loss. Symptoms may be controlled with immunosuppressant medications,  prescription diets, probiotics, and vitamin B12 injections. These must be discussed and managed only under the expert and knowledgeable guidance of your veterinarian.

This week's expert is Dr. Meghan W. Johnston of Hunt Valley Animal Hospital. Send your questions to

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Ask the Pet Expert | Cat splashing habit
    Ask the Pet Expert: Cat splashing habit

    Maggie is a 15-year-old indoor cat, and she loves to play in water. She climbs up on the toilet seat and splashes around. But she also splashes in the community water bowl (there are two other cats), and the water is all over the floor. She drinks by putting her paw in the water and then...

  • Ask the Pet Expert | Litter box problems
    Ask the Pet Expert | Litter box problems

    We have two cats, ages 13 and 17. One or both of them (we believe the older one) is leaving both urine and feces outside the litter box on an almost daily basis. We try to keep the litter clean and have no idea why he keeps on doing this. How can we retrain him? 

  • Ask the Pet Expert | While wife is away, cat won't play
    Ask the Pet Expert | While wife is away, cat won't play

    My wife recently took a job that involves travel, and our 4-year-old tabby seems very nervous while she's gone — he gets clingy and very vocal, and paces around the house until she returns. What can I do to calm him down?

  • Ask the Pet Expert | Cats fighting after brief separation
    Ask the Pet Expert: Cats fighting after brief separation

    My two cats are littermates and we've had them since they were about six weeks old — they are both neutered males and have gotten along perfectly. But recently one cat had surgery, and as part of his recuperation, we had to keep him in a separate part of the house. He is now recovered and...

  • Collared: Readers' pets
    Collared: Readers' pets

    Read about local pets, or share your own story. We're interested in cats and dogs, but also hamsters, hedgehogs, turtles, horses, chickens -- the whole pet gamut. For more information, email and be sure to put "Collared" in the subject line.

  • Adoptable pets at Baltimore-area shelters
    Adoptable pets at Baltimore-area shelters

    Here's a collection of a few of the dogs, cats and other critters in the Baltimore area who need homes. Be sure to check with the shelter before you go to verify that the animal you want is still there.

  • Four new dog breeds added to American Kennel Club
    Four new dog breeds added to American Kennel Club

    The American Kennel Club has recognized four more dog breeds, including a Spanish fishing dog and a South African guard dog, in a move allowing them to compete in prestigious canine competitions nationwide.

  • Baltimore Humane Society opening pet-food bank
    Baltimore Humane Society opening pet-food bank

    The Baltimore Humane Society is opening a new food bank for people who need assistance with the cost of feeding their pets.