cat laying on window sill

When they aren’t sleeping or eating, the average cat spends an inordinate amount of time cleaning itself. Indeed, cats have strong attachments to tidiness, and they use their barb-covered tongue to get the job done.

It’s only natural that a furry animal with a rough, brush-like tongue would simply have to endure coughing up a hairball or two. Consequently, cat hairballs are simply part of the territory. Until, that is, they indicate a larger problem.

Special Anatomy

Hundreds of hollow, rigid spines called papillae cover your cat’s tongue. Made of the same keratin found in claws and hair, the barbs on the tongue cleans fur, untangles knots, clears up debris, and removes parasites. Without self grooming, cat hair can become matted and infections might occur. 

About Face

The tongue’s papillae face backward, toward the back of the mouth. Even if cats didn’t want to swallow hair picked up by the tongue, it’s next to impossible to avoid. As a result, cat hairballs are a common occurrence. 

Not Normal

While common enough, cat hairballs are not considered normal. In fact, a cat that experiences them regularly should be examined and tested for underlying gastrointestinal problems. 

Their digestive systems are built to withstand certain amounts of fur, from themselves, other cats and their prey. Sometimes, when the weather warms up cats shed more, increasing the amount of consumed hair. However, when cat hairballs increase in frequency there could be nutritional deficiencies or digestive dysfunction (or both).

Steering Clear

Some cats consume too much hair for their GI tract to safely pass. This elimination of a foreign body comes back up through the esophagus and out the mouth. It is usually oblong from being pushed through this narrow space, full of hair, food, and other stomach contents. 

Cat hairballs can get stuck in the intestines, causing pain and requiring surgical removal.

What to Consider

As we mentioned, cat hairballs can happen with greater frequency when the weather changes. But vomiting for any reason should always be a cause for concern. Watch your cat’s behavior closely. If you see nothing else wrong following a hairball, it’s probable they just ingested too much hair. 

That being said, frequent cat hairballs can point to larger, more serious problems, including diabetes, intestinal parasites, kidney disease, thyroid disease, pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and more. 

Dealing With Cat Hairballs

One of the best things you can do is help your cat groom themselves. Invest in a good brush and comb and reduce how much hair they consume. 

Adding fiber to their diet may be an effective way to combat hairballs, and we can help you find the right product for your cat. If cat hairballs are the result of a bowel problem, changing to a hypoallergenic diet may diminish the problem. 

Let Us Know

Cat hairballs certainly aren’t fun to live with, but with a focused approach to your cat’s health and wellness, they can be a thing of the past. 

Remember, your team at Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital is always available to address concerns.