Unquestionably, cats are excellent pets. Their playful and sometimes quirky antics notwithstanding, living with – or amongcats can be strange for some people. Indeed, certain feline behaviors can be odd; but perhaps the most disturbing is their ability to cough up hairballs. 

It’s not their fault, but when occasional regurgitation becomes more frequent it could be a sign that something else is going on.

A Look at Feline Anatomy

Cats evolved as both predator and prey. To stay as safe as possible, they became over-particular regarding their pursuit of self-grooming. In other words, they lick and smooth their coat whenever they aren’t hunting, eating, or sleeping. 

Their tongue is a highly developed tool to do the job. Equipped with small, sharp barbs, the tongue is able to clear away any debris, parasites, tangles or mats. The process inevitably grabs hold of loose or dead hair. Because the barbs face backward, cats have little choice in the matter and end up swallowing hair.

When It Becomes a Problem

Cat hairballs may sound like they’d be something that simply comes with the territory of cat ownership. That isn’t completely untrue, but there is a fine line between normal and unhealthy.

Shedding increases this time of year, making it nearly impossible to avoid a hairball or two. Longer-haired breeds may ingest more hair at any time of the year than short-hairs. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to keep a close eye on your cat’s patterns. 

Ongoing Effects

Ingested hair can be fully digested and passed through the stool. However, sometimes there is too much in the stomach to safely pass through the GI tract. The hairball comes back up through the esophagus and out the mouth in a tubular shape that is obviously full of woven-looking, wadded up hair and partially digested food. 

Danger Zone

Most of the time, hairballs are simply inconvenient and unappetizing. However, if allowed to over accumulate in the stomach and GI tract, hair can actually create a serious, even life-threatening intestinal blockage. This can potentially result in surgical exploration and removal. 

Vomiting Is Never Normal

Hairballs that are clearly the result of extra seasonal shedding can be expected by many cat owners. However, vomiting is not something to regard as a “normal” feline behavior. On the contrary, vomiting (even with hair in it) can signal food issues, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney problems, hyperthyroidism, toxicity, or parasitic infection.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns. It may be a good idea to examine your cat and rule out long-term health complications related to vomiting.  

Preventing Cat Hairballs

Luckily, there are easy ways to reduce how much hair your cat swallows. Invest in a good grooming kit that includes a brush to lift dead hair and a comb to work out any tangles. Not only great for their looks, grooming your cat can be a bonding opportunity.

If you notice frequent cat hairballs, or increased intensity, please watch for other symptoms, including lethargy, inappetance, weight loss, diarrhea, and withdrawal.

The Pet Experts at Wheaton Animal Hospital are always here for your cat!