Many pet owners love their feline friends, and will do whatever it takes to keep them relaxed and happy. This makes it especially alarming for pet-owners to witness their cat suffer from the discomforting symptoms that come with hairballs. Knowing how to prevent this common problem and how to treat it when it occurs is essential to keeping your cat healthy. “A hairball is an accumulation of hair in the GI tract,” said James Barr, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM).” It simply accumulates together and is usually contained within the stomach.” A hairball is formed when cats accidently ingest loose hair while cleaning their fur. The fur that is not digested accumulates in the stomach, forming a hairball. While clinical signs of hairballs may vary, common symptoms include decreased appetite, constipation, and vomiting. “In the worst case scenario, the hair passes through the stomach and lodges in the small intestine,” said Barr. “The result is an obstruction in the GI tract which can be life threatening.”
If you believe your cat is feeling sick due to a hairball it is important to see your veterinarian right away. They may prescribe medication or give treatments that can help cats deal with the discomfort associated with hairballs.
“Numerous cats, especially those with long hair, will occasionally vomit up hairballs and not show any clinical signs, which may be completely normal for your cat,” said Barr. “ If there seems to be an abnormal amount of hairballs produced, then steps should be taken to prevent the pet from ingesting large amounts of hair or to help the hair move through the GI tract before it accumulates together.
Pet owners can also help reduce the severity of their cat’s hairballs by frequently brushing the cat and discouraging it from excessively grooming itself.
“There are over-the-counter medications that are designed for cats with hairballs to aid in digestion,” said Barr. “As always, if there are concerns for your cat's health, please call your veterinarian for guidance.”