Cats spend a significant part of their lives cleaning and grooming - as much as 1/3 of their waking hours. While this natural instinct makes them ideal house pets, it can lead to some uncomfortable side effects.
The problem begins during the cleaning process when cats often swallow their own hair. The cat's tongue is the culprit. It has tiny, barb-like projections on its surface which pull loose hair from the coat. Because of the inward angle of these barbs, the hair remains lodged on the tongue's surface until the cat swallows it. Since hair is largely insoluble protein, it cannot be dissolved by the cat's digestive system. As this undigested hair begins to knot in the stomach and accumulate in the gastrointestinal tract it can interfere with normal digestion and elimination.
Symptoms of "hairballs" include constipation, lethargy, dry cough, and even spitting up. It is also the most frequent cause of depression and loss of appetite in cats. The most dramatic and obvious symptom is the regurgitated hairball which is often tubular in shape. Besides being an inconvenience to clean up, it is a definite sign that your cat has a problem and needs help. Although rarely fatal, hairballs are very uncomfortable for your cat and can lead to serious complications.
Daily brushing of the cat's coat to remove loose hair is good preventive medicine. "Longhaired" breeds like Himalayans and Persians need special attention. During the spring when all cats shed, daily brushing is especially important.
Besides brushing the coat, several medications are available to eliminate hairballs and help prevent their reoccurrence. There are natural dietary fiber supplements as well as a non-irritating intestinal lubricants, both of which aid in the elimination of swallowed hair and prevention of hairballs. Cats usually like the taste and take it readily. Remember, your cat relies on you for your help in relieving this problem. A program of frequent brushing, regular use of a hairball remedy and following the advice of your veterinarian is all it takes.