Hairballs are a familiar occurrence for cat owners, and we see this a lot at our animal hospital.
But what exactly is a hairball, and are they dangerous or a sign of something worse?
Educating yourself on veterinary medicine for cats can help you become a proactive pet parent, no matter what issue may arise.
Although hairballs are seen as normal behaviour for cats, they are often a sign of an underlying issue such as digestive troubles.
Let’s discuss all there is to know about why your cat gets hairballs, and what is the best course of action for you as a cat owner.
What Does A Hairball Look Like?
Despite the name, hairballs aren’t actually in the form of balls.
They are globs of thick, matted hair, usually tubular in shape rather than round.
This is due to the clump of hair travelling up through your cat’s esophagus.
Hairballs are covered in mucus so they will appear wet and slimy.
Their size ranges from an inch to a few inches in length, occasionally longer.
Where Do Hairballs Come From?
Your cat’s tongue is coated in inward-facing barbs, which they use for grooming.
It’s normal for your cat to end up ingesting hair as a result of this process, considering how about a third of their day is spent grooming.
No matter the breed or length of coat, all cats can develop hairballs.
Even if you have a hairless cat, they may develop hairballs if you have another cat in the house with hair, as cats often groom each other.
It may sound like your kitty is coughing, but hairballs come from the stomach and not the lungs.
Basically, your cat is vomiting hair from their stomach — not so charming, but sometimes that’s just part of having a pet.
What Causes Hairballs?
Although it may sound alarming that your kitty is consistently eating their own hair, it’s actually a normal behaviour.
The hair is supposed to travel through your cat’s digestive system to be expelled with their food.
However, if your cat can’t properly move the hair through their stomach and intestines, it will end up as a hairball.
Ultimately it’s a mechanical problem that affects motility, which is how efficiently material moves through the stomach and digestive system.
There are some conditions that can affect your kitty’s motility.
Some of these include inflammatory bowel disease, diet issues, or cancer.
Cat breeds including Rag Doll and Maine Coone are prone to developing intestinal valve problems, which may cause hairballs and vomiting.
Diet may also be a contributing factor.
If you’re unsure about whether your cat’s diet is sufficient or perhaps causing hairballs, touch base with your vet to take care of any underlying issues.
How Should You Handle Hairballs?
You may hear your cat making that familiar sound and be unsure of what to do or how to help them.
If you only notice this issue occurring every once in a while, there is most likely no need to worry.
If your cat is coughing up a hairball or vomiting more than once a month, it may be indicative of an underlying problem.
However, hairballs are considered by many veterinarians to be abnormal and not a behaviour inherent to all cats.
If you’re concerned, you should absolutely bring your pet in for a checkup.
Depending on the severity and frequency, your veterinarian can run some diagnostic tests including X-rays, blood work, and an ultrasound or endoscopy.
How To Prevent Problem Hairballs
There are some over-the-counter remedies aimed at helping hair move through your cat’s digestive system.
However, it’s not a good idea to try treating symptoms without knowledge of what is causing them.
If there is a deeper underlying cause, treatment will depend on a diagnosis and should be determined by you and your veterinarian.
Book An Appointment At Bickford Park Animal Hospital
Whether your cat is vomiting or expelling hairballs frequently, or if it’s a one-time occurrence, it can still be a sign of an underlying condition.
The best way to be a proactive pet owner and engage in preventative pet care is to check in with your veterinarian whenever concerns arise.
For more information on internal medicine for cats, contact us at Bickford Park Animal Hospital.
Our veterinarians understand your cat is a member of your family.
We would love to get to know you and your furry friend, and help you be the best pet owner you can be.
Some illnesses are easy to spot, but some need a vet’s trained perspective.
The most important thing is the happiness and health of your cat.
Book an appointment with a knowledgeable and experienced veterinarian at Bickford Park Animal Hospital today.
Bickford Park Animal Hospital is a veterinary clinic in Toronto, located across from Christie Pits park, committed to the highest level of caring and treatment for cats and dogs.