Cats spend many hours of their lives grooming themselves. It keeps their coat soft, clean from debris and dead hair as well as stimulating blood circulation. This is perfectly natural, but excessive grooming can lead to problems with hairballs.
Small amounts of hair can pass through the cat’s digestive system without any problems. When a cat obsessively starts to groom herself, it can be because of pain or skin irritation. Stress can also play a role. A stressed cat can start to groom more than what is normal, as grooming soothes and comforts the cat. The development of hairballs is one of the health risks associated with this behaviour.
A cat is flexible, and during the grooming process she can reach almost every part of her coat – that’s a lot of hair! This is how hairballs make their appearance and how they affect your cat:
Step 1 Your cat grooms herself with her barbed tongue.
Step 2 The barbs on her tongue point backwards, making it very difficult for the cat to simply spit out the hair that is pulled loose from the coat.
Step 3 When too much hair ends up in the stomach, the stomach lining becomes irritated.
Step 4 The cat vomits out a hairball.
In some cases the hairballs aren’t vomited out, and move further down the digestive tract into the cat’s bowels. This is potentially dangerous as they can causes blockages that interfere with the cat’s normal digestive process. They can cause painful symptoms in your cat, and in some cases need to be removed surgically. If you find that your cat regularly coughs up hairballs, you should take her to the vet to prevent something more serious from occurring.
Symptoms to look out for
Your cat might display some of these symptoms if a hairball has moved into her bowel:
- Loss of appetite or only eating small quantities of food at a time
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Hair entwined with the faeces
- Occasional vomiting
- Dry coughing or hacking
- Cylindrical masses on the floor or furniture
- Depression or lethargy
- Swollen abdomen
- Regurgitation of undigested food right after it is eaten
- Preoccupation with eating grass or plants