Furball Digestion in Long Hair Cats

Long hair cats are at higher risk for furballs than other breeds of cats. It's natural for cats to groom themselves; this keeps their coats clean. However, cats' digestive tracts are more capable of digesting short hairs, such as those found on mice and on short-haired breeds. Long hair cats are more likely to have problems passing furballs through their bowels.

How Cat Hairballs Happen

Cats get hairballs from grooming themselves. A cat's tongue is like sandpaper because it's covered in tiny little hooks, like those found on velcro. When your cat grooms himself, hairs stick to these hooks. Since he can't spit them out, he has to swallow them.

In many cases, the hair passes smoothly through the stomach and intestines, to be evacuated in a bowel movement. Sometimes, the hair accumulates in the stomach and causes a furball. Your cat might vomit this furball back up; this is perfectly normal.

However, sometimes, especially with long hair cats, the furball becomes too big to vomit back up. When this occurs the furball can cause an intestinal blockage, endangering your cat's health. Such furballs need to be surgically removed.

Risk Factors for Feline Hairballs

There are some factors that put your cat at increased risk for feline hairballs. Long hair cats are more likely to vomit up furballs, since a cat's digestive system is adapted to passing short hair more easily. This is because long hair is a recessive gene in cats; in nature, most cats have short hair. Humans have selectively bred some types of cats to have long hair, for aesthetic reasons.

Anything that causes excessive grooming or excessive cat hair shedding can increase the incidence of furballs. A skin rash of any type can cause your cat to over-groom and ingest too much hair. Causes of such a rash include fleas, ticks, lice and allergies.

Stress can cause a condition known as psychogenic dermatitis. Cats suffering from this condition will compulsively lick their skin and pull out hair, resulting in bald, inflamed areas. They can swallow large amounts of hair in short periods of time and develop large furballs. Indoor cats who don't get much exercise are more prone to this condition; treating psychogenic dermatitis involves tackling the cause of your cat's stress.

Obese cats are also more likely than physically fit cats to suffer from hairballs. Because they don't move around much, their digestion is poor, and furballs are more likely to block the intestinal tract of such a cat.

Treating and Preventing Furballs in Cats

You can minimize furballs in your long hair cat by feeding him a high fiber diet. This keeps the digestive tract moving briskly. Add a spoonful of canned pumpkin to his daily diet. Most cats enjoy this as a treat.

You can also try one of the various petroleum-based hairball formulas on the market; long hair cats will need dosage every two to three days, rather than the weekly dose recommended to short hair breeds. If you're on a budget, feed your cat a spoonful of mineral oil every two to three days instead.