The Complete Cat Hairball Guide: Everything You Need to Know

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As a cat parent, you probably dread that sound. The sound that makes you jump up quickly from your resting place.  You know the one: the ack, aaaccckkk, retching sound your beloved kitty makes when she is about to heave up a hairball.

While hairballs are a fairly common occupational hazard of being a cat parent, you might be surprised to learn that they are not a normal part of a healthy cat’s life. In the last five years or so veterinarians have been paying more attention to the underlying causes of hairballs, according to Dr. Cathy Lund, of City Kitty, a feline-only veterinary practice in Providence, R.I., and Dr. Neil Marrinan of Old Lyme Veterinary Hospital in Old Lyme, Conn.

“We used to think hairballs were pretty innocuous, but we have learned that cats who experience difficulty with hairballs may be cats who have intestinal issues,” Lund says.

Because while that hacking sound may make pet parents think their cat has allergies or asthma, hairballs don’t originate in the lungs. Hairballs originate in the stomach. “When you see a hairball, you know your cat is vomiting,” Marrinan says.

What Do Cat Hairballs Look Like?

You probably know one when you see one, but to be clear, hairballs are thick mats of hair that are usually tubular in form—not shaped like a ball, despite the name—and are covered in a slippery or slimy substance (mucus). The more-oval shape comes from passing through the esophagus. Hairballs can be as small as an inch or up to a few inches or more in size.

How Do Cat Hairballs Form?

Cats ingest hair as they lick themselves repeatedly while grooming their coats. Because a cat’s tongue has backward-facing barbs on it, the tongue moves hair into the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach.

Even longtime pet parents of the most fastidious felines might be surprised to learn that a cat spends 30 percent of her waking hours grooming herself, Lund says. “Hairballs are a side effect of cats being obsessive-compulsive groomers.”

Any cat can develop hairballs, from long-haired breeds to domestic shorthairs, the doctors note.

What Causes Cat Hairballs?

Under normal circumstances, the grooming obsession that causes cats to ingest hair should not be a problem. The hair should move through the digestive system along with food and be eliminated in feces. Hairballs become a problem when the cat’s digestive system fails to move the hair efficiently through the stomach and intestines and out of the body as waste.

“It’s a mechanical problem, whether it (the hair) makes it past the stomach is a question of motility (how quickly matter moves through the digestive system),” Lund says.

Some treatable health issues can cause motility problems. Some illnesses that can slow down digestion include hyperthyroidism and inflammatory bowel disease, Marrinan says. Other underlying gastrointestinal issues that can make your cat prone to hairballs include gastroenteritis, intestinal cancers and valve problems.

Cat Hairballs: How to Handle Them

An occasional hairball may not be anything serious—cats can vomit up hair and food if they eat too fast or develop a sensitivity to their regular food, Marrinan says.

“Occasional vomiting also may be due to eating plants outside, but if you notice it, and certainly if it is more than once a month, it is likely a problem,” he says.

Due to the seriousness of some of the potential causes of hairballs, however, Marrinan and Lund suggest pet parents take their cat to the vet if she starts producing hairballs. The only way to determine if a simple change in diet is enough to resolve the issue or a more serious health problem is present, is to have your regular vet examine your cat, both doctors stress.

Diagnosing Hairballs in Cats

To get to the bottom of the hairball issue, your vet will likely want to conduct some diagnostic tests, which can include bloodwork, X-rays and an ultrasound of your cat’s stomach and intestines, or an endoscopy—using a tiny scope to look inside your cat’s stomach while she is anesthetized and taking tissue samples to biopsy (examine under a microscope).

Treating and Preventing Hairballs in Cats

Treatment requires identifying and addressing the underlying cause, whether it is an inflammatory bowel disease, cancer or dietary issue. Some breeds, such as Maine Coon and Rag Doll, are susceptible to intestinal valve problems, which can contribute to the development of hairballs, Lund says.

The occasional hairball can be prevented by feeding your cat a flavored petroleum-jelly-based remedy that will help move hair through the digestive system. “Think brown sugar flavored Vaseline,” Marrinan says of the over-the-counter remedies.

Also, some vets may recommend changing your cat’s diet.

The Bottom Line on Cat Hairballs

The most important thing to keep in mind is that vomiting up hairballs is not normal or healthy in cats, both doctors stress.

If your cat is throwing up hairballs, don’t try to treat the symptoms without knowing what is causing her to vomit. Take her to the vet for an accurate diagnosis and precise treatment.

Have We Seen Your Cat Lately?

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Cats are America’s #1 pet

There are 86.4 million pet cats in the United States, compared with 78.2 million pet dogs, making cats the most popular pet. A third of U.S. households own at least one cat and more than half of those own at least two.
Since the days of the ancient Egyptians and throughout history cats have earned their reputation as affectionate, intelligent, clean, easily trainable, playful and fun family pets. As a cat owner, you probably agree.

