Is that a hairball? Yuck! Hairball that is often chucked up by the cat on the rug or on the carpet is one of the common problems of cat owners. Long haired and short haired cats get hairballs but this ball of fur is more common in long haired breeds. Hairballs are one of the reasons why finicky people would not dare to get a cat for a pet. Hairballs though should not stop a person from enjoying the wonderful companionship cats can offer. Not all cats form hairballs. Anyone wanting to have a cat but deterred from getting one because of hairballs simply need to choose a hairless breed or do something to minimize the likelihood of hairball formation.
What are hairballs? Cats are known for being fastidious groomers. Cats would contentedly lick the fur for hours causing some of the loose hair to be ingested. Cats have abrasive backward-facing spines in their tongue that aids them in grooming. These are called papillae. Made rigid by keratin, rows of these stiff spines would act like a hairbrush that would effectively remove loose hair. However, because of the backward formation of the papillae and also because cats would not know how to spit out loose hairs, hairs removed when grooming will be ingested. Loose hair will then work their way into the cat’s digestive system. Some will be removed normally…hairs will pass all the way through the digestive tract and will be passed out with the feces. Some hair though will remain and form into clumps in the cat’s stomach and form into hair balls. Cat owner would often see the pet retching and gagging. After a while, a sausage like wad of hair and undigested matter will be chucked up by the pet. Hairballs take on a cigar-like or sausage-like form as the wad of hair passes through the cat’s long and narrow esophagus.
Hairballs are more common in long haired breeds and in cats known to groom excessively. Hairballs are normally vomited by the cat. About twice a month, the cat would be seen gagging and retching. However, hairballs that are not vomited would accumulate in size and create a life-threatening situation. The hairballs can create a blockage in the digestive system preventing the cat from defecating. Oftentimes, this kind of concern would only be corrected with a surgical procedure. This will of course be a financial burden on the pet parent. A bigger concern though would be the risk to the cat’s life.
Hairballs are one of the deterring factors why people would not get a cat for a pet. Hairball though is not an unmanageable concern. People that do not want to be bothered by this unpleasant cat concern can get one of the hairless breeds. Sphynx cats, the Donskoy and the Peterbald are only some of the hairless breeds. Aside from being bald, these cat breeds possess all the admirable characteristics of cats. These breeds though would still manifest the habit of social grooming. Bald cats may not ingest their own hairs but they can ingest other cat’s hair when they groom other cats. This kind of situation usually happens in a multi-cat household. Formation of hairballs cannot be totally prevented. It is the nature of cats to groom not only themselves but other cats as well. However, an owner can reduce the likelihood of the pet to have hairballs. Frequent grooming is one. Brushing the fur, especially in long haired breeds will remove loose hair before it can be ingested by the pet. Another is to give the pet foods specially formulated to reduce hairballs. These high fiber foods would help the cat pass the hairballs normally and promote the health of the coat thereby minimizing shedding.