Hairballs are a fact of life for most cat owners. Most felines are fastidious about their grooming habits, and the natural result of the daily tongue bath is a hairball. While generally these aren't a concern, there are some cases where you should seek medical attention for your cat. The following guide to hairballs can help you better understand the issue.
Hairballs aren't usually ball-like in shape, so they are sometimes misidentified by cat owners. Instead, a hairball is elongated into a cylinder from passing through the esophagus. They are primarily made up of drool, bile, and cat fur, so the shade of the hairball should be similar to your cat's coloration. In the case of cats with dark fur, hairballs are sometimes misidentified as feces. If you think your cat has had a litter box mishap, check again to verify that it isn't just a hairball. You can also typically tell when a hairball is in the making because your cat will hunch up and make a coughing or retching noise as they try to work the hairball up.
Hairball Prone Felines
Some cats are more prone to hairballs than others. Generally, those in the middle of a shedding cycle are more likely to swallow more hair than they can excrete, which will build up into a hairball. Adult cats in their prime may also be more prone to hairballs, simply because they tend to groom more thoroughly and regularly than kittens and senior cats. On the other hand, some senior cats are also prone to hairballs because their digestive system doesn't work as well as it used to. Cats with long fur or dense coats are also more likely to develop hairballs. You can help alleviate some hairballs by brushing or combing your cat regularly.
Although hairballs are generally harmless and some cats may be prone to expelling one or two weekly, occasionally the hair may form a blockage in the intestines. If your cat quits eating, seems lethargic or tired, and isn't passing feces, it is time to take them to an emergency animal hospital immediately. A blockage in the intestines can be fatal.
Another issue is unproductive retching – when your cat is trying to retch up a hairball but one isn't coming up. Sometimes the ball is lodged somewhere in the esophagus, so emergency care is necessary to avoid choking. In other cases, the retching could be a side effect of another illness or injury, so a visit to the vet is in order to rule out any major health concerns.