It may have crossed your mind at some point that cats must be able to eat hair, since they lick themselves so frequently. The reality is, though, that a cat's digestive system can only handle so much hair before it becomes a problem. Here are the potential consequences of your cat eating too much hair.
The most obvious of the potential problems is a hairball. This is when enough hair is consumed that it forms a tight ball in the intestines and is them vomited back up. Hairballs are how your cat's body deals with an excessive amount of hair, but sometimes it's not the only symptom your cat will have.
If a cat doesn't vomit up hair, sometimes it can cause problems out the other end. A cat can produce fecal matter that contains hair in it. In some cases, it may prevent your cat from being able to poop properly if hair is blocking the anus or intestinal tract. You may even witness the rare sight of your cat walking around with fecal matter partially sticking out of its anus because there's enough hair tangled up in it that they can't fully get it out. In this situation, the only way to help them is with gentle manual extraction.
Lastly, too much hair in the digestive system can end up forming a full gastrointestinal blockage. This is where problems really begin.
Gastrointestinal blockages are nothing to fool around with. If a full blockage forms, it can prevent your cat from eating or defecating, depending on where it forms. In either case, this can lead to your cat becoming weak and sick in a short amount of time.
Signs of a gastrointestinal blockage you might notice include not finding anything in the litter box or seeing your cat strain or cry out while trying to 'go.' Your cat may still be producing gas or diarrhea, however, as these substances can usually get past a blockage. If you ever notice these symptoms, it's important to get to a veterinarian right away to get the blockage removed.
Your vet will be able to detect the blockage with a physical palpation test or by using an ultrasound scan. Once the blockage is detected, surgery may be required to remove it. Ask your vet what the best treatment is for your cat.
To prevent this kind of problem from happening, the best thing you can do is to groom your cat regularly. The less loose hair they consume, the safer they'll be. If you have any other pets, make sure to groom them too, as cats will sometimes groom other animals that they're attached to.
Contact an animal hospital like Oakton Animal Hospital for more information.
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