What Causes Hairballs?
Hairballs result from a cat's natural grooming habits. According to WebMD, when your cat bathes herself, the hook-like structures on her tongue (papillae) grab loose and dead hair. She will inadvertently swallow some of her fur while she's grooming herself. According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, the main structural component of a cat's hair, keratin, is not digestible. However, hair usually goes through the digestive system without any problem. When some of the hair stays behind in the cat's stomach, hairballs form. Eventually, your cat will vomit up the hairball in order to get rid of it. Despite their name, hairballs usually have a thin, tubular shape rather than a round shape because they have to travel up through your kitty's narrow esophagus to be expelled.
Some cats are more prone to hairballs than others. Specifically, long-haired kitties, like Persians and Maine Coons, cats who groom excessively, and those who shed excessively are especially prone to developing hairballs.
Cats usually gag, hack, and/or retch before they vomit up a hairball. According to Dr. Richard Goldstein, DVM, assistant professor of small animal medicine at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, it is not uncommon for a kitty to have a hairball every week or two. However, hairballs can pose a serious threat if they become too large and are not able to pass through the narrow sphincters that lead from the stomach to the intestinal tract or from the stomach to the esophagus. It is also very dangerous when a hairball gets stuck in the small intestine. Stomach and intestinal blockages are life-threatening and typically require surgery to remove. Signs of a possible blockage include: gagging, hacking, retching, or vomiting without producing a hairball, diarrhea, constipation, lethargy, and lack of appetite. Please call your veterinarian if your cat exhibits any of these signs.
There are several things you can do to help prevent or reduce the incidence of hairballs for your cat.
- Groom Your Kitty: Jewel never had a problem with hairballs, and maybe that was due to the fact that she absolutely loved being brushed! Brushing your kitty on a regular basis reduces the amount of loose and dead hair she will swallow while she bathes herself.
If you have a medium or long-haired feline that doesn't like being brushed, you could take her to the vet or a professional groomer to get a haircut twice a year. Cat Care graduate Ginger is a gorgeous mediumhair orange ladycat. She hated being brushed, though, so every so often, the vet tech at Cat Care gave her a cute lion cut. You can see how adorable she looks in the photo on the right.
- Discourage Excessive Grooming: Cats groom excessively for a number of reasons. Please don't automatically assume that if your cat is grooming excessively that he has a behavior issue. Take your kitty to the vet. Your vet will be able to determine if your cat's excessive grooming is caused by a medical or behavioral issue.
- Increase Your Cat's Fiber: Doctors Foster and Smith suggest adding fiber to your kitty's diet as it adds moisture and bulk to your feline's stool, which makes it easier to pass. Cat grass is easy to care for, cheap, and a good source of fiber.
- Laxatives: There are many petroleum-based laxatives and hairball treatments you can purchase at most pet stores that coat the hair in your cat's stomach, making it easier to pass through the digestive system.
- Hairball Formula Food or Treats: You can find hairball food or treats at most major pet stores. Hairball food is designed to promote a healthier coat, less shedding, and to help hairballs pass through your kitty's digestive system. Carmine and Milita enjoy Greenies hairball treats. An added bonus of these treats is that they are also good for dental health!
Remember, it is always best to consult with yourveterinarian before you try any new food or over-the-counter or home remedies for hairballs. It's also important to consult your vet if you have any concerns regarding your kitty's health.
How do you treat hairballs?