A Hairy Situation – Why the Cat Hacks Up Hairballs.
Cats have such precocious personalities. They love to leave us presents like the dead lizards they have hunted down and killed. You might find a mouse in its death throes twitching on your doorstep. Or you might even be treated to a wonderful display of hacking and retching from your cat, with the wonderful result of a hairball for its efforts. Hairballs, or trichobezoars as the scientists and veterinarians like to call it, are literally balls of hair. And since hair is not a digestible piece of matter, the rule of most living bodies is what goes in, must come out. So, cats will either pass hair through their digestive system or the hair will build up in their bodies causing the retching and heaving required to get rid of it. If you are not familiar with cats, the first time you witness this upchucked hairball could be a bit disconcerting.
You may ask why cats ingest so much hair in the first place. Just think about their grooming practices. They lick and lick with that serrated like tongue that easily captures any loose, dead fur. It is because of that rough tongue cat possess that they cannot spit out any offending fur. So, the only thing a cat can do is swallow the offending fur. For the most part, the hair just passes right on through their bodies, being digested then excreted through normal elimination. However, if too much hair accumulates and builds up into a matted wad inside their tummy, it is almost impossible to pass through the digestive system, hence the hacking and retching to try and vomit the offending hairball out.
Cats with long fur are more likely to develop hairballs. Not that those cats with short hair don’t also get hairballs, but when you have longer hair, you have more of it to ingest. If your cat cannot rid itself of a hairball through vomiting or through the digestive system, they could suffer from a blockage in the intestine or stomach. Left untreated for too long can be life-threatening. Without surgery, that blockage caused by a hairball could kill your kitty.
Some warning signs of a possible hairball blockage could be continued heaving or retching that does not produce anything; there is also loss of appetite or lack of defecation. If your cat is constipated, a hairball could be the cause. To avoid the loss of a beloved cat, there are some steps you can take to prevent or lessen the chance of hairballs.
Hairball preventative #1 – Brush your cat. By doing a lot of the grooming work for your cat, you lessen the chance of too much ingestion of hair. Brushing your cat’s hair will help it get rid of the dead hair. By wiping your cat with a moist towel, this will capture any stray dead hairs.
Hairball preventative #2 – Special hairball treats. On the market today are selections of edible treats with special ingredients that help break up hairballs. Many of them contain mineral oil. Some cat food companies make special lines of food specifically for these hairball-prone kitties.
Hairball preventative #3 – Facilitate a hairball. If a hairball is a continuous presence in your cat’s life, a lubricant is needed to help your cat digest and pass the offending hairball through the stomach and intestines. Products with petroleum are the best a facilitating this process and are available in a variety of flavors that cats love.
There is no cure for the common cat hairball, but as you can see from the preventatives listed above, there are specific measures to try before surgery is considered. If your cat is a compulsive groomer, they are more likely to develop hairballs. If you can determine the cause of the excessive grooming, take steps to eradicate the problem. Other times, cats could be just bored or nervous and the process of grooming not only gives them something to do, but it also soothes their nerves. You, as the cat’s owner, can create a game to play with your cat. In other words, redirect the cat’s energies into an activity to avoid the excessive licking that causes hairballs.
Just remember, if your cat displays any unusual behaviors like retching or lack of body elimination, get them into the veterinarian as soon as possible. The vet can do a thorough exam and provide with the best course of treatment for the dreaded hairball.
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