Hairballs, or trichobezoars in vet speak, is cat hair that your cat has swallowed while grooming itself or other cats. It’s a fact―cats love to groom. And, while all cats are susceptible to getting hairballs, long-haired mature cats are the most likely to get them. That’s because older cats tend to self-groom more than young cats and long hair is more likely to ball up in the gut.
Anyone who has ever been licked by a cat knows their tongue surface is rough. In fact, it’s kind of like the little hooks in Velcro. During the grooming process, loose hair is snagged by the tongue surface and swallowed. The hair goes down the cat’s esophagus to the stomach where it does not digest. This hair then either passes through the intestinal tract harmlessly or it “balls up” in the stomach and is usually self- removed by vomiting. “Hairball” is kind of a misnomer as the thing is usually a small cigar-shaped hair mat mixed with assorted digesta and saliva.
So, that’s basically what a hairball is. Please read on to learn more about cat hairball symptoms and how to prevent or minimize them.
- Chronic Cough: Cats with hairball problems will cough, gag, and throw up often, in an effort to rid themselves of the hairball.
- Sickly Cat: When a hairball doesn’t pass through the digestive tract it can cause the cat to go off its food and water. If the condition becomes chronic, the cat will then lose weight and will usually become sickly and lethargic. That is, the cat will become inactive and disinterested in its food, surroundings, toys, other pets, and people.
- Distended Abdomen: A large hairball that can’t pass through the cat can often cause the cat’s belly area to be distended, achy, and hard to the touch.
- Bowel Movements: Diarrhea or constipation can be a sign that a large hairball is blocking things up and causing digestive distress.
If your cat is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s always best to get them checked with your veterinarian.
Prevention and Minimizing Hairballs
The old saying that “prevention is the best medicine” certainly rings true when it comes to feline hairballs. Here are some things you can do to prevent or at least minimize hairballs from plaguing your cat.
- A cat-healthy diet balanced with the correct ingredients and nutrition is key to minimizing hairball problems. Cats are carnivores so you should primarily feed your cat canned wet all-meat foods. Some dry pelleted food is okay for variety and it can be good for the cat’s teeth but it needs to be high protein, low-carb meat-based food without vegetables. To add a bit of fiber to the cat’s diet, consider cat grass or catnip which can work well for this. Do not give your dinner scraps or raw meats to your cat.
- It’s fine if you are one of the many cat owners that want to feed your cat supplements. In fact, some of the commercially sold supplements are great. But, when it comes to excessive shedding, self-grooming, and hairballs some supplements may actually do more harm than good. So, get your vet’s advice on supplements first, and only feed them according to the vet’s recommendations.
- Along with a proper diet, be sure your cat always has plenty of water. Good hydration means things will move well through all the stages of the digestive tract. That includes ingested hair. Water is also key to the cat’s urinary tract health. Monitor your cat’s water intake and, if you suspect a problem, then talk with your vet about it.
- Minimize the amount of hair your cat swallows by brushing it daily―not just when the cat gets dirty outside. Cats will groom themselves no matter what, but your daily brushing is really key to avoiding hairballs
Typically, once the cat rids itself of the offending hairball he or she will quickly return to its usual self. But, it’s not healthy for the cat to suffer frequently with hairballs. If your cat is a chronic sufferer, then you should take it to your vet for an exam and treatment recommendations.
I hope this post has been helpful to all of you cat parents and, if we can be of service to you for any pet needs, please contact us anytime.