Veterinarian Visits Are Declining

Despite the fact that in the last five years the number of pet cats has increased to more than 4 million, the number of feline veterinarian visits is declining. Compared with dogs, nearly three times as many cats did not receive any veterinary care in the past year. This is a disturbing trend that leads us to ask pet owners, “Have we seen your cat lately?”

The American Association of Feline Practitioners and American Animal Hospital Association recommend a minimum of one annual wellness exam for cats, with more frequent exams for senior and geriatric patients, or those cats with medical or behavioral conditions.

What can You do?

What can you do to stay on track and help your cat get the health care they deserve? Call us! We have reminder systems to help you stay on track. We also have a Preventive Plan for Cats of all ages. They include the necessary vaccines and tests all at 10% off regular prices. You can also either pay all at once or pay in monthly installments to help make it more affordable. 

Canine Influenza

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By now you probably know that the Canine Influenza has confirmed cases in Northern California.  Some interesting factoids are:

  • It spreads by air, hands or clothing.  It does live on surfaces for 48 hours. 
  • You can kill the virus by using diluted bleach for 10 minutes. 
  • Symptoms appear about 2-3 days after exposure.
  • Dogs shed the virus before showing signs.
  • Testing should be done within 3-4 days of clinical signs.
  • Symptoms last 2-3 weeks.
  • Most dogs recover on medication without hospitalization.

Symptoms are:

  • A cough
  • Runny eyes and or nose
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • In cats, they have a nasal discharge and congestion, lethargy, lip-smacking and excessive salivation.

If your pet has any of the symptoms, please give us a call.  Do not bring your pet inside the hospital. 

What are the risk factors?  They can include:

  • Going to dog parks
  • Daycare or boarding facilities
  • Groomers
  • Play dates with other dogs
  • Or, dogs that come in contact with other dogs.

If your pet has any of these risk factors, we recommend that you have your pet vaccinated.  Remember that if you decide to keep your pet inside and away from other dogs, you can bring it back to your house on your shoes or clothes.  The vaccine is required for all dogs boarding at Rocklin Road Animal Hospital.  There are tow doses 2-4 weeks apart then yearly.  Maximum immunity is seven days after the second vaccine.  The vaccine that we carry covers the H3N8 and the H3N2.

For more information, please go to or give us a call!

Don't PANIC about your pet's skin

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Pets’ skin conditions can drive an entire household a little crazy with the constant biting, licking and SO. MUCH. SCRATCHING.

But if your pet is suffering from a skin problem, there’s hope. Here are the top 4 things you need to know about your furry friend’s skin.


Dermatology cases are no walk in the park—in fact, it might surprise you to know there are over 160 skin conditions that affect dogs, ranging from curable to incurable. Veterinarians need to understand what is really happening to and within the skin before appropriate therapeutic strategies can be employed. Since it takes a new, healthy skin cell about four weeks to mature and be present near the skin surface, even curable skin diseases may take weeks to resolve. For the incurable cases, controlling an ongoing skin disorder through selected diets, medications, shampoos, sprays, fatty acids and vitamin supplements is the often the best we can do for our pets. But before you panic about how to handle your pet’s skin condition, review the most important things pet owners should know about skin conditions.


Some skin conditions are zoonotic.

What does this mean? Well, whatever’s causing your pooch to scratch may be the same thing that’s bothering your skin. And you should know: The veterinarian’s first priority is ensuring human health above all else. When some pets’ skin conditions are ignored or not addressed immediately, there is a risk of transmission to humans. So if you suspect something is troubling your pet, see your veterinarian in a hurry.

It is important to use antibiotics responsibly.

Antibiotics are not recommended for every skin infection. It is imperative that when your veterinarian prescribes an antibiotic, you finish the entire prescription. Do not try to give a few pills left over from last year when your pet has a skin flare-up—not only is this practice unsafe, it can also build the bacteria’s natural resistance to antibiotics. Together we can reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance.

Ear infections are usually due to allergies.

For a pet that has more than two ear infections in the past year, it is important to ask the why and discuss what could be the underlying triggers with your veterinary team.

Many allergies can be managed.

Allergies don’t have to be treated with a barrage of steroids and antibiotics each time. There are many tools available to treat and manage allergies in pets. It is important to discuss a game plan with your veterinarian so you can be sure your pet is getting the best dermatologic care possible.


