If you’re a cat owner, you’ve probably heard this bizarre gag-hack-retch combo of noises made by your furry friend. This sound is usually accompanied by a mess that needs to be cleaned up along with the strange elongated bundle of fur – the dreaded hairball. Hairballs and cats seem to go hand in hand, but they’re not always normal and can indicate a health problem.
The Cat Care of Vinings team is here to explain more about hairballs, how to help your cat pass a hairball, and when hairballs mean trouble.
What is a hairball?
Hairballs, or trichobezoars, are small collections of fur that form in the stomach. They are usually elongated in shape like a furry cigar and expelled with gastric fluids and undigested food. Because cats are constantly grooming themselves, they collect a lot of hair that sometimes remains in the esophagus and stomach.
Most hair easily passes through the digestive system, but in certain cats, especially cats with long hair, fur builds up. In fact, long haired cats are twice as likely to have hairballs as short haired cats. Other health issues such as parasites, disease, and anxiety cause cats to groom themselves more than normal.
If these undigested strands of hair are left behind, they form a tubular shape and can only be expelled by vomiting. In rare cases, hairballs become so large that they require surgery to extract them.
Are hairballs normal?
If your cat chops up a few hairballs over the course of a year, it’s probably not a cause for concern. However, if your cat has more than a few hairballs, he should see a cat veterinarian. Other issues to look for and discuss with your veterinarian include:
- Chopping without producing a hairball
- Loss of appetite
- Bloated stomach
- stomach pain
Help your cat pass a hairball
Preventing hairballs is one of the top concerns of cat owners because who wants to clean up a mess or see your cute buddy so uncomfortable? There are a few things you can do to help your pet pass a hair ball. These include:
- Take care of your cat regularly –Brush your cat’s hair daily. This will help contain the loose hair that would otherwise get into your GI tract. If you are uncomfortable with grooming your cat, consider getting them professional groomed, including a haircut, every few months.
- Give your cat a hairball lube –These formulas are designed to taste good to your cat and to minimize your pet’s chances of developing a hairball. Some of them come in a laxative formula to help your pet pass the hairball. You can also look for treats and diets designed to reduce hairball formation by making it easier for your cat to move its fur through the digestive tract.
- Redirect excessive grooming for your cat –If your cat has been given a clean health certificate but continues to groom itself excessively, they may be doing so out of boredom. A lack of enrichment and fun will lead a pet to resort to grooming to ease their anxiety. Look for interesting toys and games to play with your kitty companion. Another great idea is to give them a window view of nature and add a bird feeder or bath to allure the local wildlife.
- Keep your cat hydrated –Dehydration leads to dry skin and a dull coat. If your cat’s fur is dry and brittle, they will pick up those dead strands of fur more often. Give your cat plenty of fresh water in a couple of bowls around the house. Most cats love water fountains because cats like to drink from flowing water sources.
A word on hairballs and cats
While these phenomena are not uncommon in cats, persistent problems with hairballs can be worrying. Contact us if you feel that something is wrong with your beast. If you would like additional information on cat hairballs or if you would like to schedule a wellness exam for your kitten, please contact us.