Fur balls are thick, matted tubes of fur that build up in a cat’s stomach or intestines. They occur because a cat continually licks its fur to remove dead hairs from its coat and to keep itself clean. This loose fur is swallowed, builds up and is then regurgitated or passed through its faeces. This happens about every two weeks. Longer-haired cats tend to swallow more fur than shorthairs and so are more prone to the adverse effects of fur balls.
All cats keep themselves clean and remove dead hairs by licking their fur. They are fastidious and spend much of their time grooming themselves and each other. It’s natural for a certain amount of the fur to be swallowed. Sometimes it builds up in the intestines and causes a blockage which is called a ‘fur ball’. This may cause coughing, discomfort and constipation. It is easily remedied at home, but in extreme cases veterinary treatment may be needed.
When a cat is seen eating grass, he may be doing this for a very specific purpose. In all probability he is attempting to remove an obstruction in his stomach or intestine cause by fur balls.
My shorthaired cat hates being combed, but he leaves hairs everywhere. What can I do? As he is shorthaired, you can groom him by hand instead. All cats love being stroked and in shorthairs this is just as effective as being brushed.
My vet suggests that I give liquid paraffin to my Persian if she develops a fur-ball blockage. It sounds dangerous. Is it?
Not at all. It helps the cat to shift fur balls. But like all medicines, you should stick to the stated dosage.
Constant brushing does not seem to prevent my cat from getting fur balls. Is this normal?
Yes. Fur balls will still occur but brushing will minimise them and help prevent them becoming obstructions.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
If the cat cannot shift the fur ball, its intestines could become blocked. A cat with this problem will vomit more than usual, will be continually hungry but able to eat only a little at a time. Eventually, the cat will begin to lose weight and look in poor condition.
The simplest remedy is prevention. By brushing and combing your cat regularly, particularly longhairs, there will be less fur to be swallowed.
Fur-ball obstructions can be treated at home with liquid paraffin. Give l5ml (three tsp) on day one, 10m1 (two tsp) on day two, and 5m1 (one tsp) on day three. The fur ball should either be regurgitated or passed in the faeces. Cats should not be dosed with liquid paraffin regularly but only as needed. If there is no change, then your cat needs to be examined by a vet. In extreme cases, surgery may be needed to remove the intestinal obstruction.
One of the reasons cats eat so much grass is to help them vomit up fur balls. If you have an indoor cat, it is important to provide it with ‘kitty grass’ . Most pet shops stock it.
Serious bowel obstruction caused by the build-up of fur balls is a new phenomenon in cats, the result of selective crossbreeding, which has produced cats with longer and thicker fur.