At some point, almost every cat owner has had to (or will have to) deal with hairballs. The immediate concern is usually, “How do I clean up this disgusting mess?” but once the drama has passed, take a moment to evaluate the situation. Hairballs can actually be signs of a bigger problem than a stain on the rug.
Are Hairballs in Cats Normal?
The short answer is “no.” Cats are designed to groom themselves, and in the process they invariably will swallow some hair. However, the ingested hair is supposed to move through the gastrointestinal system and pass out of the body in the feces without complication. Unfortunately, this is not always what happens. Hairballs typically form for one of two reasons:
1. Altered gastrointestinal motility
When a cat’s gastrointestinal tract is not functioning correctly, he or she may be unable to move hair out of the stomach and intestines normally. Any disease that affects gastrointestinal motility can increase the likelihood that hairballs will form. Inflammatory bowel disease is the number one culprit, but hairballs can also be associated with internal parasites, pancreatitis, hernias, foreign bodies, cancers, and other potentially serious diseases.
2. Ingesting more hair than normal
Any disease that causes cats to shed and/or groom themselves more than normal can lead to hairball formation. External parasites, infections, and allergies can all be to blame, but so can stress, boredom, pain, and compulsive behaviors. Long-haired cats also shed more than do short-haired varieties.
Even if hairballs are forming due to relatively benign reasons (e.g., a long-haired cat who grooms herself frequently due to boredom), the hairballs themselves are cause for concern. They are a quality of life issue for both cat and owner. In extreme cases, they can even grow large enough that they block the transit of materials through the gastrointestinal system and require surgery to be removed.For the complete article about how to handle a cat hairball problem, visit petMD!