Is there a hairball stuck in my cat’s stomach? Dr Platzhund gives advice to a reader.
Question: I have a Siamese cat, and suspect he has a hairball in his stomach. He’s on a special hairball-preventing diet though, and has short hair, so is there a hairball stuck in my cat’s stomach?
Answer: Cats have special papillae (sensory organs found on the tongue that allow the sense of taste) or spikes on their tongue for the purpose of grooming their fur, smoothing it out, removing dust and loose fur, and moistening their coat. During the process, cats swallow their fur and it passes through the gastrointestinal tract and appears in its stool. Sometimes excessive amounts of the swallowed fur remains lodged in the stomach, forming a mat, which can’t pass through into the intestines.
The presence of this hairball or trichobezoar (a compact mass of hair that forms in the stomach of animals) can cause irritation, inducing a cat to gag and eventually regurgitate a sausage-shaped hairball. You can recognise the problem when you see these masses on the floor, when your cat is constipated with hair in firm stools, a dry and matted coat, frequent gagging after meals, and fatigue.
The matted fur in the stomach can be so space-occupying, up to the size of a tennis ball, that any food eaten can be immediately vomited. A very large one may need surgical removal, but most are easily controlled with a multivitamin non-digestible oil-based lubricant, available from your vet. When given twice a day, it aids the movement of the hairball through the bowel.
Get rid of annoying hairballs
Whiskas gives the following advice on how to help your kitty prevent the build-up of hairballs:
Cats love being clean and groom themselves regularly to keep their coats shiny and spotless. Cats’ tongues are covered with small, backwards-pointing barbs, which means they can’t spit their hair out because it can’t move forward in their mouths. Instead, they swallow it – and hairballs are created in their stomachs, causing them to cough, gag and vomit the balls out of their systems. If this occurs often, your cat may suffer from fatigue, loss of appetite, constipation or diarrhoea.
Brush their hair regularly; this helps remove loose fur and stimulates blood circulation. You can also take your cat for professional grooming and a haircut about twice a year, especially if it’s a long-haired breed.
Poor nutrition causes indigestion in your cat and increases the likelihood of hairballs. Since cats are carnivores, give your moggy high-protein, low-carbohydrate and grain-free foods. Include cat food, which is high in fibre and designed to minimise fur-shedding. It also boosts the cat’s digestive system and improves the health of its coat.
3. Soothe it out
- Add oils or butter to your cat’s diet to lubricate its digestive system and loosen its bowel.
- Use hairball gel as a mild laxative to lubricate stools and swallowed fur.
- Ensure it drinks plenty of water to hydrate its intestinal tract and keep it running smoothly.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis and treatment. Always consult your vet or animal behaviourist for specific information regarding your pets.