When you live with cats, you’ll likely deal with hairballs at some point. In fact, there’s even a day dedicated to them. The last Friday in April is National Hairball Awareness Day. Here’s everything you never knew you needed to know about hairballs.

What Causes Hairballs?

If you have a cat, you may have noticed their tongue has a rough texture. This is due to papilla, the small spikes that cover the tongue’s surface. When cats bathe, the papilla grasp loose hair, which cats then swallow. For the most part, this hair travels through the digestive tract and exits in the cats’ feces. The fur that settles in the stomach instead of passing through accumulates and results in a hairball.

While some cats rarely (if ever) experience hairballs, other cats are more prone to them. Cats with long hair and those that are excessive groomers may suffer from more frequent hairballs than other cats. Cats with certain digestive disorders may also accumulate a lot of fur in their stomachs.

Are Hairballs Dangerous?

Every cat is different, and as mentioned, several factors determine how often a cat will regurgitate a hairball. Usually, this event is quick and painless, though it can look and sound disturbing. Once a cat rids its stomach of excess fur, relief ensues.

In severe cases of accumulation, hairballs can cause impaction. They can become too large to pass from the stomach. Or they can be large enough to get stuck while passing, creating an intestinal blockage. Though not a common occurrence, a lodged hairball is serious and can be life-threatening. Immediate veterinary care is necessary. Symptoms include:

• Excessive vomiting
• Excessive retching or coughing without regurgitation
• Lack of appetite for more than a day
• Lethargy

Frequent hairball production can indicate an underlying condition such as anxiety or a digestive disorder. If your cat produces an overabundance of hairballs, or vomits frequently, it’s best to visit your veterinarian for a checkup. Likewise, if you notice your cat is too obsessive about grooming, bring it up to your veterinarian. It’s possible they may be suffering from a compulsion or other serious ailment.

Can Hairballs Be Prevented?

You may reduce the amount of hairballs your cat produces by helping them groom. Regular brushing will remove excess hair that cats would otherwise swallow. Your veterinarian may also suggest or prescribe a special diet or medication to combat hairballs.

Hairballs may be unpleasant, but for the most part they’re healthy, normal aspects of being and having a cat. If it seems as if your cat is regurgitating fur, vomiting, or coughing too frequently, call your veterinarian for an exam.

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