These are common and can be caused by a variety of conditions. Although cats of all age, sex and breed can be affected, it is most commonly found in the older, indoor, long haired and overweight cat.
The technical name for a furball is a trichobezoar and occurs in cats which either over groom, have excessive irritant coat loss or have a ‘lazy bowel syndrome’. The fur is ingested and forms a matted ball in the stomach or upper intestine causing a partial or complete obstruction. Although inert it prevents the passage of food material and may produce a localised bowel condition which can lead to infection and other bowel conditions.
The reasons for fur being ingested in large amounts can be due to.
Fleas are the main cause but other ectoparasites such as lice, harvest mites and ticks can be involved. Other skin diseases may also cause excess hair loss and skin inflammation which stimulates the cat to lick, groom and thus ingest excessive amounts of hair.
These are often overweight cats which are either kept in the house for 24 hours a day or are reluctant to go outside and exercise – couch potatoes! Cats should if possible be encouraged to take exercise although this can be very difficult to achieve! These cats are often bored and or stressed. Psychogenic Dermatitis is a term coined to represent a ‘stress condition’ similar to OCD where cats will excessively lick their skin, pulling out hair and causing bald, inflamed areas. These cats often swallow large amounts of hair in relatively short periods of time and often develop fur balls. Treatment for this consists of trying to identify the causes of the stress and controlling them.
Overweight cats tend to be sedentary. This group of cats often have little better to do than to sit on the couch and groom themselves. Because of their sedentary nature, their bowel motility is poor often having a ‘lazy bowel’ and passage of faecal material and fur slows often leading to blockages.
Cats with fur balls and constipation are often dull and lethargic with reduced appetite. Cat owners are often unaware what their cat’s faeces are like, but if seen they may appear normal to dry and reduced in quantity. In mild and early stages the cat may cough and/or retch. In the next phase, the cat may well vomit, sometimes just bilious fluid. If they have recently eaten, food will often be regurgitated undigested. The vomiting is normally intermittent and if seen by the owner, will often appear to be severe and very forceful. The cat usually manages to vomit the furball which is regurgitated as a small plug of matted moist fur about the size of a cigar. Occasionally they are passed in the faeces usually unobserved.
This can be treated in two ways.
If your cat has vomited several times a day, dehydration may set in. Fluid therapy with an intravenous drip may be essential. If vomiting is severe you should consult your veterinarian.
Grooming: If you can keep your cat well groomed then you will reduce the amount of dead hair likely to be ingested.
Parasites: It is essential to ensure that your pet is free of external parasites. Fleas are extremely common and many cats develop a condition known as FAD (flea allergic dermatitis) which apart from leading to other skin diseases, is extremely uncomfortable and will lead to excess hair loss.
Owners just have to get them up and moving. They are often extremely bored creatures and toys, games, feeding upstairs etc. are examples of methods required to get them motivated.
Sedentary cats may be stressed cats and they often feel threatened outside the house and occasionally inside the house as well. Do you have a cat flap and feline intruders? Do you have a large bullying male cat in the house? Your cat may not be sedentary but still stressed. Does your cat urinate in the house or hide in cupboards or have strange behavioural mood swings? New children in the house? A pheromone spray or plug-in diffuser may help to relax your cat.
Overweight cats are sedentary. They often have ‘lazy bowels’ and although they look calm, they are often bored and sad. They will also be prone to constipation, fur balls and diabetes. Lose weight from your cat by correct dieting with a high fibre low-calorie diet to help reduce weight whilst helping to maintain bowel function.