Cats and Hairballs
Horf horf horf, ack!
Ah yes, the sound you might hear at 3am and you don’t make the connection until you wake up and step in the cats hairball!
You know, the cold wet clump of fur your cat brought up a few hours ago.
For some cats and their owners, hairballs are written off as a part of life, for others, hairballs might be a sign of a larger problem.
Hairballs, or trichobezoars, in most cases are the product of grooming as part of kitty’s normal cleaning habits. Typically, they might only have an episode every few weeks to months and this is not so problematic. Brushing your cat (if they’ll let you!) can help remove dead hairs and minimize how much they are ingesting. For cats that aren’t amenable to brushing or if it still isn’t enough, many veterinarians will recommend using a gooey flavoured paste: Laxatone or Tonic-Lax, these are 2 common products that can help bind up hairs and grease up the insides a bit to help cats pass them more easily out the back end.
Sometimes though, hairballs are much more frequent than expected.
Over-grooming can be a common cause of hairballs, but it is often linked to other issues.
Cats may over-groom if they are stressed for behavioral reasons, or underlying skin issues such as allergies or infections.
I’ve even seen a few cats lick their bellies clean of fur and they were found to have problems on the inside such as bladder infections or stones and in one case an intestinal tumor. The most likely thought is the inflammation is so uncomfortable for the cat, that licking was their way of trying to relieve the discomfort on the inside. But then again, cats can’t talk to us so maybe their obsessive behaviors in those cases were the cats way of telling us there is a problem.
Another cause of hairballs to consider would be gastrointestinal issues. We know cats eat their own hair and that hair may sit in the cats stomach for a prolonged time if there is a motility issue such as delayed emptying of the stomach or an excessive amount of tissue that prevents things from passing into the intestine. On occasion, these clumps of hair can join with other ingested material and cause an obstruction which might involve surgery to remove. To help with these issues, your veterinarian may recommend a hairball control diet or, if needed, medications to help keep a normal flow.
In many cases, we can point the finger of blame to evolution whereby we got the joy of long haired cats on Earth and later we can thank the Egyptians thousands of years ago for worshipping these glorious felines. From those days on, cats decided to make us their servants and remind us of our place… What better way to do this than to make us clean up their recycled hair in a wet, clumped format?
It’s not just long haired cats that provide us with hairballs however, as my own domestic shorthair Gremlin almost daily now reminds me with a small gift on my side of the bed.
As I try to tell cat owners, “a one time incident in these cases isn’t usually a cause for alarm, multiple hairballs or increasing frequency of hairballs for your cat deserves a trip to your trusted veterinarian”.
So the next time you step in a hairball, maybe you cat is trying to tell you something and you should listen. Or they’re just getting revenge for that horrible outfit you made them wear at Halloween 😉
Disclaimer: All views and opinions in this post are that of Dr.Ryan Llera.