Cat hair balls don’t distinguish between age or breed. You just hope that the hacking sound followed by the wet hair expelled doesn’t land on your new living room carpet or glass that you wake up in the middle of a sound sleep.
The word hairball involuntarily triggers grimaces on faces and causes words like “yuck” and “icky” to be spoken. Of course, by its real scientific name, it could be called Trichobezoar, but that doesn’t really downplay your cat’s gross portrayal of spitting a hairy, matted mess out of its mouth.
How cat hair balls happen
Cats pride themselves on being sophisticated snow groomers and wearing shiny coats. To do this, a cat uses its spiked tongue over its body to lift and remove excess hair, which it then swallows. Usually, this hair slides down the intestines and sails out of the anus into the feces deposit in the litter box.
Cats can go days, weeks, or months without chopping up a hairball. But then it happens.
“Yes, hairballs are common in cats, but they shouldn’t just be dismissed as a normal act in cats,” says Dr. Elizabeth Bales, who serves on advisory boards for the AAFP Cat-Friendly Practice and Fear Free Pets. “When your cat is chopping up a hairball, it’s time to examine it, and it’s time to take a step back and ask why it happened.”
Does the solution match the cause?
Act like a detective, encouraging her by looking for clues to share with your veterinarian before reaching for a product like Laxatone, a powerful lubricant that pulls out cat hair balls.
“If you’re on Laxatone and the real problem is anxiety, you’re not treating the problem effectively,” she says.
Some hairballs are caused by overcare, while others can be a signal that something is medically wrong with your cat. He may be cocky because he is scared, because he is itchy from a flea infestation, or because he is dealing with food allergies.
Or maybe the mobility of the stomach is not working well enough to push the hair through, which leads to a congestion in the back, ”says Dr. Bales. “Cats are such stoic creatures and don’t want to show any signs of weakness. Your cat may have gastrointestinal upset or irritable bowel syndrome. “
If you discover something in the hairball that looks like coffee grounds, it could indicate dried blood, a life-threatening situation.
“Your cat may be bleeding internally and you need to see a veterinarian right away,” she says.
In rare cases, a large hairball can act like a foreign object, blocking the passage of food from the stomach to the small intestine. Without immediate veterinary care, this can block blood flow and cause the intestines to shut down and the cat to die.
“I’ve had a handful of surgeries that removed life-threatening hairballs from cats’ stomachs,” says Dr. Bales.
Also, do your best to tell a hairball apart from vomit. A hairball is a collection of hair and is usually shaped like a damp cigar. Vomiting can be caused by a cat eating too quickly – a syndrome known as “scarf and barf,” which causes the food to withdraw from its throat.
Use caution when trying to make it easier for your cat to handle hairballs and a possible upset stomach, warns Dr. Elisa Katz, who runs holistic veterinary services in the Chicagoland area and is a member of the board of directors of the Feline Nutrition Foundation.
“Cats have different physiologies than humans and respond differently to over-the-counter drugs,” she says. “For example, don’t give your cat Pepto Bismol or Kaopectate. “These drugs contain substances related to aspirin and can be toxic to the kidneys or liver.”
Bottom line: Don’t just dismiss cat hair balls as a feline fact of life.
“Yes, I understand that vomit and hairballs can be an inconvenience for us,” says Dr. Bales, “but they can be used as guides to share with your veterinarian so that you can work together to develop the right treatment plan for your cat to keep them in top shape. “
Help for hairballs
There are many hairball prevention and treatment products available today, all of which can be found on Chewy.com and other pet supply retailers. Here is a selection:
Greenies Feline SmartBites Hairball Control Treats | $ 2.99 | greenies.com
Vet’s Best Hairball Relief Digestive Aid | $ 9.99 | vetsbest.com
Tomlyn Laxatone Hairball Remedy | $ 9.30 | tomlyn.com
Nutro Wholesome Essentials Hairball Control Dry Cat Food | $ 13.49 | nutro.com
Arden Moore is an animal behavior consultant, writer and first aid trainer for pets who often teach hands-on classes with her cool cat Casey and the very tolerant dog Kona. Every week she hosts the Oh Behave Show on Pet Life Radio. Learn more at ardenmoore.com and petfirstaid4u.com.