Hairballs in cats

All those who deal with cats have surely heard of or directly encountered hairballs. Also known as trichobezoars , we will explain why they form and how we can avoid them.

These hairballs can cause anything from coughing, to vomiting and even serious choking in our cat that ends up causing suffocation.

My cat vomits hairballs

As caregivers, it is common that on some occasion we have come across a strange mass, more or less compact, dry or surrounded by a liquid substance expelled by our cat. We may also have observed our cat vomit it up. If we look closely, we will see that it is a hairball, made up of food remains, acids and ingested hairs .

From time to time it is possible that we find this type of vomit without the cat showing any symptoms of discomfort. This leads to think that it is a normal situation, that it is part of feline physiology.

The most affected cats are usually those with long hair , because they eat longer hair , and the elderly, since they have a greater tendency to suffer constipation and dehydration.


Feline grooming

It is very common to see cats dividing their time between long naps and thorough grooming sessions. In them, although they may seem to us to be a series of random licks that the cat performs without any order, a pattern is repeated in which licking alternates with nibbling when the cat comes across some foreign substance that it must start. This process takes minutes and can be repeated several times a day.

It seems certain that during their daily self-grooming, cats will ingest a certain amount of hair that will be expelled along with their droppings . But, sometimes, the hairs, as they pass through the digestive tract, form a mass that can come out in the stool or cause vomiting.

If the cat frequently has problems with hairballs, we must go to the vet to rule out that it presents a dermatological problem that explains an increase in hair loss, which would increase its intake, or problems in internal organs that affect intestinal transit . In addition, stress can increase self-grooming , causing the cat to swallow more hair, thereby increasing the risk of trichobezoar formation.


Hairball problems

When ingested hair forms a ball in the digestive system together with secretions and substances that are found in it, it increases in size, some even exceeding ten centimeters in length and one and a half in thickness, and in density, it hardens and it can get blocked between the intestines .

bowel obstruction can be complete or partial . In the first case, the passage through the place where it is found is completely interrupted. This can lead to vomiting, malaise, anorexia, and unsuccessful attempts to defecate. If the cat stops eating and drinking it runs the risk of dehydration.

Partial obstruction can also lead to vomiting and digestive problems. In both cases they would be the same symptoms as those produced by a foreign body, in addition to gas.

Sometimes the cat shows signs of gastritis, with vomiting and nausea . In these cases, if it is verified that there is no obstruction, the veterinarian can prescribe drugs and diet to help the cat to expel the ball by itself.

Obstructions pose a risk to the life of our cat and will require veterinary treatment, including fluid therapy and surgery. The diagnosis is reached by taking into account the symptoms, the physical examination and the X-rays or ultrasound scans.


Measures to avoid the formation of hairballs

To avoid taking risks, it is important to minimize the formation of balls. For this we can follow the following tips:

Vomiting is not normal


Finally, although it is assumed that it is normal for cats to vomit hairballs with some frequency, we must know that vomiting more than once a week is a reason for veterinary consultation .

Frequent and chronic vomiting can indicate pathologies such as inflammatory bowel disease , lymphoma, food allergies or be a symptom of problems in other systems such as the kidney or liver. It is very important that a cat that vomits frequently is diagnosed and treated.

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