If you’ve ever been licked by a cat, you know their tongues feel rough and sandpapery. You might even think it tickles. Those sensations are caused by the tiny, backward-facing barbs that cover a cat’s tongue. The barbs help cats in grooming themselves by snagging and pulling loose hair and dirt from the coat, but they can also cause a problem by making it difficult for a cat to spit out the hair that collects on the tongue. If the hair is swallowed, it can form a hairball.
Hairballs are something that affect a significant number of felines. Some cats are able to pass them without a terrible amount of difficulty, but there are many who have trouble passing them and may require medical attention. Hairballs are easily recognized by most owners as large masses of fur, occasionally with food mixed in, that are vomited after a series of distinct coughing and gagging motions.
Though a natural part of a cat’s life, there are things that owners can do to lessen the effect that hairballs have on their cat, as well as to decrease the occurrence.
As self-grooming animals, cats bathe themselves by licking with their rough tongue. During this process, loose fur is collected on the ridges of the tongue. While many cats attempt to spit this out, just as many swallow the lost fur.
This fur is normally passed through the body in the digestive system, exiting with feces. When the fur does not exit the body, it collects in the stomach and the small intestine. It can also become lodged in the esophagus, which is part of what triggers the vomiting response.
Regular Grooming (By You) Helps
It is much easier to avoid hairballs altogether by providing your feline companions with regular grooming that is appropriate to the type of fur that they have.
Cats with short, coarse fur have different grooming requirements than cats with long, silky fur have. As it could be expected, longhaired cats are more prone to developing hairball issues than shorthaired cats are. Therefore, it is especially important for owners of longhaired cats to give their felines special grooming attention on a daily basis, not only because of the hairball risks, but also because mats and knots are extremely quick to form in this type of fur.
A slicker style brush may be more appropriate for a cat with short hair, while a toothed comb would be more ideal for cats with long fur. This comb can be followed by a softer slicker brush to collect the loosened fur.
Cats should be brushed regularly to prevent the health risks associated with hairballs, and after they are brushed, a clean and soft cloth should be used to wipe the cat. This step collects the remaining loose fur that the brush or comb missed, which is important in preventing them from immediately ingesting this fur, as cats very commonly will groom themselves after they are brushed.
Here is a form of extreme grooming that your cat may not agree to. 🙂
The barbs on a cat’s tongue also make it hard for them to spit out any string or yarn, should they be playing with it and get it stuck on their tongue. That’s why it’s important to supervise any string or yarn play.
Here are more pictures of cute kittehz grooming themselves: (click to see them full-sized)