Hairballs for the uninitiated

I’m a fairly new cat mom. Lucy came home in August 2014 as a 6-month old rescue who was the lone kitten left behind after her littermates were adopted. After walking by the community-based pet store that functioned as an adoption provider for the city’s humane society, I felt like that kitten was meant to be mine. So my husband and I, who had always been dog owners, went to get this cat.

I don’t want to make it seem like getting a cat was a snap decision; I considered this cat for more than a week before adopting her. I knew that if I took this cat into my home, it was likely an 18-year commitment, if not longer. However, I did not do a lot of research on what it was like to have a cat. I don’t think I got more than 40 minutes of sleep the first night she was home. I could hear her walking around and I was worried that she would get into something that she shouldn’t. She got used to us eventually, though she does still wake me up around 4 every morning to play…

I tell you this because bringing a cat into the family is much different than a dog. And last month, after having a cat for more than 2 years, I got quite the surprise. I saw my first hairball.


Good thing she’s cute!

Note: if you are uneasy with bodily functions, you may not want to continue reading…

I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of regurgitation. This is not unheard of when you have pets – sometimes they get up in the middle of the night and throw up. Jack, our schnauzer, likes to do this right next to where he was sleeping, so usually this sound is a signal to move him to the hardwood floor right away! But this noise was smaller and further away. Jack was still sleeping next to me. I went out to the hall and founds something in my shoe in the front entrance.

For those who’ve never seen a hairball before, the key takeaway is not to panic. To be blunt, the hairball looks like a little piece of poop. My first thought was, “huh. That’s weird.” I cleaned it up and went back to bed. But then I had some nagging thoughts and I did something that is usually a bad idea – I Googled it. Googling medical conditions is almost always a bad idea. The first answer I found was that it is possible for cats to throw up feces in rare circumstances where they have tearing in their intestine. Thankfully, I persisted with the Googling and found a conversation threat that hairballs can look like poop! So, I got out of bed and got some latex gloves to inspect what the cat left behind, and sure enough, it was a hairball.

That was a relief. Hopefully for those of you who’ve never seen a hairball will not panic. Instead, get a latex glove or wad of paper towels and smoosh the hairball. A hairball will just be a big wad of hair that has collected in the stomach. Poop will look like… well, poop.

If it is poop, you definitely need to get to the vet ASAP. If it’s a hairball, get a good brush and some hairball control food and/or treats. The good news is that healthy cats do pass these occasionally and it’s not a big deal.

Hopefully you won’t be dealing with hairballs for the first time at 2 a.m.!