Most cats suffer furballs, and this is nothing to be concerned about, although they are unpleasant to deal with. It's useful to know the signs of furballs, their causes and how to treat them to ensure that they don't become a more serious problem. Only rarely do cats suffering furballs need veterinary intervention.
What Are Furballs?
Furballs are created by the ingestion of hair by your cat when it licks itself. Cats all develop furballs no matter how thoroughly they're groomed. Many cats pass furballs quite easily through the digestive system so their owners never realise furballs are present. However, sometimes a troublesome furball becomes trapped in a cat's gastrointestinal system. The stomach lining becomes inflamed, causing the cat to begin vomiting. Vomited furballs look like a long string of matted hair formed into a sausage shape, and may be accompanied by undigested foods or bile.
Most cats suffering from furballs show no symptoms until the stomach is irritated by a particularly troublesome furball that can't be passed. Symptoms are usually repeated vomiting; there may be no furball brought up the first few times. Most cats with furballs remain lively and interactive even if they're vomiting, which is a good sign that the cause of vomiting is furballs rather than anything more serious. Many cats with furballs carry on eating normally as well. Although rare, furballs can cause intestinal obstruction and constipation: A vomiting cat that also has diarrhoea, or one that's not passing faeces, may be blocked and needs to see a vet.
Introducing more fibre to your cat's food will help. A spoonful of finely ground bran can be added to wet food to help the stomach pass its contents more easily. If you think your cat cannot pass a furball, try adding a half tablespoon of petroleum jelly to her food twice daily for up to three days. However, ask your vet if the cat can tolerate this, as petroleum jelly depletes Vitamin A reserves. Too much dry food and insufficient fluid can make furballs less likely to pass through the digestive system, so increase the amount of wet food. Enhanced-fibre veterinary diets are also available for furball-prone cats; ask your vet for advice.
Treating Furballs With Medication
Furball medications can be obtained from a veterinarian, but are only necessary if your cat has repeated problems. Veterinary preparations tend to be based around high-fibre lubricating or laxative pastes, which come in a tube for easy measuring. Pastes are made especially palatable and often flavoured with fish, malt or other attractive flavours to encourage cats to lick the paste from a spoon or eat it along with their food. However, if administering the paste proves problematic, rub it onto your cat's chest or paw as he will lick it off.
While furballs can't be completely prevented, thorough grooming will help keep them to a minimum. Use an undercoat stripper tool to take out as much of the loose hair as possible, then finish the cat's coat using a slicker brush dipped in warm water. This removes far more loose hair than dry grooming. Keep your cat's stomach and intestines in good order by feeding only a high-quality wet and dry diet; too much dry food makes furballs more likely. Make sure your cat gets exercise.
If your cat seems fine but vomits for more than 24 hours and produces no furball, take her to a vet; the furball will cause irritation if it remains in the stomach. If your cat seems otherwise unwell or has no appetite and is vomiting for more than a few hours, see your veterinarian as there's likely to be another cause.