An orange cat licking its foot with text "It's a Hairy Subject - Hairballs"

There is nothing like being jolted awake in the middle of the night from the sounds of hacking and gagging noises coming from the foot of the bed. And to add to the drama, Kitty just hacked up a cigar-shaped wad of fur on to the new quilt.

Cats are built to swallow and digest fur. A cat’s tongue has backward-barbs that point toward the throat. So naturally, anything getting caught on these barbs is swallowed. Grooming is important to a cat and it allows them to clean dirt, old hair, and foreign materials from the fur. Long-haired breeds are at a significantly greater risk of developing complications from hairballs than short-haired breeds.

Regurgitated hairballs range in size, usually about an inch long, but can be as long as five inches. The color is mainly the color of the cat’s coat and typically has an unpleasant odor. Sometimes a hairball can resemble feces.

Hairballs can pose a problem for cats if too much hair is building up and cannot be passed in the feces or as a hairball. It may cause an obstruction in the upper intestinal tract. This can cause vomiting, abdominal pain, and decreased or no appetite.

Managing Hairballs in Cats:
• Frequent brushing to remove loose fur.
• Medications can be given to help pass the fur through the digestive tract.
• Commercial cat diets and treats are formulated to help prevent the formation of hairballs.
• In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove the hairball.

Occasional hairballs now and again are just a part of feline life, usually nothing to worry about. However, if Kitty is gagging and retching but not producing a hairball, take her to a vet immediately. She could be choking or the hairball is lodged in the windpipe.

Remember, vomiting and coughing up a hairball is not the same thing. If Kitty is vomiting frequently, schedule a visit to the vet’s office.

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