The unforgettable sound of a cat coughing up a hair ball is certainly not the most pleasant one, from the hacking and the retching to the throwing up -- no thank you. Felines of all ages are prone to coughing up the hairy and uncomfortable annoyances, and kittens are no exception.
Kittens are by no means too young for hair balls, just like no cats are too old for them, either. Hair balls are a result of excessive grooming habits. When a cat licks his fur frequently, his chances of accidental ingestion become a lot higher, and understandably so. According to the ASPCA, kittens begin regularly grooming their coats when they're roughly 4 weeks in age. From that time moving forward, don't be shocked if regular hair balls become a part of your little one's life -- yikes.
Despite the definite possibility of "youth" hair balls, the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine states that the hairy patches are significantly rarer in younger felines and kittens. The newbies usually just don't groom as meticulously and attentively as their older counterparts.
The name "hair ball" is rather misleading. Kitten hair balls, just like adult cat hair balls, typically aren't shaped even remotely like balls. The hair balls tend to have a narrow shape, like a cylinder. The shape may be related to that of the esophagus it traveled through on its way out. Essentially, the things look a lot like tightly-packed, tangled, messy clumps of hair -- not too alluring. The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine indicates that hair balls usually are about 1 inch in length, although they sometimes appear as long as 5 inches. Kittens may have slightly smaller hair balls because of their smaller overall physiques, however. In terms of color, expect hair balls to closely match Kitty's fur, although they may be altered slightly by any accompanying bile and food pieces that often come up.
If a visual description isn't enough to get your imagination running, an olfactory one may be much more effective. The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine states that although hair balls definitely don't exactly smell fresh and clean, they're not really pungent, either. Expect a moderately yucky smell, but not a stench that will have you -- and everyone else in your vicinity -- running in the other direction.
If the look of a hair ball isn't enough for you, pay attention to any other clues that your kitten may be suffering from one of them. Firstly, the excessive gagging and hacking sounds are usually pretty hard to ignore. Not to mention, your kitten may also experience other telltale signs of the not-so-fun situation, including exhaustion, constipation, dry coughing, reduced appetite, tummy distress and even spitting up. If your kitty's hair ball refuses to come up after some time -- think over 24 hours -- or if she is undergoing any unusually severe or long-lasting symptoms, seek veterinary help immediately.
- The Merck Manual for Pet Health: Vomiting in Cats
- The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: The Danger of Hairballs
- ASPCA: Hairballs
- The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: When Hairballs Aren't Harmless
- Humane Society of Central Illinois: Cats and Hairballs
- ASPCA: Why Cats Groom So Much
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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