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How do I know if my cat has a hairball?

The name hairball doesn’t really capture the gross quality of this particular feline phenomenon. Before you had a pet cat, the word may have conjured up an actual round ball made of fur. Not so bad, right? Once you’ve lived with an adult cat for a while, though, you experience the real deal: a wet, esophagus-shaped clump of yuck that has been ejected onto an otherwise spotless rug. You usually find them by stepping on them in the middle of the night.

What the heck are hairballs anyway?

A hairball is what it sounds like, and if you’re a cat owner, you’ve definitely heard it before. It’s the sound of your otherwise dignified cat retching up undigested hair that couldn’t pass through its digestive system through the normal route.

You can blame your cat’s fastidious cleanliness for the mess. As they groom, their spiny tongues catch loose hair, which they then swallow. Hairballs are more common among long-haired breeds, like Persians and Maine Coons, and among older cats who have gotten really good at grooming themselves. The more a cat grooms, the more frequently you’ll find hairballs. That’s why you rarely see adorable kittens coughing up hairballs. They’re not as hip on hygiene.

Are hairballs dangerous?

Hairballs are usually not a problem. A cat’s body knows how to get rid of excess hair. However, occasionally a hairball will form that is too big to pass through the narrow opening into the esophagus. Likewise, large hairballs that pass from the stomach into the intestinal tract can pose a threat if they become lodged there.

How do I know if my cat has a hairball blockage?

While a hairball blockage is uncommon, it can be fatal, so it’s important to recognize the signs:

  • Lethargy
  • Refusal to eat
  • Unproductive retching

If your cat exhibits all of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to bring them to your vet for an exam. They may be unrelated to hairballs; however, the same symptoms can also indicate gastrointestinal or respiratory problems.

Is my cat coughing or is it a hairball?

Because we know it’s normal for cats to cough up hairballs, sometimes we ignore coughing that means something more serious, like asthma. If your cat coughs frequently over a course of weeks, but doesn’t produce hairballs, he may be experiencing respiratory distress. Coughing associated with asthma attacks often has confounding symptoms that you don’t find with run of the mill hairballs, including:

  • Wheezing
  • Breathing through the mouth
  • Blue lips and gums
  • Heavy or rapid breathing
  • Hunched posture with extended neck

What do I do about hairballs?

If your cat’s hairball habits seem normal, it’s just a matter of cleaning up after them. If they show signs of a problematic hairball blockage or if they seem to be symptoms of asthma, bring them in to your vet for an exam to protect their health. Both problems can be treated if they are diagnosed in time. If you need us, call Gloves City Veterinary Hospital at 518-725-8117.

If you need us, call Gloves Cities Veterinary Hospital at 518-725-8117
or Dove Creek Animal Hospital (518) 627-9762

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