Cats’ hairballs have been the butt of jokes for years, but they really are no laughing matter.
A hairball is a clump of ingested hair that forms from a cat’s practice of licking itself while preening, or grooming. Cat’s often cough up hairballs, but not always, and unfortunately, a hairball can block a cat’s intestinal tract, resulting in death.
While it’s not uncommon for a cat to regurgitate a hairball once every week or two, if it grows too large to pass through the narrow sphincters leading either from the esophagus to the stomach or from the stomach to the intestinal tract or it becomes lodged in the small intestine, it causes a blockage that can be fatal if not removed either by surgery or use of a laxative over several days, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Symptoms of feline hairballs include retching, vomiting or gagging, loss of appetite, lethargy, constipation and diarrhea. And while hairballs can’t be prevented, pet owners can take steps to reduce their frequency.
Brushing your cat’s hair regularly can go a long way to keep him from swallowing so much hair when he is grooming, adds Cornell. PetWebMD.com advises brushing daily. Commercial hairball products that help your cat pass a hairball also work, as do special hairball-reducing cat foods.
Feline pet owners should never use a laxative on their fur babies, however, without the supervision of their veterinarian. The same advice applies to the use of commercial diets that claim to be effective in preventing or relieving hairball obstructions, advises Cornell.
Finally, if you notice your cat is grooming himself excessively, he could be bored. Try introducing a new toy to distract him. Better yet, find one that the two of you can play with together, advises PetMD.