Cats are very clean animals. So clean that they lick their fur and bodies to rid themselves of dirt and loose hair. When a cat grooms themselves, the hair that they swallow passes through their gastrointestinal tract and exits in the their feces. However, this hair can get lodged at times in the stomach or intestine where larger clumps of hair can build up. Generally this does not cause a problem and the cat will eventually pass the hairball in its stool or vomit. If the hairball is not passed normally the hairball can actually create a blockage and cause a variety of problems including blockage of the esophagus, stomach, small intestine or colon. If not treated these problems can become serious. In severe cases surgery may be necessitated to remove the blockage. If you suspect your cat is having trouble passing a hairball consult your veterinarian.

    Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss or decreased appetite (if the hairball isn’t passed)

Treatment:
Most hairballs pass normally. If your cat is having trouble with a hairball consult your veterinarian. Generally feeding your cat a bit of catnip, a bit of cat grass, fiber or a vet-approved laxative (usually petroleum based) will be enough to help your cat remove a hairball. However, in more extreme cases surgery may be needed to remove the hairball but this is rare. Also be aware that other illnesses which cause vomiting are often mistaken for a hairball problem. When a cat vomits, any hair which is already in the stomach will be expunged. This sometimes leads owners to think the vomiting is simply the result of a hairball and that may not be the case. If your cat has persistent vomiting or vomits often consult your veterinarian as there may be another cause.

Precautionary measures:
Here are some things you can do to prevent or limit hairballs:

  • Brush and groom your cat regularly
  • Feed your cat catnip, cat grass (sold a pet stores), or a high-fiber diet (dry cat foods are usually a good source of fiber as compared to wet foods) on a regular basis to keep your cat’s digestive system in check and healthy.

Always consult your veterinarian before giving your cat any home-based medication or over-the-counter medication. And never give your cat any made-for-human medications without the expressed authorization of your veterinarian.

Posted in: Cat FAQs