Cat Hairball Causes

Hairballs are often thought of as the punchline of cat jokes. Feline owners are very familiar with the telltale hacking of this common small damp collection of fur. Cats are very particular animals when it comes to self-grooming and maintenance. Licking and swallowing loose fur in an attempt to clean their coats is all part of this innate tendencies. In most cases, the cat’s digestive system is able to handle the consumption of hair and allow it to pass easily through the intestinal tract. However, there are cases rather than having the loose hair pass through the intestinal tract, the hair is released through vomit instead—or coughing up a hairball.  This behavior usually warrants no reason for concern, but there are circumstances where a large mass of hair cannot pass through the cat’s digestive system, inevitably causing a life-threatening blockage.  It is important as a pet owner to know why hairballs form, and the dangers behind them.

It is not uncommon for a cat to regurgitate this type of by-product once every week or so.  The main structural component of hair is an indigestible protein called keratin, which is why the cat’s fur is not always passed through the digestive path.  The accumulation of matted hair can present a serious health concern in cats. If the wad grows too large to pass through the narrow sphincters leading from the esophagus to the stomach the ball of fur can become tightly lodged in the tract.

There are four basic symptoms which may mean your cat may have an intestinal blockage:

1. Continued retching that does not result in the expulsion of a hairball.
2. Inability to keep down food
3. Diarrhea, not defecating, straining to defecate
4. Lethargy

An intestinal blockage may be suspected by your veterinarian if any of the above clinical signs present.  A diagnosis of intestinal blockage is usually made through x-rays, and, in some cases, an ultrasound.  In the event that the blockage is detected, surgery may be required in order to remove the mass of hair.

As a cat owner, there are a few measures to take as a way to prevent your cat from getting hairballs.  Regular brushing helps remove much of your cat’s loose fur, allowing for less hair to be consumed in your cat’s daily grooming routine.  Feeding your cat a specially formulated blend of hairball care food may also be beneficial.  In addition, special products that help move hairballs through the system may be added to food.  Our Veterinary Office carries this product and should be safe to use as indicated.