If you are a parent to an adorable feline, chances are your cat gets hairballs from time to time. Hairballs are a relatively common problem that affects the majority of cats at some point during their lifetime. Although cartoons have long portrayed them in a comedic fashion, left untreated hairballs can compromise your cat’s health.
What is a hairball?
Cats are well known for spending hours each day grooming themselves. To do this, your kitty licks herself and her tongue is especially adapted for the job. The surface of her tongue is covered in tiny, hook-like structures which work much like a comb or bristles on a hairbrush, pulling through her hair and removing any tangles and loose hair. This mechanism is also used when your cat laps up water.
Inevitably some hairs remain stuck to your cat’s tongue when she pulls it back inside her mouth, and some of these get swallowed and pass down into her stomach. Most hairs pass though the digestive system quite easily, but some can remain in the stomach. If this happens and the amount of hair gradually accumulates over time, it can start to form a clump known as a hairball.
At this point, your cat will hopefully regurgitate the hairball up through her mouth and deposit it somewhere around your home. However, because the hair passes through the esophagus, it tends to be more cylindrical in shape rather than round like a hairball is usually portrayed.
The problem with hairballs
While hairballs may not be dangerous if they are successfully regurgitated, if your cat is unable to bring the hair back up, the clump may become stuck and form a blockage in either her stomach or intestine. When either of these become blocked it could have life-threatening consequences for your pet.
Symptoms of a hairball
As a hairball can be potentially dangerous for your pet, it is important that you recognize the symptoms. That way, if your feline doesn’t bring the hair up, you can seek veterinary intervention through your chosen hospital. Symptoms of a hairball include:
- Constipation or your pet has a hard time defecating
- Loss of interest in food
- Retching/gagging without producing vomit
- Vomiting a mixture of bile, food, and hair
Tips for treating hairballs
If you suspect that your cat has a hairball that is stuck, you should really seek professional advice from your veterinarian. We can prescribe medications such as laxatives or vomit-inducing drugs which may help your cat to clear the hair herself.
Nevertheless, there are steps that you can take to help prevent your pet from suffering from hairballs in the first place, including:
Brush your cat regularly
Although your cat will almost certainly still spend several hours each day grooming herself, brushing her regularly will help to remove most of the loose hair before she gets it stuck on her tongue!
Ensure your cat gets enough fiber
Many cat food manufacturers offer products marketed as being ‘hairball formula’. What this actually means is that the food in fiber, making it easier for any hair to pass through your cat’s digestive system and out in her feces. Many also contain ingredients that reduce feline shedding. It is not necessary to buy a specialized ‘hairball formula’ food – a regular, high-fiber diet will have the same effect.