Cats are avid self-groomers and will often spend hours at this task. Although it leaves us with a lovely clean cat, the hair that accumulates in her mouth ends up in her stomach. In most cases the hair will travel through your cat’s system, or she might regurgitate a hairball. It is natural for cats to bring up a hairball, but there are times when hairballs cause a problem.
A hairball is literally masses of hair that may contain food particles or bile. It is usually formed from hair that didn’t go through the cat’s system. Cats with longer hair tend to suffer more from hairballs than shorthaired breeds.
In most cases you might find hairballs around the house, which is normal. But if your cat shows signs of distress or struggles to regurgitate the hairballs, then you need to take her to vet. Also, if you find more hairballs in the house than usual, consult the vet.
Sometimes the hairball can be too big to pass through her system, which leads to various health issues. This is also a cause for concern.
Ideally, your cat shouldn’t have too many hairballs and therefore it is important to do what you can to prevent as many hairballs as possible.
Symptoms of a stuck hairball
If a hairball is causing a problem for your cat, she might display some of these symptoms:
- 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
If you notice any of these symptoms, immediately consult your vet.
The sound of your cat gagging to get rid of a hairball is not only annoying when it happens in the middle of the night when you are trying to sleep (nevermind having to pick it up!), it is also uncomfortable for your cat. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent hairballs from becoming a problem. The first thing that you can do for your cat, especially if she has long hair, is to brush her often. Most cats enjoy the personal touch and it builds a bond between you and your cat. Brushing your cat regularly will get rid of the loose hair, meaning that less hair will penetrate her system.
You also may want to prevent your cat from over-grooming, which is an obsessive behaviour where she can’t stop grooming herself. This is a serious problem that needs professional help. See a vet or a behaviourist if you suspect this kind of behaviour.
Another way to get rid of loose hair is to supplement her diet with omega-3 fatty acids. Always check with your vet first if it is a good idea for your cat. There are foods on the market that also help your cat to shed less and digest the hair in her system better. Although these foods might be pricier, it will be worthwhile for your cat’s health.
Over the counter supplements can also help to prevent hairballs. Try a combination of the above and if you still find hairballs all over the house, the best solution is to speak to your vet.