If you have ever had a cat, then you have most likely witnessed the somewhat disturbing event of “hacking up a hairball”. Although certainly unpleasant to see or hear, to an extent, this is a normal occurrence in cats. When cats groom themselves, the tiny hook-like structures on their tongues catch the loose hair and it is swallowed. Most of the time this hair is passed through the digestive tract without any issues but occasionally that is not the case…
When a cat cannot pass the hair through the digestive tract it may gather in the stomach and be vomited up in the form of a long tubular-like structure, known as the hairball. This is a problem when it becomes a very frequent occurrence. Another time a hairball causes problems is if it gathers in the intestinal tract and causes a blockage there. Signs that this has happened can include ongoing vomiting or gagging without producing a hairball, lack of appetite, decrease in energy, and constipation. If your cat has one or more of these symptoms, you should consult your veterinarian right away. They may suggest the use of a medication such as Laxatone, or another petroleum-based lubricant/laxative to help pass the hairball through the intestinal tract. If the blockage remains, it may require surgery to remove it.
If hairballs are a recurrent problem for your cat, your veterinarian may suggest a specific cat food that can help cut down on hairball occurrences. These foods are higher in fiber to improve the health of the hair coat, minimize shedding, and help hairballs pass through the digestive tract easier.
Although it is much more common to see hairballs in long-haired cats, short-haired cats can, and do, get them as well. There are several things you can do to help prevent hairball incidences. Combing or brushing your cat daily can dramatically reduce the amount of loose hair that they swallow. This is especially important during the spring when they are shedding the most. If your cat has long hair, consider taking them to a groomer approximately every six months. These long-haired felines look especially adorable in a lion cut and they will be appreciative of this during the hot summer months too!
Another preventative method is the aforementioned hairball-specific cat food. It has recently been found that a grain-free diet may be more appropriate for cats with recurring hairball issues. The theory behind this is that cats are obligate carnivores and their “natural” diet consists of a high protein level and low carbohydrate level. Foods higher in carbohydrates can lead to changes in the flora of the cat’s intestinal tract and these changes may contribute to the inability to be able to pass hair normally through the digestive system.
You may be wondering why your cat has hairballs now but they never had them as a kitten… Well the reason is simple….a cat becomes more proficient at grooming itself as it gets older. Just like you! So don’t panic when your furry little feline suddenly hacks something disgusting up behind the couch; it is probably a hairball and a good sign that they are learning the much needed skills of self grooming. However, if you have any concerns, or notice any changes in your cats behaviour, give your veterinarian a call and they will be happy to answer any questions you have!