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What are cat's hairballs and what to do about them?

Updated on September 30, 2007

I remember when our cat heaved its first hairball. Being a first time cat owner and not knowing much abut these things I was fairly certain my cat was having convulsions or something similarly wrenching. When the aforementioned hairball was finally on the floor I have breathed a sigh of relief because it was all that it was, just a hairball. However once I have read a few books and informed myself I have learned hairballs can be a major source of discomfort for cats and in some instances they can even present a major health issue that can have an end result of a surgery so they can be surgically removed.

Hairballs or trichobezoars are balls of hair. Hair cannot be digested however they can pass through the digestive tract - if it comes in, it must come out. Cats are kings and queens of self-grooming and their serrated tongue does not allow them to spit the offending fur so all they can do is swallow it. In normal circumstances this matted fur will pass right through the their digestive tract and come out in their feces. However sometimes the hair can get lodged in their stomach and it is very difficult to pass it - that is when heaving and retching happens.

Some of the signs your cat might have problems with hairballs include: masses of cigar shaped fur on the floors or carpets; the already mentioned heaving and retching especially after meals; hard stool with pieces of fur in it; constipation; in severe cases lack of appetite and lethargy.

What can you do about hairballs? As with many things prevention is half of the cure. Brush your cat often to prevent hairballs from developing. This is extremely important if you have a long-haired cat as they are more prone to hairballs. If you brush often it means your cat can still groom, however there will not be too much dead hair for her to ingest.

Another thing that can serve as a preventative measure are the anti-hairball treats. There are plenty of them available on the market but as with any cat food look for high quality anti-hairball formula.

There are also hairball formulas that can be added to your cat's food to help them easily pass the hairball through their digestive system. Mineral oil is one of the main ingredients and sometimes continuous use of mineral oil can lead to lower levels of vitamin A. Consult your vet what would be the best course of treatment.

You can also research home remedies, such as small quantities of butter a few times a week or baby food squash. It is very difficult to miss a hairball, what with the residue and/or heaving and retching but as stated before prevention is a much safer not to mention more comfortable option for your feline companion. If you do spot symptoms such as continuous dry retching, constipation and lethargy take your cat to the vet without delay.

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