Cat Hairball Symptoms – Cat Health

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Cat Hairball Symptoms Every Cat Owner Should Know

Cat hairball symptoms include:

• Ongoing often non-productive gagging, hacking, retching and vomiting
• Actual vomiting of hairball
• Lethargy
• Lack of appetite
• Dry cough and/or wheezing
• Diarrhea
• Constipation
• Sometimes a swollen abdomen
• Weakness

We’ve all experienced it. Hairballs: the bane of every cat and cat owner’s existence. We usually hear their pre-arrival, even in our sleep, hopefully with sufficient time to evict the gagging cat from the bed, rug, or furniture. It can be somewhat daunting to witness your cat stretch his neck out, eyes wide, mouth open dry heaving a recalcitrant hairball, particularly if it’s taking a long time coming.

Hairballs are easy to identify– usually a relatively firm irregular ‘’ball’’ of hair that matches the cat from wince it came. Although they can come up alone, they’re usually mixed with food and sometimes bile.



What is a hairball?

Cats are fastidious animals and so they groom themselves often and because grooming is also a social thing, they groom any other cats in the family as well. Cats are blessed with fabulous grooming tools called papillae on their tongues. These are tiny barbs that make their tongues rough to the touch. They exfoliate dander and grab loose hair that they then swallow. Hair makes up a large percentage of your cat’s stool but sometimes it stays behind in the stomach and forms a hairball. Contrary to their name they’re usually tube-shaped like the esophagus they pass through.

Hairballs are more likely in breeds such as Maine Coon, Persian, and Norwegian Forest cats. Any breed that sheds a lot will be plagued with hairballs. Even a short haired cat with a long-haired buddy will have hairballs more often. Stress can also make your cat over groom, leading to more hair balls. 

Cat Hairball Symptoms You Should Worry About

There’s no doubt that hairballs are unpleasant, both for the hairball’s owner and us. Usually they are just a normal part of being a cat, but sometimes particularly if the cat is a long-haired breed, hairballs can become life-threatening. There are some symptoms you should keep in mind. Knowing what to look for and taking quick action can save your pet’s life.

If your cat isn’t eating or can’t keep anything down and/or losing weight, it’s not a simple hairball.

If he/she repeatedly vomits (sometimes projectile) or retches repeatedly but doesn’t produce a hairball.

If the cat becomes constipated. It may repeatedly try to produce stool but little or nothing is passed.

If the cat has diarrhea. It’s body may try to expel the hairball by producing more liquid in the bowel than normal resulting in diarrhea.

If your cat paces and cries, and/or seems to be in pain.

If he or she becomes lethargic, weak, and lacks energy. The cat may hide and won’t come out.

A swollen abdomen.

These symptoms signal an intestinal blockage and needs immediate medical attention. When in doubt it’s always best to err on the side of caution and have your cat checked out by a vet.

Professional Diagnosis 

Your vet will diagnose an obstruction in several ways. He or she may take X-rays, do an ultrasound, or might be able to actually feel the ball in the bowel upon examination. Sometimes an obstruction in the bowel can be removed by giving the cat a laxative or administering one or more enemas. If this doesn’t work the hairball will need to be removed by surgery. Although this can be expensive, it is necessary to save the life of your pet.

To diagnose hairballs the vet will consider the symptoms, the breed, and might be able to feel the hair ball in the stomach or esophagus. An X-ray may be in order. Most often if your cat is having a lot of hairballs but isn’t blocked, the vet will prescribe a laxative to take them through your cat’s digestive tract.

How to prevent hairballs

• Groom your cat frequently. The more hair in the brush the less hair will be in your cat. If you have more than one cat it’s important to groom all of them so there will be less hair to share. Most cats are agreeable to being brushed particularly if you make a point to praise your can while you’re brushing him or her. It’s important to make brushing or combing a part of a kitten’s routine so they will let you when they’re older. If your cat simply will not allow you to groom it enlist the help of a groomer.

• If your long-haired cat really has a problem with hairballs you can have its hair trimmed so there’s less of it consumed and less to form hairballs.

• Your vet can prescribe a cat food for hairballs. These types of food are high in fiber and fat to keep the hair moving through. And they contain nutrients to keep your cat’s hair healthy with less dander and shedding.

• It’s possible your cat has inflammatory bowel disease or a food allergy. IBD or an allergy causes the gut to become inflamed and hinders the cat’s ability to deal with hairballs. You might want to try a limited antigen food for awhile to see if it works.

They are usually low or no grain dry food. Give it 8 weeks, if it works keep the cat on it. Also, if IBD is diagnosed a prescription food will help your cat’s digestion and limit inflammation.

Hairball Remedies

There are some remedies you can give your cat for hairballs. However you should always consult a vet first for advice.

• Butter. Add some butter, cooking oil, or petroleum jelly to your cat’s food. Many cats will lick butter off a spoon or your finger. Do not try to administer cooking oil or mineral oil with a spoon. Cats can inhale oils into their lungs. Put oil into food.

• Hairball treatment. These come in a tube and have a slight laxative effect. It’s usually flavored like caramel or malt—which cats love. These preparations are a good line of defense for keeping hairballs from becoming a problem. Always read and follow directions.

• Fiber. Fiber keeps things moving through your cat just like your bran keeps you feeling fit and healthy. Fiber also softens the hair balls. There are various cat foods that are high in fiber or you can give your cat a small amount of pumpkin, asparagus, or oat grass. Oat grass you can grow yourself and let them nibble. You can also mix a little unflavored psyllium into the cat food or baby food (strained beef, pork, ham, chicken, lamb, veal, or turkey). Most cats love strained meat baby food and it’s a sneaky way to give them their Metamucil (psyllium).

While hairballs are a fact of life for a cat, there’s a lot we can do to help them have fewer of them. We can also protect our babies from serious consequences of too much hair in their tummies and bowel.

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