Everyday Care: Hairballs in your Cat

Hairballs, which are technically trichobezoars, form in your cat’s gastrointestinal tract due to their grooming habits.  Cat tongue 300x300 featured2 They generally occur in medium to long-haired cats.  If you have felt a cat lick you then you know that a cat’s tongue feels like sandpaper.  This is because a cat’s tongue has papillae, which are little hooked, hair-like growths that face towards the back of the mouth.  Because of this unique structure on the cat’s tongue they are very efficient at removing and swallowing loose hair when grooming.

The majority of hair passes through the gastrointestinal tract without causing a problem.  If some of the hair stays in the stomach it can form a hairball which can become rather large.  Eventually the hairball will induce vomiting and a tubular compacted hairball with gastric juice will come out of your cat’s mouth.  This usually resolves the problem. Below is a video of a cat vomiting up several hairballs.

The problem becomes when the hairball becomes large enough to cause a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract.  The hairball might become too large to be vomited out of the stomach, or in some cases, out of the esophagus.  Despite repeated efforts by the cat to vomit the hairball nothing comes up and the cat starts to feel sick.  Sometimes the hairball will pass from the stomach into the small or large intestines and causes a blockage.  In any of these scenarios the cat will become nauseous, dehydrated, and malnourished.  Endoscopy or surgery is often required to save the cat’s life.

What you can do to prevent hairballs in your cat

You can prevent your cat from having to go through a life-saving procedure or surgery by doing certain things to prevent hairballs from ever forming.  Some of the things you can do for your cat to prevent hairballs are the following:

1.  The most effective way to prevent hairballs is regular brushing.  If  your cat has medium or long hair then daily or every other day brushing is recommended.  If your cat has short hair then once a week might be sufficient.  Regular brushing removes the loose hair so your cat doesn’t swallow them. Click here to learn more about how to groom your cat.

2.  There are commercially available lubricant gels, such as Petromalt and Laxatone, that your cat can take orally.  These products often come in a tube and have an appealing taste to your cat.  They help lubricate hairballs and move them through the gastrointestinal tract before they become too large.

3.  There are hairball treats and diets that can be very effective in minimizing hairball formation in the gastrointestinal tract.  The hairball treats often have mineral oil, which provides lubrication to the hairball, while the hairball diets often have increased fiber, which helps provide bulk that can move hairballs through the gastrointestinal tract.

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Dr Peter Nurre

Peter Nurre, DVM, Diplomate ACVIM (internal medicine) is a board- certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. His professional interests include internal medicine and cardiology.

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Comments

  1. avatar Will says:

    that’s a dog’s tongue

    1. Thank you very much for reading! We really appreciate it!
      Actually, the photo in this article is a cat’s tongue. You can tell because it has papillae on it (they look like little hooks on the tongue). Dog’s don’t have papillae on their tongues. That’s why we put this photo with this article. However, if there is something else we are missing, please let us know.
      We are so glad that you stopped by, and we hope you keep visiting. More interesting articles are coming up!
      ~Angela