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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Let's Talk About Hairballs in Cats

     No doubt about it, this is probably the most disgusting thing a cat does. Ours almost always pukes them up about 6:00 am and you can hear her all over the house. Fortunately, she almost always pukes them up in the same place, so they're easy to find. It's disturbing to watch a cat eliminating a hairball. It's even more disturbing to hear them hacking, gagging, and retching and sounding like they are dying!
     A hairball is a collection of fur formed in the stomach that is vomited up when it becomes too big. Hairballs are primarily a tight elongated cylinder of packed fur, but may include bits of other elements such as swallowed food. Sometimes they are wet and sloppy; other times they are dry, turd-like looking things. 
a wet, sloppy cat hairball

     Cats are especially prone to hairball formation since they groom themselves by licking their fur, and thereby ingest it. Rabbits are also prone to hairballs because they groom themselves in the same fashion as cats, but hairballs are especially dangerous for rabbits because they cannot regurgitate them. Because the digestive system of a rabbit is very fragile, rabbit hairballs must be treated immediately or they may cause the animal to stop feeding and ultimately die. Cattle are also known to accumulate hairballs, but as they do not vomit, these are usually found usually after they die and can be quite large. 
     No two ways about it, cat hairballs in cats are nasty things to clean up, but they can cause intestinal blockages which are a serious health problem. They are a result of a cat’s healthy and fastidious grooming routine...at least that is good news. So the question is, what can you do to keep hairballs to a minimum? 
     When a cat grooms itself tiny hook-like structures on its tongue catch loose hair which is then swallowed. The majority of this hair passes through the digestive tract with no problems. But if some hair stays in the stomach, it forms a hairball which, sooner or later, gets vomited up, usually on carpeted areas, of course. Kittens usually don't get hairballs, but it's normal for a cat to get them as they mature because as cats get older they become more proficient at removing fur from their coats with their tongues. 
     If you notice the following symptoms, get the cat to a vet because they could indicate a potentially life-threatening blockage: 
  • Constant dry heaves without producing a hairball 
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Lethargy 
  • Constipation 
  • Diarrhea 
Hairball Remedies:
Groom your cat regularly. The more fur you remove from your cat, the less fur that will end up as hairballs in its stomach. Some cats won't tolerate it though. 
Give your cat a hairball formula cat food or remedy. Some manufacturers make hairball-reduction cat foods. Hairball products are generally mild laxatives that help hairballs pass through the digestive tract. 

4 lb human hairball
     Sidebar: It's uncommon but hairballs have been reported in humans. Hairballs are generally seen in young girls as a result of trichophagia, trichotillomania or pica. They are hazardous in humans because hair cannot be digested or passed by the human gastrointestinal system. For that matter, even vomiting may not bring it up.

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