Cats and hairballs

October 29, 2017

Cats are usually quite clean creatures by nature; they keep themselves well-groomed in order to continue their quest for world dominance (at least that’s what it seems like they’re doing). But in all seriousness, cats groom themselves daily, and that in itself is a general sign of good health. Their tongues have tiny little hooks that allow them to remove debris and excess hair. Most of this ends up being swallowed and digested. Some cats, especially those with longer coats can have a hard time digesting all this hair and will occasionally vomit a hairball or two. If this occurs a couple of times a year, it’s usually deemed acceptable. However, cats that vomit hairballs (or just bile for that matter) on a monthly or weekly basis may have an underlying issue.

The gastrointestinal tract has a natural motion, called peristalsis which helps move things along their way. That means that food and other digested items such as hairballs should move along the system and end up at the other end. A cat who vomits more regularly may have a slower or inadequate transit. This can sometimes be associated with a syndrome known as “inflammatory bowel disease”, or IBD for short. This is somewhat similar to Crohn’s disease in people. There are different degrees of IBD, from mild to more severe symptoms. There is often a combination of factors involved in IBD including certain food intolerances, inflammation and an imbalance of the digestive flora (also known as dysbiosis). By addressing these factors, the symptoms are usually much improved.

So if you’ve thought to yourself that your cat does have a tendency to vomit on a regular basis, talk to your veterinarian. Sometimes just a few changes could improve your kitty’s digestion and overall wellbeing, and at the same time decrease the frequency at which you need to clean up after him!

Dr Julie Lecavalier