Cats spend a great deal of time grooming themselves. However, their stomachs cannot digest the fur that is swallowed. Over time, the fur builds up and mixes with other stomach contents, creating hairballs. Cats get rid of hairballs by hacking or throwing them up. This is a normal process that keeps the digestive tract healthy. However, cat owners need to be aware that hairballs can sometimes inhibit your breathing and should monitor their pet closely when they throw up or hack.
If a hairball is large enough, your cat may be unable to cough or throw it up. It could become lodged in the oesophagus and hinder breathing to the point of asphyxiation. If your cat starts to wretch or hack without expelling a hairball, take it to the vet.
Although your cat may not seem to have any trouble hacking up hairballs, sometimes the remnants of hairballs that were not fully expelled can build up in the oesophagus. This will not cause asphyxiation, but could manifest itself as wheezing, shortness or breath or periodic fits where breathing is difficult. If these symptoms persist, take your cat to the vet.
When considering the health problems caused by hairballs, it is important to recognise that hairballs can cause digestive problems just as frequently as breathing problems. If hairballs are not expelled, they will build up in your cat's stomach and intestines, preventing proper digestion. Symptoms can include diarrhoea, constipation or loss of appetite. Take your cat to the vet if you notice any of these symptoms.
Preventing Dangerous Hairballs
Although all cats can get hairballs, long haired cats are the most prone to dangerous hairballs. To ensure that your cat does not develop large hairballs that could hurt its health, you should groom it often and make sure that it doesn't ingest non-food items (such as string). If hairballs continue to be a problem, consider switching to a special food meant to reduce hairballs or adding a small amount of oil to your cat's current food.
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