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Choosing a kitten from among its siblings is such a joyful experience as you contemplate the perfect name for your new little fur baby and friend. Like with many pets, it takes a lot of time and training to make sure you and your kitten share the most wonderful life for the next fifteen or so years. One thing you are likely not thinking about is hairballs – although if you end up with a cat, you will soon learn about them!


What are hairballs?

Hairballs are not the balls of fluff your cat’s brush accumulates after you groom it. Instead, it is the hair your cat’s tongue licks up while it is grooming itself. A cat’s tongue has a hook-like texture, almost like sandpaper, to it that makes it pick up any loose hairs on the animal’s coat. Most of the time the loose or dead hair passes through the entire digestive tract with no problems at all. The term “hairball” refers to conditions when the cat’s hair remains in the animal’s stomach, forming a ball of fur. When the cat regurgitates this hairball, it looks more like a cylinder because it had to pass through the narrow esophagus.

Are hairballs harmful?

If cats instinctively self-clean using their tongues, then of course these hairballs are not a problem right? Unfortunately, that is where matters can become complicated. Normally, hairballs would not form in a cat’s gut, but when they do it can harm them. If your cat cannot regurgitate the hairball, then the only other place for it to go is through the intestines. This is where it can cause a blockage, which will induce abdominal pain, vomiting, lack of appetite or lethargic behavior. If left untreated and the hairball remains in your cat’s stomach, it may mineralize and become hard. Mineralization is a fairly uncommon occurrence.

How are hairballs prevented?

Now that you know what hairballs are and the dangers they can pose to your furry friend, you probably would like to know what preventative measures you can take. When you consider that cat’s lick their fur to keep their coats clean, it is because there is loose fur. Brushing your cat often, even daily, will help to prevent them from licking up and swallowing excess fur. Make sure your cat’s skin and coat is well maintained with regular brushing, grooming and by applying flea or tick medicine.

Cats also lick themselves excessively when they experience anxiety. Evaluate your cat’s housing situation and make the necessary changes to prevent your cat from being on edge all the time.

What are some at-home treatments?

If you take all of these precautions against hairballs and your cat still struggles with them, then here are some at-home remedies you can try. Keep in mind, it is normal for a cat to regurgitate a hairball once a week. Some simple treatments you can try with your cat is to add a small amount of butter or oil to their food to help lubricate the hairball and allow it to pass more smoothly through the digestive tract, limiting impaction. Another trick you can try is using a treat or gel designed to help cats get rid of hairballs. There are a number of different treats you can use online or in your local pet store – feel free to ask us for a recommendation.

When should you call your veterinarian?

If you have tried everything you can think of from daily brushings to hairball preventative treats and it still has not worked, you should call your veterinarian. Your vet will determine through various methods if the vomiting, lethargic behavior or hacking is due to a hairball. These methods may include an examination, x-ray, ultrasound and blood work. The reason why these tests need done on your cat is to eliminate the chances that the abnormal behavior is not related to asthma or another gastrointestinal issue. More often than not, your cat will take a laxative (under proper supervision and care). Mineralized hairballs often will require removal through surgery.

Having a cat and the laughs, comfort and overall joy they bring far outway the risks posed by hairballs. If you are ever concerned that your cat may have a hairball stuck in their digestive tract, do not hesitate to give Longview Animal Hospital a call. Remember to watch out for a lack of appetite, lethargic behavior, abdominal pain and unproductive hacking or vomiting. Contact Longview Animal Hospital today to make your appointment.