It is not uncommon for a cat to regurgitate a hairball once every one or two weeks as a part of the natural grooming process however, hairballs can lead to more significant health risks by creating an intestinal blockage which can be life threatening.
As a cat grooms himself tiny hook like structures on his tongue catch loose and dead hair, which is then swallowed. The majority of this hair passes through the digestive tract with no problems, but if some hair remains in the stomach, it can form a hairball. When a hairball becomes too large to pass through the narrow sphincters leading either from the esophagus to the stomach or from the stomach to the intestinal tract intervention may be required. More uncommon but, still a possibility is when a hairball has managed to pass into the small intestine and becomes tightly lodged there.
Diagnosis of intestinal blockage is based on physical examination, bloodwork, x-rays, and possibly ultrasound, as well as a history of the cat’s pattern of hairball regurgitation. If a blockage is detected, surgery may be required to remove the hairball.
A cat that is lethargic, refuses to eat for more than a day or two or has had repeated episodes of unproductive retching or true vomiting should be examined by a veterinarian without delay. It may be hairballs but it also could be the result of another gastrointestinal problem, in either case emergency treatment may be necessary.
To help control the formation of hairballs, one of the best preventative measures is to groom your cat, either by brushing or combing. Regularly done, this will remove much of your cat’s loose hair keeping him from ingesting a significant amount of hair. Some cats, particularly long haired cats, may need to be brushed on a daily basis.
Laxatone is a gentle and easy to use flavored lubricant that also can be administered by an owner at home to help prevent and eliminate hairballs in their cat. Aztec carries this product in our pet supply store.