How to Create Low-Stress Veterinary Visits for Cats

By Educational, Guides, Uncategorized


The ominous hissing, the mournful meows, the defensive scratching or biting, the upset bowels-feline stress is just plain unpleasant for cats and you.  Many cats get stressed when it’s time for a veterinary visit.  Thankfully, there are ways to help cats relax and enjoy the ride-yes even in the car.  Here’s what you can do.

 Transport your cat in a carrier

Putting cats in a carrier on the way to and from the veterinary clinic is extremely important.  Cats are often startled by loud noises or other pets, and if you’re carrying your cat in your hands, you might not be able to hold on if it abruptly tries to get away. Also, cats that are allowed to roam freely inside the car face the risk of more severe injury should there be an accident.

Choose a hard-plastic carrier with a removable top

Some cats might resist being put into a carrier.  But removable tops make getting cats into-and out of-the carrier easier.  Simply undo the screws or latches, lift off the top, set the cat in the bottom, and replace the top.  This eliminates the need to force the cat inside, which makes the cat-and you-more relaxed.

Make the carrier a favorite place

Some cats come to love their carriers.  When cats see their carriers as safe, enjoyable places, they’re happy to go into them and feel more safe in scary places, like the car.  Use these strategies to create crate fondness in your cat:

  • Leave the carrier out in your house so your cat can access it at any time.
  • Make the carrier inviting by putting a favorite blanket or toy in it.
  • Every now and then, lay a few treats inside the carrier.

Head to the veterinary clinic for “happy visits”

Does your cat seem to bristle at the thought of visiting the veterinarian?  Then take it on a few stress -free trial runs.  Call the veterinary clinic to ask if the schedule would allow you and your cat to stop in for five or 10 minutes.  You won’t be making a medical visit, but rather a mock appointment that allows your cat to experience all the steps of a routing visit without the physical examination.  This free-of-charge “happy visit” gives your cat the chance to get used to the sounds and smells of the clinic, meet the veterinary team members, and eat a few treats all while enjoying the safety of its carrier.  After some canoodling, you and your cat will head back home.

If a car ride alone puts your cat in a tailspin, entice your cat into its carrier and start by going for a test drive around the block.  Continue to take a drive every now and then, gradually increasing the amount of time you and your cat spend in the car.  Remember to reward your cat with a treat for being a good passenger.  Eventually, you’ll work your way up to doing a drive that will allow you and your cat to make a “happy visit.” Positive reinforcement is the best way to modify feline behavior, so making car rides and veterinary visits pleasant will help decrease your cat’s anxiety.

Your cat threw up? No, it's not normal!

By Guides, Health, Uncategorized

cat grass

Hairballs are normal, yes, but chances are that’s NOT what’s making your car wretch.

Vomiting is a common and frequently complex problem in cats.  According to Gary Norsworthy, DVM, DABVP (feline practice), the greatest of all feline myths is that vomiting is normal.  It’s not.

If one of your human family members seemed healthy but was vomiting twice a week-or twice a day-would we accept it as normal?  Give up on these excuses:

  • He eats too fast.
  • She has a sensitive stomach.
  • They’re just hairballs, and they are normal.
  • That’s just the way her is; he’s a puker.

Signs of Disease

Gastrointestinal diseases, renal failure, inflammatory or other liver diseases, pancreatitis and even lymphoma can cause chronic vomiting.  Don’t wish away vomiting as probably a hairball-get it checked out by your veterinarian.

Sign of Poisoning

Vomiting that isn’t chronic could be caused by poisoning.  The following substances are the most common household toxins for cats.

  • Plants: Autumn crocus, azalea, cyclamen, kalanchoe, lilies, oleander, dieffenbachia, daffodils, lily of the valley, sago palm, tulips, hyacinths, poinsettias, and amaryllis to name a few.
  • Over the counter medications: Including aspirin, acetaminophen, Advil, Aleve, Motrin, Kaopectate, Pepto- Bismol
  • Prescription drugs: Including antidepressant drugs, such as Prozac, Pacil, Celexa and Effexor.
  • Dietary Supplements and vitamins
  • Human food: Onions for example
  • Household cleaners: Drain cleaners, concentrated dishwashing chemicals (including dishwasher tabs), lime-removal products,, oven cleaners and concentrated toilet cleaners pose the biggest threat.
  • Topical flea/tick treatments, flea shampoo and collars: (If your purchase from a veterinary hospital, they are guaranteed!)
  • Essential oils: Often found in potpourri
  • Insecticides and rodenticides

If you fear your cat has ingested a toxin, remove your cat form the area, check to make sure your cat is breathing and acting normally, do not give any home antidotes, do not induce vomiting with consulting a veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline, and call the Pet Poison Helpline at (855)764-7661.  If veterinary attention is needed go to your veterinarian.

