When you see your cat cough up a hairball for the first time it can be confusing and a little bit scary too. The sound, the motion and the hairball itself is all pretty alarming for cat owners. Even though you know that they are okay and it does more good for them than harm, it is something that is hard to get used to. So, why do our cats get hairballs?
What causes them?
They start during the grooming process. The tiny barbs on a cat’s tongue, called papillae, are actually made to help remove loose hair when a cat grooms himself. That loose fur is usually swallowed by the cat. Older cats tend to get more hairballs than younger ones because they are better at grooming themselves and they shed more as they get older.
Most of the time, the swallowed fur will pass through the digestive system along with their food. But, if there’s a lot of hair all at once, the hair could collect in their stomachs and form a hairball. The cat will then vomit up the hairball to get it out of their stomach. Since it has to pass through the esophagus, it doesn’t look like a ball, but more like a long oval of wet matted, fur and mucus. Yes, we know that is pretty gross sounding (and it is).
Are there signs my cat may need a cough up a hairball?
Your cat will start to gag and retch when he is trying to bring up a hairball. Sometimes, a cat will show some signs that he has a hairball. These signs could include loss of appetite, hard or loose stools, and lethargy. Your cat should return to his normal self once he passes the hairball, but if he doesn’t, call your vet for advice.
Is there anything I can do to help my cat not have hairballs?
Brushing your cat is key. This removes the dead fur that builds up in their coats and therefore they can’t swallow it. However, some cats, especially long hair breeds can be more prone to have them even if you keep them well groomed. Giving your cat a bath and using conditioner can help to loosen the dead fur so you can brush it out more thoroughly.
Adding some oily fish to their diet is another way to help them eliminate the hair from their stomachs easier. Give them a bit of canned fish in oil every so often to help lubricate their digestive tract, as well as fight against shedding and aid in digestion. All of these tips can help the fur pass through without matting up in their stomach.
And, of course, if your sitter notices a hairball on their visit, they will make sure to clean it up and let you know.