Nature provided cats a comfortable coat to wear in all seasons. In the winter the feral cat needed a warmer coat, but during the summer it was not necessary to have such a warm coat. As a result the cat naturally molts, or sheds its coat to fit the season. Even though most domestic cats do not have to worry about proper insulation to protect them from the outdoors, nature still demands that these cats shed their coats twice a year to prepare for the upcoming season.
Besides having the proper coat to wear, a cat will groom or clean himself by licking his fur. His tongue becomes his washcloth, but at the same time his tongue will also accumulate and digest some loose hair. If you have ever felt a cat's tongue, you know that it feels like sandpaper. That is because the tongue is specially equipped for many functions and grooming is one of them.
Function of a Cat's Tongue in the Grooming Process
The course rough tongue of a cat contains a series of bumps called papillae which are filled with keratin; the same substance in human fingernails. The papillae have a kind of hook at the back of it that latches on to the hair to remove the upper layers of the animal's coat. This hair stays on the tongue and is then swallowed. If all goes well, the fur goes down the esophagus, out the stomach, along the intestines and eventually the body eliminates it through stools. But sometimes the fur remains in the stomach. When this happens the cat accumulates trichobezoars better known as fur balls and hairballs. Your cat will throw up these hairballs.
Grooming Your Cat
You can help prevent the build up of hairballs by brushing your cat and keeping down the accumulation of loose dead fur. Although long haired cats are subjected to more hairballs for obvious reasons, don' think that your shorthaired cat will be protected from them. Hair is hair and can be badly digested in both short and longhaired breeds. Brush you longhaired cat daily, and don'forget to brush your short haired cat about once a week as well.
What Does a Fur Ball/Hairball Look Like?
When your cat passes hair from the bowel, it is mixed in the feces. You may not even notice any hair at all. But of course when your cat vomits a hairball, it is then quite noticeable. A hairball will be mixed with food and other stomach content. It will look like a long wet mess of hair and other gooey substances. It does not look like a ball at all.
Fur Balls/Hairballs and Illness
Though vomiting fur balls are not serious in and of itself, a cat that constantly vomits or attempts to vomit without anything coming up, may end up with an accumulation of gas and secretions that lodge in the stomach. This build up of secretions can cause stomach irritations and your cat will have a tummy ache. Normally he will be back to normal in a few days. All he will need is a couple days of rest and light feeding. But occasionally a fur ball can remain in his stomach and cause a rare but much more serious condition. This foreign matter causes a blockage and has to be removed by surgical means.
Sometimes excessive grooming can be triggered by psychological issues or your cat may be experiencing some kind of gastro intestinal disorder. If you notice that your cat's behavior has been altered for example, he losses his appetite and his hairballs seem to be more excessive than usual, take him to the veterinarian and have him examined.
Prevention of Fur Balls/Hairballs
Today there are several products on the market to help eliminate fur balls. Most of these products contain fiber to sweep the hair down the digestive track. You can also use mineral oil, flaxseed, and fish oil. Pour it over dry cat food to help in the digestive process. Similarly, there are laxatives on the market usually containing petroleum jelly to facilitate the passage of hair through the digestive track. Some products such as paraffin are available and must be used with caution. If the cat inhales the liquid paraffin, he can contract pneumonia. In more serious cases your veterinarian will proscribe medication to keep the stomach and digestive tract passageway clear