By Dr Mandy Finnemore
Hairballs (also called Furballs) are a normal part of most cats’ lives. The technical name is a “trichobezoar” pronounced as trike-o-bee-zohr. Hairballs occur when too much hair collects in the stomach, instead of it passing via the digestive tract out to the litter tray. The excessive hair can irritate the stomach lining causing the cat to vomit the hairball to expel it. They often appear in a thin tube like shape, not as a round / ball shape. Watching and hearing your cat vomit up a Hairball can be quite off putting, as the hacking gag, and retch can be spectacular but is usually over within a few attempts then your cat will continue life as if nothing happened, leaving a present for you to clean up.
When Hairballs become a problem:
As your cat grooms itself, the rough texture on its tongue will catch the loose and dead hair which is then swallowed. Most of the hair will naturally pass through the digestive tract and come out in the litter tray without any issues. However if excess hair stays in the stomach it can form a Hairball, which may irritate the stomach lining. It would be considered normal for most cats (especially long hair cats) to develop a hair ball monthly, but if the frequency increases to weekly, or if your cat shows signs of becoming unwell (ongoing vomiting or gagging without production of hairball; poor appetite; constipation or diarrhoea), you should have your cat checked by a Veterinarian.
Other serious health conditions must not be overlooked by assuming you cat has a simple hairball. Early signs of Feline Asthma (dry cough) and various digestive problems should be ruled out as they can become more serious than a simple Hairball. Food Allergies (sensitive stomachs); Skin Disease (allergies , atopy, parasites, contact; infections); Behavioural problems (stress responses can cause over grooming) can all be reasons for your cat to be grooming more hair than normal. A check up with your Veterinarian will ensure your cat is not suffering from these conditions. Some vets will also investigate a Holistic approach to managing Hairballs, such as homeopathic remedies and natural dietary changes.
Treatment of Hairballs:
1. Prevention of Hairballs – prevention is the best way to avoid hairballs becoming a problem. Regular grooming will reduce the amount of hair ingested by your cat. Use a cat comb or brush to remove the dead / loose hair.
2. Hairball Laxative – mild laxatives or lubricants have been used for years to assist with passing of hairballs through the digestive tract. Catlax is one example of a petroleum jelly which is not absorbed by the intestines; instead it coats and soften the stools allowing easier passage of the hair.
3. Hairball Formula Cat Food – specialised Hairball reduction cat foods are readily available. They are high fibre formulas designed to reduce Hairball problems by improving your cats cat, minimise the amount of hair shedding. The higher fibre will encourage the hair to be swept through the digestive tract. Eukanuba Hair ball diet and Hills Feline Hairball Dry Food are some examples available from most produce stores or Veterinary Practices.
Follow the directions on the labels carefully. Always introduce any new food or products slowly over a few weeks to give your cats’ digestive system time to adjust to the changes. If you follow the above suggestions your cat should only suffer from the occasional hairball and you won’t have to suffer from cleaning them up.