Hairballs (medical term: trichobezoar) are common problems for cats, rabbits, ferrets. Trichobezoars are occasionally found in dogs and humans too. Once assumed "normal" for cats, hairballs, and why they are formed, are now looked at more closely.Most cats are good groomers. They lick and clean their coats more often than dogs, and in the process, swallow hair. Lots of hair. This is especially true for long-haired cats with soft, downy hair.
Many cats never have a problem with this ingested hair - it passes right through.
The first sign of a problem from hair is usually vomiting. Hair is not digestible. It irritates the gastrointestinal tract and vomiting is a good way to get rid of it. If your cat has a hairball problem, you will find cylindrical wet blobs of hair on the carpet or couch (or dried up blobs of hair, if in an inconspicuous place) that are the vomited up hairballs. You may also notice pieces of grass, carpet or other materials included in the mass.
If the hair doesn't exit the body, it adds up. Hair usually collects in the stomach, but can also gather in the esophagus or intestine. This is a problem for regular food passage and general well being.
Later signs of problems include loss of appetite, coughing, depression, and constipation. In extreme cases, the hairball can grow so large that the stomach ruptures, causing death.
Hairballs - A Closer Look
Cats and hairballs go together in people's minds. Just a part of being a cat that grooms hair. But is it? If your pet vomits up hair, ingestion alone is probably not the problem. An examination for Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), hypomotility disorder (slow gut movement), or food allergy are possible underlying causes for hairball formation should be addressed first.
Tricobezoars can get too big to vomit up or pass by normal means. If your cat (or dog) is found to have a trichobezoar in the stomach or GI tract that is causing an obstruction and other health issues, surgery is indicated to remove the it.
For general hairball prevention, regular grooming (I use the FURminator for my dogs and cats). If applicable for your cat or dog, hair cuts, will also reduce hairball formation.
There are many hairball laxatives and hairball diets on the market today that may or may not work. If your cat has an underlying problem (allergy or motility problem) as mentioned above, addressing that will be the quickest solution to the hairball problem. If your cat struggles with hairballs, talk to your vet about taking a closer look at these possible underlying causes.