Hairballs: Common Feline Foe or an Owner’s Worst Nemesis?
Hairballs are usually fine – that is, until they become a serious problem. To be sure, a monthly hairball “incident” is considered normal. However, if your furry, fluffy feline happens to retch a little too regularly, it’s time for a closer look. But don’t worry! Of all the subjects The Pet Experts at Wheaton Animal Hospital specialize in, feline hairballs are at the top of our list.
Your cat’s tongue is scratchy like sandpaper because of tiny spikes called papillae. These are instrumental in grooming thick, loose, or dirty fur, but like a human hairbrush, hair piles up on the papillae and is swallowed.
Where Does it Go?
The fur enters your cat’s gastrointestinal tract and typically exits in feces that can be found in the litterbox. Sometimes, however, the fur becomes lodged in the stomach until vomited out the way it was ingested. Hairballs (or as they’re known medically, trichobezoars) are formed in the stomach. Molded into an elongated yet compact structure in the upper GI tract, hairballs can be mitigated in the following ways:
- To reduce how much hair your cat consumes, groom him or her every few days.
- Keep other pets groomed as well; your cat may enjoy grooming them, too!
- Play with your cat, and keep him or her entertained and active; bored cats tend to groom themselves excessively.
- Certain foods can help cats pass any swallowed fur; The Pet Experts at Wheaton Animal Hospital are happy to help you find the right product for your cat.
- Various supplements may help your cat pass the fur into the lower GI tract and feces instead of back up through the mouth.
Spring is a very common season for shedding. Fluffy is shedding her thick winter coat to make room for a lighter summer one. It’s not unusual to see an extra hairball or two in the months between winter and summer. However, more than twice in a 4-week period could be cause for concern.
When Hairballs Get Hairy
Many cat owners will initially suspect hairballs as the cause for continuous attempts at retching or vomiting. However, some large hairballs can actually cause serious gastrointestinal obstructions. Please keep an eye out for these symptoms:
- Gagging or dry heaving
- Appetite and weight loss
Hairball Don’t Win
If your cat cannot pass or regurgitate a hairball, we may proceed with an endoscopy, ultrasound, IV fluids, or surgery if the obstruction is too large. While hairballs are a fairly regular occurrence in cats (and certainly for long-haired breeds), they can become a serious problem. Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about hairballs, your cat’s behavior, or eating habits.