Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Pet Talk

May 14, 2013

A common nuisance for cats, hairballs also can be dangerous

Many pet owners love their feline friends and will do whatever it takes to keep them relaxed and happy. This makes it especially alarming for pet-owners who witness their cat suffer the discomforting symptoms that come with hairballs.

Knowing how to prevent this common problem and how to treat it is essential to keeping your cat healthy.

A hairball begins to form when cats accidentally ingest loose hair while cleaning their fur. Undigested fur accumulates in the gastrointestinal system.

"It simply accumulates together and is usually contained within the stomach," said James Barr, associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

While clinical signs of hairballs vary, common symptoms include decreased appetite, constipation and vomiting.

“In the worst-case scenario, the hair passes through the stomach and lodges in the small intestine,” said Barr. “The result is an obstruction in the GI tract which can be life threatening.”

If you believe your cat is feeling sick due to a hairball, see your veterinarian right away. He or she may prescribe medication or give treatments that can help a cat deal with the discomfort.

“Numerous cats, especially those with long hair, will occasionally vomit up hairballs and not show any clinical signs, which may be completely normal for your cat,” said Barr. “If there seems to be an abnormal amount of hairballs produced, then take steps to prevent the pet from ingesting large amounts of hair or help the hair move through the GI tract before it accumulates."

Pet owners can also reduce the severity of hairballs by frequently brushing the cat and discouraging it from excessively grooming itself.

“There are over-the-counter medications that are designed for cats with hairballs to aid in digestion,” said Barr. “As always, if there are concerns for your cat's health, please call your veterinarian for guidance.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.

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