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Cats and hairballs

Cats and hairballs

Posted by Patricia on 8th Apr 2022

Years ago, I broke my leg and couldn't do simple things like sweeping my hardwood floors. I used to joke that my cat's hairballs were getting so big she thought they were toys. 

On a more serious note, hairballs can be a real issue for some felines. So here are a few interesting things to know about hairballs, a few of which could improve your kitty's life. 

What is a hairball? 

Any cat guardian can tell you hairballs are not actual balls. Instead, they're shaped like tubes. This happens because hairballs get elongated as they travel through your cat's esophagus and her digestive system. 

Hairballs, or those things your cat yaks up periodically, are Mother Nature's way of helping her get rid of loose, indigestible hair. Yes, hair from your cat and you or other humans and animals in your household. The roughness of your kitty's tongue acts like a rake that loosens her fur during grooming sessions. As a result, she swallows the fur that collects in her stomach and later (indelicately) expels it from her body. 

When hairballs are normal?

Hairballs should only occur once or twice a month. They'll pass through your cat's digestive system with ease most of the time. But there are times they accumulate, get stuck, and the coughing and gagging will begin. 

When hairballs are not normal?

You'll want to seek veterinary attention if your cat has frequent hairballs. If you are present when she tries to get rid of one, monitor her for symptoms like excessive gagging or hacking without bringing up a hairball, not eating, fatigue, and constipation or diarrhea. These are signs pointing to dehydration and some kind of obstruction. 

Crazy facts about hairballs 

While hairballs might not be the most palatable thing to think about, they can make for some compelling conversation. Here are some facts you can commit to memory for your next trivial pursuit tourney. 

* The largest hairball to be removed from a cat was nearly 5 inches long and weighed 7.5 ounces 

* The scientific name for hairballs is "trichobezoars." The first part of that word, "Trich," is Greek for hair. "Bezoar" is the word for mass found in the stomach or intestines. 

* Cats are not the only animals to get hairballs. People, cows, and rabbits also deal with them from time to time, although it is, admittedly, difficult to picture a bovine's hairball! 

* It can take a feline around 48 hours of gagging and retching to expel a hairball. 

How to prevent hairballs?

Brush your cat every day to help loosen hair - and lessen hairballs. 

Ask your vet if your cat needs a "hairball diet." Several cat food manufacturers now offer high-fiber blends that will help the loosened hair pass through the digestive system, basically eliminating the issue of hairballs. And wet food also helps because it's easier than the dry stuff for kitty to digest and that lets hair pass through without forming a ball. 

There is no shortage of hairball elimination products out there. Ask your vet if one would be appropriate for your cat. 

Sometimes excessive grooming is a habit your cat has developed to alleviate stress or boredom. Ask your vet for suggestions of games or toys you can play with your kitty that might help minimize the fur licking and put an end to the hairball situation in your house.