Hairballs…not everything small and furry is adorable.  You step out of bed blurred eyed, not fully awake when all of a sudden your foot makes contact with something cold, soft and wet. Cats are fastidious groomers, grooming between 2-3 hours per day, in the process of grooming the surface of their tongue’s barb-like protrusions on the tongue catch loose hair, and the cat ingests the hair as it grooms.Unfortunately, the main structural component of the hair, keratin, is a tough, insoluble protein substance that is indigestible by the cats stomach. While most of the swallowed hair eventually passes through the animal’s digestive tract and gets excreted intact in the feces, some of it remains in the stomach and gradually accumulates into a damp clump, known as the hairball.   With all the time devoted to grooming with their barb-like tongues, it is inevitable that hairballs will be made.

photo for hairball (educational blog)Some cats are by nature, more fastidious than others in their grooming habits. Long-haired breeds such as Persians and and Maine Coons are at greater risk for developing hairballs due to their long hair. Kittens and young cats are less apt to develop hairballs than older cats who as well-experienced groomers and likely to spend a good portion of their waking hours busily licking their coats. It is important with all cats whether long, medium or short-haired, to brush them on a daily basis to help control the amount of hair being ingested.  With long-haired cats, even with daily brushing, you may have to have their fur shaved by a groomer to help control mats from forming and leading to skin issues.

Most veterinarians will tell you that an occasional hairball, one every two to three weeks, is nothing to be concerned about. When a cat regurgitates up hairballs more frequently, they may have a slower intestinal mobility or an inflammatory intestinal tract issue. Because of these two issues, the hair will sit in the stomach forming into more frequent hairballs. If you find that your cat does regurgitate a lot of hairballs, make sure to have your cat evaluated by your veterinarian. They will be able to evaluate your cat’s general health and discuss with you the daily habits of your cat. Cats will ingest more fur during stressful times, illness, and with allergies because of excessive grooming. Because of this, it is important to address any issues causing stress, anxiety, illness, or allergies so hairballs do not contribute to the underlying issue.

All cats will regurgitate up hairballs and we as humans will continue to step on them but with proper veterinary care, daily brushing, and a healthy diet, hairballs can be few and far between.