Cat Hairballs

Cat hairballs can be a bit scary if you've never seen them before. If your kitty starts retching, then vomits up what looks like a slug, it's probably a hairball. Closer inspection (if you can bear it!) should confirm that it's a cluster of matted fur.

Cause, Prevention And Treatment

1) Cause

picture of cat washing

Hairballs occur when a cat swallows her own hair. Kitty has a very rough tongue, designed to assist with grooming. When she washes herself, hair sticks to her tongue. She can't spit the hair out, so she swallows it.

Cat hair can't be digested, so it must pass out of Kitty's system at one end or the other. If there's a small amount of hair, it will usually move through the digestive system and be passed with the feces. But if there's too much, it can't pass from the stomach into the small intestine, so Kitty has to get rid of it by vomiting. (Sorry, this is a truly gross subject!)

2) Prevention

The easiest way to reduce the amount of hair that your kitty swallows is to groom her, preferably on a daily basis. This removes loose hair. The less loose hair that's still on her body, the less she'll swallow.

Some cat foods have added ingredients (usually fiber) that help to reduce hairball formation.

Cat fleas cause excessive grooming. So regular flea treatment should also help to reduce the risk.

3) Treatment

If your cat is suffering from hairballs regularly, you can use a commercial lubricant product, which will aid the passage of the hair through Kitty's system. In really extreme cases (which are rare), surgery may be required to remove the hairball.

Cat hairballs aren't usually dangerous. However, if your kitty starts retching but not vomiting anything up, has a hard or swollen stomach, loss of appetite, cat diarrhea or cat constipation, you should get a vet to check her over as soon as possible. For advice on health insurance for your cat, click here.

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