A cm ( in) cat hairball.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If your cat has been coughing and retching, he may well have one or more hairballs. If you find a small sausage-shaped object which looks like compacted fur, it's probably a hairball that your cat has managed to displace on his own.
What exactly is a hairball? It is a compacted accumulation of fur and undigested food forms inside a cat's stomach. When a cat grooms himself, loose fur gathers on his tongue and while in the digestive system forms a ball with other stomach contents.
Why do cats cough up hairballs? Occasionally, hairballs can pass right through a cat's body in the normal way of food, but because the fur cannot be digested, cats often rid themselves of hairballs by coughing them up. If they are unable to cough up the hairball and it doesn't pass normally, it can get stuck in the cat's intestines, which in turn causes severe constipation.
Hairball symptoms. If your cat coughs a lot but seems otherwise well, it is probably a hairball but you need to look out for it being coughed up as the cough could be a respiratory problem. If your cat seems lethargic and off his food and his coat is dull, he may have a blockage caused by a hairball. Alternatively, as these are common symptoms for many cat ailments, it could be another problem but in either event, you should see your vet without delay.
How do you prevent your cat getting a hairball? As with any ailment, it is better to prevent hairballs that to try and cure them. If your cat is long-haired, frequent grooming will help to prevent a hairball and in addition will be a good way of bonding with your cat. If your cat doesn't care for brushes and combs, try a grooming glove, instead. In addition, here are several varieties of dry cat food which are specially formulated to prevent hairballs. Choose one that is high in nutrients and protein. Kitty malt can be given either on food or just let the cat lick it from your finger; most cats think that this is a treat.
Hairball remedy. It is impossible to completely prevent hairballs in cats but there are various remedies, one of which is a lubricant get which can be added to food and which helps the hairball pass through the digestive tract. In severe cases, you may have to take your cat to the vet, who will probably administer liquid paraffin. Your cat won't like this and will end up looking like a drowned rat with the oily paraffin all over his facial fur.
Home remedy for hairballs. Some people treat their cats with oil, butter or mashed pumpkin, but there is no real proof that these are effective. Anything which isn't naturally a part of a cat's diet can cause harm, so I would encourage you to take your cat to the vet, rather than trying to treat him yourself.