As disgusting as a hairball is, both for a cat and their owner, there is an overarching attitude that they are no big deal. Unfortunately, while hairballs themselves are not unusual for felines, they can pose a severe health risk for your cat. The severity with which a hairball affects your cat’s health is dependant on several factors, including pre-existing medical conditions or potentially undiagnosed issues, frequency of hairballs produced, and diet. While most cats experience hairballs on a very occasional basis, it is wise to understand how to identify the signs and symptoms of cat hairball impaction.
What is hairball impaction?
If a hairball is the result of your cat regurgitating and expelling the hair he ingests, then hairball impaction is the result of your cat being unable to cough the hairball up. Essentially hairball impaction is when the hair that collects in your cat’s stomach becomes too thick to pass in either direction. If it is not treated quickly, hairball impaction can become a severe health risk for your cat. While you should always monitor your cat and watch for any strange new behaviors, these symptoms are warning signs that often signal hairball impaction.
What are the symptoms of Cat Hairball Impaction?
- Dry Heaving aka Retching
- Constipation and inability to pass stool
- Watery or runny stool
- Uncontrollable bowel movements…not making it to the litter box
- Loss of appetite
- Sensitive to touch
- Swollen abdomen and bladder
All of the symptoms listed above are stomach and gut centric. If your cat is struggling with a hairball impaction, he will likely make it known in his behaviors regarding behavior toward food, bathroom, and physical touch. Cats may also become detached when suffering from a hairball impaction. While cats are typically solitary creatures, their social behavior will become especially distant when dealing with a painful medical issue.
What are the treatment methods?
The first step in dealing with a hairball impaction is to call and schedule a visit with your vet. Usually, treatment begins with some kind of laxative to help your cat pass the impacted hairball. Additionally, a vet may prescribe some type of oil based supplement to try and loosen the matted hair lodged within the stomach of your cat.
In some severe cases, surgery may be required. If an x-ray shows that the intestinal blockage is too large to pass, then surgery may be the only option. This is only in the rarest of cases and usually only comes as the result of neglect. As a result, it is imperative to watch for the signs and symptoms listed above so you can avoid a prolonged impaction.
What can I do to prevent this from happening?
If your cat is susceptible to hairballs, then taking active preventative steps is one of the best ways to avoid hairball impaction. Here are a few ways to keep your cat hairball-free.
Keep His Diet In Check:
Pay attention to the food you are giving your cat. Believe it or not, the proper diet is crucial to keeping everything running smoothly in your cat’s digestive tract. For the most part, wet food is better for keeping your cat regular than dry food. However, as every cat is different, be sure to consult your vet about changes in diet before you switch food.
Groom Your Cat Daily:
This may seem silly because of how much you see your cat grooming himself, but a regular routine of brushing is the best way to avoid impaction. Remember, all the hair your cat swallowed while grooming himself is what caused that impaction in the first place. Stay ahead of the curve and take care of that fur externally before it becomes a problem internally.
There are plenty of over the counter supplements that you can introduce into your cat’s diet. Typically these supplements will be oil based and made to help keep hair from collecting in your cat’s digestive system. As with any new addition to your cat’s diet, consult with a vet who is familiar with your cat’s specific health history, and can weigh in with any suggestions or stipulations.
Hairball impaction can be a severe medical issue for your cat. While hairballs may seem like nothing more than a minor inconvenience, if they are produced with any regularity, then there may be a larger health issue at play. Be sure to recognize the warning signs of hairball impaction and take quick measures to consult your vet and create a plan of action. Cat’s shouldn’t produce more than two hairballs a year. Any number higher than two means an increased risk of hairball impaction. Keep your cat healthy and happy by practicing regular grooming and administer healthy dietary habits that will allow you as an owner to assist in the prevention of cat hairball impaction.
- Hairballs in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Remedies. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/what-to-do-about-hairballs-in-cats#1
- Hairballs in cats. (2016, April 06). Retrieved from https://www.vetwest.com.au/pet-library/hairballs-in-cats
- Hairballs in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Remedies. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pets.webmd.com/cats/guide/what-to-do-about-hairballs-in-cats