Importance of a Dental for Your Pet

By Health, Uncategorized

Cat and toothbrush

Importance of a Dental for Your Pet

Though pets are less likely to develop cavities which are the leading cause of tooth pain and other oral health problems in humans, they can develop serious problems with teeth and gums as well. And besides affecting their dental health, these can also seriously affect your pet’s overall health. To make sure that your pet’s teeth and gums are healthy, you should take your dog or cat to a vet for a dental exam and cleaning at least once a year. Just like in humans, dental problems in pets are a lot easier and less expensive to treat if detected early, not to mention a lot less painful too!

Causes of Dental Problems in Pets

As mentioned earlier, cavities are not as common in pets as in humans. However, both dogs and cats are prone to a host of dental problems which, just like cavities, can cause a lot of pain, tooth loss and even jeopardize their overall health. Periodontal disease is the most common cause of dental problems in pets and besides affecting oral health, it also puts dogs and cats at the increased risk of kidney, liver and heart disease. The good news is that periodontal disease can be both successfully prevented (or at least significantly postponed) and treated with regular dental cleaning and proper oral hygiene. The same goes for other common problems with teeth and gums.

Keeping Your Pet’s Teeth and Gums Healthy

Periodic dental cleaning which involves removal of plaque and tartar combined with regular tooth brushing is the best way to keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy. Periodontal disease (as well as many other oral health problems) in dogs and cats are caused by plaque and tartar buildup. Unfortunately, the accumulation of plaque and its hardening into tartar can’t be prevented. Therefore it is crucial to have it periodically removed by your vet. In between dental cleanings, you are highly recommended to regularly brush your dog’s or cat’s teeth.

While tooth brushing can’t remove the built-up plaque and tartar, it will dramatically reduce their accumulation. It is recommended to brush your pet’s teeth on a daily basis but even occasional brushing is better than no brushing at all. The majority of dogs eventually allow tooth brushing. Cats, on the other hand, require a lot of patience and persistence.

Dental Cleaning Products not a Replacement for Tooth Brushing

Dental cleaning products including dental toys and treats can help maintain your pet’s dental health, however, they are not a replacement for tooth brushing. Also, not all have the same effect. If you would like to use dental cleaning products, ask your vet for advice.

When to See Your Vet

Even with the best dental care, dogs and cats can develop problems with teeth or gums, or both. If your pet is having any of the symptoms listed below, don’t wait for the annual dental checkup and call your vet right away:

– tooth discoloration
– broken tooth
– bad breath
– loss of appetite
– excessive drooling, difficulty chewing and/or eating
– bleeding from the mouth
– loose teeth
– pain around the mouth
– lumps in the mouth

When you have a question about your pet’s health, what should you expect when you call your veterinarian?

By Uncategorized



During the chaos of our days, many of us find ourselves asking why things can’t just be easier. For example, you come home from work and your dog is acting “funny.” Can’t your veterinarian just help you over the phone? The kids will be home soon, you have to start dinner, and there’s no way you’ll make it up to the clinic before it closes. The truth is, your veterinarian always wants you to call when something is going on with your pet, but legally and ethically there may only be so much he can do without examining the animal. Read this article to better understand what your veterinarian can help you with over the phone and when it’s better just to come on in.

What should I do? Sparky has diarrhea.

Here’s the problem, legally a veterinarian must establish a relationship with you and your pet in order to treat the animal, and that requires a physical exam. New client: So, if your veterinarian has never seen your pet—forget it. There is no prior relationship and therefore “treating” the pet over the phone is against the law. Existing client: Say you and your pet have a relationship with your veterinarian, but there hasn’t been a physical exam in regard to this new condition. It’s often very difficult to describe things over the phone and be confident that you and your veterinarian understand things in the same way. However, Heather Lewellen, DVM, says if she had recently seen the patient for something related, then she might feel more comfortable advising over the phone. “For example, if I started the dog on antibiotics for a skin infection and it develops diarrhea, I might be able to talk them through it over the phone, but I would still rather see it.”

That rash hasn’t gone away.

Calling about an existing condition the pet has recently been seen for by the veterinarian, opens the door a bit. As long as the veterinarian client-patient relationship is well established and the animal has been examined for that problem, it’s up to what the veterinarian is comfortable with. Refilling (or even switching) medication, giving further advice and making recommendations (such as removing a bandage or feeding a bland diet) is fairly common.

Should I take Sparky to the ER?!?

Lewellen says the safe rule is if you think it’s an emergency—it is. Your veterinarian can direct you to the nearest veterinary hospital or will advise you to come into the clinic. However, if you are unsure if your pet’s condition is an emergency, your veterinarian can’t give you advice over the phone. She will recommend you come in and may ask questions regarding gum color, hydration, breathing rates or your pet’s attitude to help confirm if your pet needs immediate medical attention