We all know cats are pretty fastidious about cleaning themselves, so it might not concern you when Fluffy gags, garbles, and coughs up a hairball. You would be correct to assume that this behavior is often normal. However, there are a few instances in which hairballs could (and should) elicit some concern.
Kitty tongues are covered with small spike-like projections, that work as sort of a tiny hairbrush. Debris and loose hair get caught on these spikes, and your cat will often swallow most of this material during grooming sessions. Cat stomachs are well prepared to deal with all of this gunk, so in most cases swallowing hair and debris won’t be a problem. As you might have noticed when cleaning the litter box, most of this material makes its way out the other end of your cat.
But occasionally, a cat might vomit for a variety of reasons. If the vomit is mostly composed of fur, and only occurs about once a month, you are usually correct to assume it’s simply a routine hairball. Long-haired cats might suffer hairballs a bit more often than this, and any cat might produce a few more hairballs during “shedding season”.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t assume that all episodes of vomiting are hairballs. If your cat is producing more hairballs than usual, or if the vomit doesn’t really include much hair, we should examine them to see if another underlying condition is causing the problem. Frequent vomiting in cats can be a sign of poisoning, allergies, food intolerance, GI obstruction, inflammatory bowel disease, heartworm disease, and other serious health problems.
If your cat is acting differently than usual, and if you suspect those “hairballs” aren’t just hairballs, call us to schedule an appointment right away. Frequent vomiting should always be investigated so that we can keep your cat healthy and happy.