What is a cat hair ball?

A veterinarian can offer advice on hairballs.

A cat hairball is a tangled lump of hair and food that forms in a cat’s intestinal tract. Hairballs can be a serious problem for cats, and people should be aware of the signs to watch out for so they can spot a hairball problem early on. While many hairballs are passed harmlessly through one end or the other of the cat, some can cause intestinal obstructions, which can lead to very serious medical complications, including death, if left untreated.

Longhaired cats can produce more hairballs than shorthaired cats.

Many people who live with cats are familiar with the dry sound of a cat trying to bring up a hairball and the surprising time cats have to cough up hairballs in the middle of the night, during critical dinners, and at other inconvenient times. Furballs are such a notorious part of cat ownership that they have been the subject of countless cat comics and jokes.

Hairballs form because cats ingest hair regularly. The cat’s digestive system is indeed equipped to handle hair, both from brushing and from prey, but if a cat’s diet is not well-balanced, hair can begin to accumulate in the stomach or intestines, tangling to create a ball of cat hair. In some cases, the hairball can irritate the stomach, causing the cat to vomit it up, and in other cases, it can be passed out during defecation. However, hairballs can also block the intestines, causing extreme discomfort.

Passing one to two hairballs a month is normal and not a big cause for concern. If a cat starts vomiting more often or develops a bloated abdomen, lack of interest in food, inability to defecate, or irritability, it could be a sign of blockage caused by a cat hairball. In these cases, the cat needs to go to the vet. Surgery may be needed to safely remove the hairball from the intestines.

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Cat hairball prevention can be accomplished in a number of ways. Feeding a high fiber diet tends to help, as does regular grooming to reduce the amount of loose hair. Some people also have success with cat laxatives, and cat grass can also help shed body hair. Specially formulated foods for cats prone to hairballs are also available. If a cat has repeated hairballs, a veterinarian can provide additional ideas to help manage the problem.

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