Understanding Hairball Problems in Cats

Curious cat observing approaching vacuum cleaner

When it comes to cleaning, cats are meticulous!

They love to keep themselves clean. But sometimes the result of all this cleaning is an unhappy cat that constantly coughs or throws up hair. When this happens, the cat is said to have "hairballs".

This article will discuss the cause of hairballs, their significance, and the things you can do for a cat who often suffers from them.

The surface of a cat's tongue is lined with lots of bumps (known as papillae). These help to remove loose fur when the cat cleans itself. Some of this loose hair ends up being swallowed. Often this is not a problem and the cat will simply excrete the hair in its faeces. However, in cats with longer, thicker hair, or in cats that are particular about cleaning, the large amount of hair ingested can lead to problems. Owners can observe this by the cat vomiting hairballs.

Despite the name, hairballs are rarely ball-shaped

Instead, they are usually tubular in shape. When cats swallow hair, it begins to clump and mix with mucus. This mixture of hair and mucus is what makes up a hairball. These hairballs are then either swallowed or excreted in the cat's faeces. If a cat only has hairballs once in a while, then it is nothing to worry about.

Remember that cats are natural predators. They often hunt small mammals that are covered with fur. Excretion of hairballs is a natural adaptation of the cat to get rid of any kind of useless hair it ingests.

If, on the other hand, the cat frequently (daily) vomits and produces hairballs, has diarrhea or abdominal pain, there may be a more serious underlying problem. If a cat shows these signs, veterinary intervention is strongly recommended. Possible underlying problems include a gastric motility disorder or lymphoplasmacytic enteritis. Furthermore, these hairballs can harden and become trichobezoars, and although rare, these often require surgical removal. The vet may choose to perform a hematological examination, complete biochemical blood analysis, x-rays, endoscopy and possibly biopsies to find out what the underlying problem is.

If a cat is only affected by hairballs now and then, it is likely to be more of a nuisance to the owner than it really is to the cat. However, if the owner is desperate to do something about it, there are several treatment options available. A combination of laxatives, lubricants, special treatments and/or a special diet should bring the situation under control quite quickly.

One thing that is important is not to overdo the laxatives and lubricants as they can interfere with normal digestion and absorption of nutrients.

If you are in doubt, a visit to the vet will put everyone at ease, and it will ensure that the cat's welfare comes first. 

Don't let hairballs get in the way of a good relationship with your cat! 

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