cats and hairballs

To truly understand the concept of cause and effect, look no further than the domestic feline. When they aren’t sleeping, eating, or playing, they are grooming themselves or their furry housemates. Indeed, cats are incredibly detail-oriented when it comes to their appearance (a trait inherited from their wild relatives, self-grooming kept them safe from predators). But where does all that loose fur go? 

Cat hairballs are the direct result of self or allogrooming, but they aren’t ever a welcome sight!

Specialized Anatomy

Filiform papillae is the special name given to the backwards-facing spines lining all feline tongues. Their functions include ripping meat off bones, but perhaps most importantly, these spikes clean up a dirty or scent-filled fur coat. Larger hunters find it more difficult to track the scent of a recently self-groomed cat.

Top of the Food Chain

Domestic felines might not ever be threatened by larger predators, but they continue to uphold personal hygiene as a matter of inheritance. Since the spikes on their tongues face backwards, there is nowhere but down the hatch for any loose or dead hairs to go. Hair is swallowed where it accumulates in the GI tract. 

Process of Adaptation

Most of the time cats will simply pass any accumulated hair through their intestines, as evidenced by furry-looking feces in the litter box. However, some long-haired cats may have more trouble with this. When cats swallow too much hair, it can actually get lodged in the GI tract, requiring immediate veterinary intervention, and possibly surgical removal.

Coping with Cat Hairballs

Cat owners know the sound associated with cat hairballs all too well. Usually, we’re in bed or watching TV when the sound propels into action. We’re a second too late and the hairball needs to be picked up from the new carpet or rug (why cats never choose an easy-to-clean surface is beyond us!). 

Critical Nature

Usually a few inches long, cylindrical in shape, and colored like your cat’s fur (plus some food and digestive juices), cat hairballs, or trichobezoars, have the potential to ruin a good night.

Fortunately, cat hairballs don’t have to take over our relatively cozy vibe at home. Adding an extra grooming or brushing session during the week can make a huge difference to the frequency and intensity of cat hairballs.

Extra Steps

Depending on your cat’s needs, they might benefit from a shift in their diet. There are commercially available cat foods designed to reduce or minimize cat hairballs. Please let us know if you are interested in making the change.

The Takeaway

While cat hairballs can be a part of a normal process (especially during high-shedding seasons, like spring), vomiting is never something to ignore. Often indicative of various other health conditions, we encourage you to schedule an appointment to rule out larger concerns. Our veterinarians and staff members are always here for your cat at Long Animal Hospital and Emergency Center.