Vet Care for Dogs, Cats and Many Other Animals

5 Things New Cat Owners Need To Know About Hairballs

by Calvin Newman

If you're like most people who have chosen to open your home and heart to a feline friend, you undoubtedly want your cat to enjoy a long, happy life. You've probably made a commitment to providing your pet with good veterinary care, a healthy diet, and plenty of petting and attention. You've probably heard of feline-specific issues such as hairballs, but you may not be quite sure what they are and whether there's anything to be concerned about if your cat develops them. While most of the time, hairballs aren't serious, extreme cases can cause significant damage to the animal's health.

Here's what all new cat owners need to know about hairballs.

Hairballs Are Part of the Cat's Natural Grooming Process

Cats use their tongues to groom themselves, and they inadvertently wind up swallowing some of the hair. Most of the hair harmlessly through the animal's digestive system, but others remain in the cat's stomach. Because the hair is indigestible, it builds up in the cat's stomach and is eventually regurgitated. 

Hairballs Are More Common in Long-Haired Cats

Long-haired cats are more likely to develop hairballs because they simply have more hair. Long-haired cats are also more likely to develop mats in their fur, which can lead to excessive grooming, which in turn heightened the risk of the animal developing hairballs. However, the condition is far from unheard of in their short-haired counterparts, especially if the cat is a heavy shedder.

Hairballs Don't Look Like Balls

Despite their name, hairballs don't typically resemble balls or other round objects. Most of the time, they look like sausages or other objects with a cylindrical shape — which causes some pet owners to mistake them for feces and blame their cats for eliminating outside of the litter box. 

Hairballs Can Be Fatal

Although it's relatively rare, hairballs can build up to the extent that they create intestinal blockage in the animal — and left untreated, this can be fatal. Intestinal obstruction symptoms include bloating, lack of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive drooling. It is essential to take your pet to the local animal hospital if you suspect an intestinal blockage. 

You Can Minimize Your Cat's Hairball Production

Fortunately, there are things you can do to minimize the possibility of your feline friend developing hairballs. Brushing often to remove loose hairs is the first line of defense. if your cat has long hair or is a heavy shedder, consider using a de-shedding grooming tool in place of a regular brush. If hairballs persist, ask your veterinarian about dietary supplements that provide mild laxative effects that allow the hair in the stomach to pass easily.