Hairballs in Cats
Cats spend approximately 10% of the time that they are awake, grooming themselves. Felines are fastidious groomers and it is this behavior that increases their predisposition to the formation of Trichobezoars, commonly known as hairballs.
While grooming, a cat can swallow hairs as it licks itself. Most cats have no problems associated with swallowed hair because these can readily be eliminated with their feces. However, there are situations where the ingested hairs form knots and become tightly wounded while inside the stomach. Cats with this kind of hairball are usually observed to gag or retch. Cases of Trichobezoars are commonly seen in long-haired breeds of cats such as Persian cats and Main Coons.
Hairballs that remain in the stomach can cause occasional vomiting in cats. Although it is not really a serious health problem, vomiting and gagging episodes that occur repeatedly within a month’s time may be a sign of an underlying serious medical problem. If you have observed your cat showing recurrent episodes of retching and vomiting, you should bring him to the vet for a thorough examination, diagnosis and treatment.
In some instances you might see your cat regurgitating a hairball. Most regurgitated hairballs are not wound tightly into a ball. Instead they look like a sausage made of tightly-wound hairs.
When cats fail to eliminate hairballs by vomiting, hairballs present in the stomach may create mechanical obstructions within the digestive tract. In most of these cases, hairballs are found stuck between the stomach and small intestines or between the colon and the small intestines. A cat with hairballs obstructing any part of its digestive system often suffers from unexplained loss of weight, excessive coughing, and poor appetite. Aside from non-productive gagging and retching, affected cats may also suffer digestive upsets resulting in diarrhea or constipation. If your cat is manifesting any of these symptoms, a visit to your vet should be made. Hairballs which are lodged in any part of the digestive tract can be a life-threatening condition and expensive surgery may be the only option to take out the obstructing hairballs.
Protecting your Cat from Harmful Effects of Hairballs
Since you can never stop your cat from grooming himself, you can undertake measures to reduce the amount of hair that your cat can possibly swallow while grooming. You can remove excess hair by grooming your cat using special combs and/or brushes that you can get from a pet store. Doing this regularly will result in lesser hair being swallowed and decrease the possibility of hairballs being formed in the stomach. The time that you spend with your feline friend during grooming is also an excellent way to bond and cultivate the friendship.
In case you don’t have the time to groom your cat regularly, it is advisable to bring him to a professional groomer once every six months. This is particularly useful if you have a long-haired cat.
There is a “hairball formula” which is specially formulated by cat food manufacturers. It is dry cat food enriched with fibers that can help facilitate the elimination of hairballs out of the digestive tract.
When cats suffer from stomach upsets they have an instinct to feed on grass just like dogs. The fiber they get from feeding on grass can help get rid of hairballs and other foreign substances within their digestive tract. You can allow your cat a lawn visit provided that you are present to keep watch. If there are no grassy areas around your house, you can buy pre-grown “kitty or cat grass” from pet shops.
There are also products available in the market that contain a mild laxative to help in the efficient passage of hairballs through the cat’s digestive tract.