Hairballs in cats
The hairball is a long, soft thing that the cat spits out. In fact, the cat swallows much hair into the stomach and spit it out. Everyone knows that the spines on their tongues are curved and hollow-tipped to help the cat eating food, and play a role in cleaning and grooming. Therefore, the cat’s hair inevitably enters the stomach and intestines. A large amount of body hair that enters the stomach and intestines will form hairballs in the stomach and intestines. These hairballs are difficult to pass through the digestive tract, and the pancreatic digestive enzymes in the cat itself cannot be completely decomposed. Therefore, the natural way for cats is to spit out the furballs.
From many owners’ perspectives, this is a normal phenomenon of cat behavior and is not worth telling the vet. However, it must be realized that frequent vomiting of hairballs often indicates excessive hair intake or potential gastrointestinal diseases.
Incidence of cat hairballs
There is very little information about the incidence and causes of cat vomiting hairballs, and whether commonly used treatment and prevention methods are effective. Searching the peer-reviewed veterinary journal literature from 1946 to 2010, only one paper containing 5 cases and 13 case reports were found. Based on experience, we know that furballs often appeared in pet cats, and long-haired cats are more likely to appear than short-haired cats. However, as far as the author knows, there is currently no published
data to prove this point.
Causes of vomiting hairballs
Swallowing too much hair
The stomach has reached its limited ability to fit all hair into the small intestine. Long-haired cats have this condition more often than short-haired cats, but in addition to hair length, there are other reasons that can cause excessive hair intake: flea infections; itchy skin diseases; excessive swallowing due to pain or anxiety.
Upper gastrointestinal motility changing
Increased sympathetic nerve stimulation secondary to chronic gastrointestinal diseases or other factors (like chronic pain or stress) can change the motility of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Frequent vomiting of hair bulbs is a common clinical symptom of shorthair cats suffering from chronic gastrointestinal diseases, such as food intolerance or inflammatory bowel disease.
Therefore, the regular vomiting of hair bulbs in shorthair cats may indicate primary gastrointestinal disease, flea infection, or other skin diseases.
Possible consequences of excessive hairballs
The hairball formed in the stomach is too large to enter the duodenum, and is finally discharged through vomiting. The owner will describe this behavior as “coughing up” a hairball.
Occasionally, hairballs cannot be spit out. Although clinical experience tells us that this is very rare, hair bulbs that cannot be spit out may cause serious illness or even death through the following three mechanisms: entering the small intestine, causing partial or complete intestinal blockage, which lead to vomiting and abdominal discomfort. Physical examination may reveal a blockage of the proximal small intestine to expand. If the hair bulb is large, a “lump” may be felt. Since gastrointestinal masses in cats are most often tumors, the owner may mistakenly believe that the prognosis is poor unless more tests are performed. Stuck in the esophagus will cause symptoms of esophageal blockage, which may cause esophagitis and esophageal stricture.
According to literature reports on a small number of esophageal hairballs, cats often have esophageal diseases at the same time, like vomiting to the nasopharynx leading to sudden sneezing, retching, and subsequent bad breath and nasal discharge. At this time, it is difficult to determine whether the hair bulb is causing the damage to the esophagus or the hair bulb is stuck due to esophageal disease.
Measures to relieve cat hairball
Diligent in combing, reducing hair intake
Preventing cats from licking their body hair cannot be completely controlled, but if you comb your cats every day, you can definitely reduce the amount of hair that enters your cat’s body. Although this method is hard, it is absolutely comfortable for the cat, and it can also enhance the relationship between you and the cat.
Many attentive friends may find that if their cats are tense or stressed, they will immediately start licking their fur, commonly known as “over-grooming.” In this case, the cat will ingest more hair, so it will cause frequent vomiting of hair bulbs. At this time, we should play with it more, scratch the cat’s chin and top of the head to soothe it, feed some favorite snacks, and etc. If it still can’t be solved, we recommend giving the cat some anti-anxiety drugs.
Use some grass or hair products
Cats eat some grass, which can promote the formation and discharge of hair bulbs. However, domestic cats are likely to go out less frequently. They cannot find grass and sometimes bite the flowers and trees in the house to replace them. This is also a solution, but some flowers and trees have toxins, which may cause harm to cats, like lilies. Therefore, you can go to the store to buy some cat grass to solve this problem, or you can prepare some cat grass at home for cats to eat; you can also use some hair products to help the cat’s intestines and stomach discharge the hair from the body.
Replaced with hair-removing cat food to promote rapid gastric emptying
The professional hair-removing cat food contains plant and crude fiber ingredients, which can effectively prevent hairballs from accumulating in the digestive tract and help hairballs to be excreted from the body. Especially for long-haired cats during the moulting process, the hairballs are absolutely impressive. It is recommended to change the cat food to remove hairballs. Pay attention to the food-changing method, and don’t rush to get it in place at one time, to avoid cats not getting used to it.