Almost all cat owners have seen a hairball or heard the disturbing sound of their cat trying to cough one up. Hairballs are easy to recognise as they take the distinctive form of cylindrical (tube shaped) masses of hair. Sometimes a hairball will be accompanied by bile or food particles. Hairballs form in your cat's stomach from hair that they've swallowed, while grooming. Cats are unable to spit the hair out because their tongues are covered with hundreds of small backward pointing barbs. These barbs don't allow hair to move forward out of your cat's mouth. Another reason why they occur is because cats are unable to excrete hair.
Usually swallowing hair isn't a problem for cats, but sometimes the hair will build up in the stomach and form a hairball. Longhaired breeds are particularly susceptible to them. If your cat gets the occasional hairball you needn't worry. However if she is getting them regularly or seems to be having serious problems with one, you should talk to your vet.
Problems Hairballs can cause problems if they harden in the stomach and the cat is unable to pass it. Signs that your cat may be having trouble with a hairball include:
- hard stool with signs of hair
- coughing or heaving particularly after eating
- lack of interest in food
The best thing you can do to stop hairballs forming is to groom your cat regularly. With longhaired breeds this is a must. Brushing your cat will remove dead hair from her coat making it much less likely for her to swallow loose hair.
Most cats love being brushed, so this is an excellent opportunity to bond with your cat. Be extra diligent with brushing in the springtime when your cat is shedding its winter coat.
There are also some methods you can use to supplement brushing. For example, there are a variety of hairball control foods or supplements that can help.
These work by making it easier for your cat to simply pass hair through their body as part of digestion. Talk to your vet and he or she will be able to recommend the best solution for you.