Most cat owners have experienced hairballs at one time or another. Vomiting an occasional hairball is normal for most cats. However, if the vomiting is persistent or frequent, it may indicate a more serious health issue.
Symptoms and Types
Hairballs are long cylindrical masses of hair which form in the stomach and are regurgitated by the affected cat.
All cats groom by licking themselves. While doing so, they swallow hair. The feline tongue is actually barbed so that it functions as a miniature comb removing loose hair. Normally, the ingested hair passes through the intestinal tract and is passed through the feces. When hair accumulates in the stomach, your cat may vomit or regurgitate the hairball instead.
Diagnosis of hairballs starts with seeing the hairball itself (i.e. a long cylindrical mass of hair which the cat has regurgitated). Occasional hairballs are normal for most cats and may require not additional diagnostics. However, if hairballs are seen frequently, or if vomiting or coughing occurs without the presence of hairballs, additional diagnostics may be necessary.
Routine blood screens that consist of a complete blood cell count, a blood chemistry profile and perhaps a thyroid screening test may be recommended. The complete blood cell count looks at the red blood cell and white blood cell counts and morphology. A blood chemistry profile evaluates kidney and liver function as well as measuring serum electrolytes (such as sodium, calcium and phosphorus), blood protein levels and blood glucose (sugar) levels. A total T4 test evaluates thyroid function. A urinalysis may be collected to further evaluate kidney and lower urinary tract function. Fecal examinations are normally also performed checking for intestinal parasites.
Depending on the results of these tests, other diagnostic tests may be recommended. Abdominal radiographs (X-rays) and/or an abdominal ultrasound may be advisable. In some cases, an endoscopic examination of the intestinal tract may be in order.