Does the word “trichobezoar” ring a bell? Besides being a high-scoring Scrabble word, it refers to the unsavory by-product of your cat’s grooming habit: the infamous hairball. Most cat owners are familiar with those little wads of fur that their beloved kitties vomit every once in a while. However, frequent vomiting of hairballs is not normal behavior for cats and should be treated accordingly.
Read on as we discuss hairball causes, prevention, and remedies, so you’ll know what to do the next time that your precious fur baby expels one on your favorite rug.
What Are Hairballs in Cats?
The scientific name for hairballs in cats is trichobezoar, which refers to a moist wad of undigested hair mixed with food, bile, mucus, and other fluids. This unappealing mixture usually takes on a somewhat tubular shape after being forced through the esophagus. Once dry, a hairball can sometimes be mistaken for cat poo due to this cigar-like shape. However, if you look closely, you will notice that it is essentially the same color as your cat’s hair.
Hairballs result from the grooming habits of cats. When cats groom themselves, they use their tongue to remove dead hair from their coat. Their raspy tongue has tiny, backward-facing spines called papillae that catch loose hairs, which are then swallowed.
Since hair is mostly made up of keratin, a fibrous structural protein, it cannot be digested. This is normally not a problem, as the majority of the fur passes through the cat’s digestive system and ends up in the litter box. However, some hair can accumulate in the stomach or intestines and form a mass too large to pass in the stool: a hairball.
What Are the Signs of Hairballs in Cats?
Cats are experts at hiding their signs of pain, but in the case of hairballs, there are a few obvious signs:
Other signs may indicate the presence of hairballs, such as constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, or frequent attempts to vomit without producing anything. These should not be taken lightly, as they could indicate an intestinal blockage or obstruction, which is a life-threatening emergency.
What Are the Causes of Hairballs in Cats?
In general, healthy cats shouldn’t have too many hairball problems. They may vomit one once in a while, but most of their fur should pass through their digestive tract and be eliminated in their feces.
However, while all felines may have to deal with this issue occasionally, some are more prone to it than others due to two main factors:
How Do I Care for a Cat With Hairballs?
First, you need to make sure your cat has no underlying health issues. Then, if your cat gets a clean bill of health from your veterinarian, you can help limit the occurrence of hairballs by implementing a few preventative measures:
Frequently Asked Questions
When Should You Go to the Vet?
Cats that only regurgitate a hairball once a month usually don’t need to be seen by a veterinarian for a thorough checkup. But if your cat vomits hairballs more frequently or if they show other alarming signs (lack of appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, constipation, etc.), you should contact your vet right away.
What Should You Expect at the Vet’s Clinic?
Your veterinarian will begin with a thorough physical exam, assessing your cat’s overall health while palpating the abdomen for any signs of bowel disease or obstruction. They may recommend other tests to look for the underlying causes of your cat’s hairballs, such as a skin exam, X-rays, ultrasound scans, blood tests, and gastrointestinal tests.
Can Hairballs Lead to Intestinal Blockages?
Yes, a hairball that manages to pass into the small intestine can get stuck there, and this is a serious issue that can be fatal to the cat. Surgery is usually the only possible treatment to remove very large hairballs that are blocking the cat’s gastrointestinal tract. Hairballs can also become lodged in your cat’s nasopharynx and esophagus.
Are There Any Alternative or Natural Remedies for Hairballs in Cats?
Home treatments are not appropriate for cats that have frequent hairballs, as an underlying health condition is usually responsible for their formation. However, if your cat does not have frequent hairballs, you can ask your veterinarian to recommend safe home remedies, such as hairball-control gels, nutritional supplements, or commercial hairball treats.
While the occasional vomited wad of hair is common in healthy cats, frequent hairballs can be a reason for concern. They can be caused by abnormal fur ingestion during grooming or by medical conditions affecting their digestive tract. Either way, excessive numbers of hairballs can lead to serious health problems.
Therefore, if your feline companion experiences persistent hairball issues or if you notice other alarming signs like frequent retching, vomiting, loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, trouble breathing, constipation, or lethargy, you should seek advice from your veterinarian without delay.