Everything You Need to Know About Cat Hairballs

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Cat hairballs can be disgusting and shocking — especially if you’ve never seen your cat experience one before. For your cat, hairballs feel just as bad as they look, so helping your kitty prevent them and understanding how to deal with them can make a huge difference.

The first time you see your cat hurl a hairball, you might be pretty worried. He’ll retch and hack and try to bring it up. Then it will be there — on your rug or some other conspicuous spot — in all its undigested glory.

Your cat may look distressed during all of this, but it’s really nothing serious. A hairball, or trichobezoar, is just what the name says it is: a wad of undigested wet hair within the digestive tract. Generally, trichobezoars are not ball-shaped; they are sausage-shaped and are formed when the cat swallows too much hair after grooming.

As the cat licks his fur, dead hair comes loose. Because the cat’s tongue has a rough surface made up of backward-slanting papillae, most of the hair cannot be dislodged, and the cat cannot spit it out. So he swallows it. Most of the hair goes through the digestive tract with no problem and is excreted in the feces; however, sometimes too much hair is ingested and the wad can’t pass through properly. Instead, it accumulates in the stomach and forms a wadded mass.

Helping Your Cat

When your cat brings up a hairball, you might hear a sound like a dry cough, or as if your cat has something stuck in the back of her throat. It also may be preceded by fluid or food. Your cat might also experience constipation while her body is dealing with the hairball.

There are several things you can do to help your cat when she has a hairball. From preventing it to helping her pass it, cat hairballs can be a much less stressful experience if you know what you’re dealing with.

The first and most important thing you can do is groom your cat. Frequent grooming is the best way to prevent cat hairballs, because you’ll be doing most of the work and your cat will be ingesting less stray hairs. The more hair your cat has, the more grooming you’re going to have to do. It’s not out of the question to groom your cat once a day in order to keep her from developing hairballs. A daily brushing is also good to keep your cat’s skin healthy and free of any tangles or mats that have developed in her fur.

Treating Cat Hairballs

There are several things you can do to treat hairballs:

  • Frequent grooming. Again, grooming your cat frequently can reduce the amount of hair your kitty ingests.

  • Hairball products. You can use petroleum-based products that act as a laxative and lubricant to help your cat pass a hairball. These products, which are pleasant tasting to cats, can be fed in paste form or applied to your cat’s paws to allow your pet to lick it off.

  • Hairball remedy treats. You can also give your cat treats that contain mineral oil to break up the balls. Additionally, some pet food companies manufacture food for cats with recurrent hair or fur ball problems.

Most cats suffer from an occasional hairball, some more than others. Long-haired cats tend to swallow more hair simply because they have more of it, but short-haired breeds get hairballs, too.

Sometimes the hairball gets too big to pass and causes your cat to get sick. In severe cases surgery may be necessary to remove it. If you suspect your cat is having trouble passing a hairball, call your veterinarian, especially if your cat retches for more than three days or if your cat is constipated or refuses food for more than a day.

Brushing and combing will keep your cat from developing painful knots, which are often difficult to remove without the services of a professional groomer. If your cat must be shaved due to excessive knotting, a veterinarian must perform the procedure, and your cat will have to be anesthetized.

You can keep your cat from having a “bad hair day” by regularly brushing and combing his hair. Cats have many types of coats, but all of them need to be brushed and combed.


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