If you have one or more cats or know someone who has a cat, you are familiar with hair balls. Most cats will probably develop hair balls, sometimes called fur balls, at least once in their life. Usually it happens more often if she is a long-haired cat since long-haired cats shed a larger amount of hair than her short-haired cousins. Hair balls are an unpleasant side effect of her inclination to stay clean and well groomed.

Hair balls form when your cat sheds and grooms herself, swallowing the fur. The fur then balls up in her stomach. Sometimes the hair ball is passed through the digestive system. Sometimes it isn’t. She tries to expel it with a gagging cough and holding her head close to the ground. If she is successful, a tightly packed, sausage-shaped roll of fur is produced. Your cat may eat grass to aid the process of getting rid of the hair ball.

Hair balls often cause constipation in cats.You can help her by putting a little laxative lubricant available from your vet or pet supply store on your finger and letting her lick it off. You can also try a little olive oil or butter. If your cat is a finicky about what she eats, wipe the lubricant on the roof of her mouth if she will co-operate or smear it on her leg. She will lick it off because cats don’t like having sticky or oily stuff on their bodies. I find this method works best for my cats. You can also give her a small meal or snack of oily fish which will soften the hair balls and allow them to be eliminated. She may also think she is getting a special treat.

One good way to reduce the amount of hair your cat sheds and swallows is to brush her regularly with a grooming brush especially when she is shedding. This is also a great way to bond with her. After each brushing, clean the brush by removing and discarding the loose hair. If your cat has fleas, get rid of them with any method of flea control that works for you and your cat. Since the cat tries to get rid of the fleas herself by grooming more than usual that means that she is more likely to swallow more hair. The less hair swallowed means fewer hair balls.

Hair balls can cause more than vomiting. If your cat has swallowed more fur than she can handle and can’t eliminate it naturally, the hair ball can become lodged in her intestinal tract causing a blockage. This can be life threatening. The warning signs are continued vomiting that does not produce a hair ball, discomfort in the abdominal region, frequent constipation and loss of appetite after frequent hair ball episodes. If your cat has any of these symptoms, take her to the vet right away. The hair ball may have to be removed surgically.

Talk to your vet about special anti-hair ball foods which are high in fiber, minimize fur shedding and help your cat pass any ingested hair naturally.

You can adopt a cat at the Pittsburg County Animal Shelter located at 1206 N. West Street in McAlester. It is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday. The phone number is 918-423-7803. The adoption fee for cats is $15. All have been spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped before they leave the shelter.  

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