Anyone who has had a pet cat knows the terrible sound the animal makes when it has a hairball. Some people say cats cough up hairballs but the sound is a combination of hacking, choking and several other indescribable things. Cats can be resting comfortably or strolling across the room when all of a sudden they stop and begin that sound!
You may have heard a lot of theories and myths about what causes hairballs and about what they are actually made of. The truth is rather simple – hairballs are masses of damp hair, closely matted together in clumps large enough to choke a cat. The hair gets into the cat’s mouth and esophagus, even into the stomach, when cats groom themselves. Plenty of cat hair gets into the animal’s mouth during this process. Basically, they eat their own coat!
It’s a Problem
Unfortunately, a cat’s digestive system doesn’t handle this fur very well. While some animal’s have digestive systems that will dissolve almost anything, when a cat ingests a lot of fur it simply gathers into an ugly clump until the mass becomes big enough to cause a real problem.
Some of this fur is passed out of the system when the cat uses the litter box or goes outside. But much of it must be eliminated from the body through the mouth. That’s when you hear the hacking/choking sound. You may see a large hairball on your carpet if this takes place inside. (You can always hope the cat takes care of this problem outside!)
If the cat doesn’t cough up this mass of hair its system can be become clogged up. That means constipation or worse. In some cases, a pet may even need surgery to have the hairball removed.
It may be impossible to prevent your cat from getting hairballs but you may be able to reduce the number of episodes by taking a few simple steps. You can help your feline friend by brushing them gently every day. This will remove much of the loose hair that would otherwise be ingested by the cat during grooming. If your pet is a long-haired cat you might need to pay more attention to this than if the cat has short fur and doesn’t have a lot of loose hair.
Long-haired cats should probably be combed. Use a comb with large, widely-spaced teeth. A short-haired cat can be brushed, but do it gently so that you don’t pull out too much fur.
You should also try to give your cat the right kind of diet. New food combinations help keep excess hair from collecting in the cat’s throat and stomach. Talk with your veterinarian about diet and about medicines that can also help with the hairball problem. Ask your vet about vitamin deficiency that might contribute to hair loss and hairball troubles.
Of course, you don’t want to stress about hairballs and your cat’s health but you shouldn’t take this problem too lightly either. Do what you can to help prevent your cat’s hairball problem.