Cats are semi-domesticated. Cats groom themselves to eliminate scent from their fur (as predators they do not want to give themselves away to prey) and to keep themselves clean of food and parasites. In doing so, they ingest hair (little hooks on their tongues), lots of it if fleas or allergies are present. Also, the longer the fur is, the bigger the fur ball is. This fur tends to stay retained in the stomach. A cat’s primary mechanism for ridding itself of ingested hair is vomiting. It is a natural, normal process. Given the cat’s anatomy, (a narrow small intestine) far better to come up then pass through.
What is unnatural is if large amounts of hair cause a large fur ball that remains in the stomach, scratching the stomach lining and stimulating the production of hydrochloric acid. Over time, it causes what in us we would call acid reflux disease and which is just as uncomfortable for the cat! In the gut the hair can be equally cruel, scouring the intestinal lining and impeding the absorption of food. Not only are these cats inappetant from nausea and vomiting, but also they absorb less food. Such cats present at the doctor’s office with ‘bumpy’spines, having lost muscle mass along either side of their backbone from lack of nutrition. Additionally, hair that accumulates in the intestines can cause temporary blockages and constipation. Complete obstructions of the bowel are also possible. Some hair balls in the stomach become too large to go in either direction and remain lodged against the stomach wall where they stimulate acid production that erodes the stomach lining. These must be surgically removed.
Once your cat has been diagnosed with fur ball gastritis the treatment will take 7 days to 3 weeks to recover. The approach is two-fold: 1) address the overproduction of stomach acid and 2) coat the digestive tract with soothing petroleum distillate to help expel hair and fur mats.
Prevention of Fur Balls:
Since cats come into their mature hair coat between 18 months and 2 years of age, fur balls become a serious issue for every cat, longhair or short hair, because their shedding patterns mature along with their coats. Owners should be vigorous about coat care, brushing or combing regularly as the cat’s coat requires. In difficult cases bathing or even annual shave downs may be needed. Hairball treats, foods and cat lax should also be added to the daily regimen especially during shedding seasons, spring and fall. Also remember that the older the cats become, the harder it is for their digestive tract to handle ingested fur.