Q. I've recently adopted a long-haired cat. She is lovely but sometimes she coughs. Someone told me it could be hair balls. How will I know if it really is hair balls and if so, can you get rid of them? Susan, via e-mail
A. It's alarming seeing or hearing your pet in discomfort – and you will certainly hear it if your cat has got hair balls. They make a "hack hack" noise and they look as if they are going to vomit. Some succeed in doing this, but generally it is quite difficult for them to bring the hair up – hence the seemingly endless, horrible sounds. If they do manage to cough it up, the hair ball will actually be the shape of a small cigar – and obviously the same colour as your cat's hair.
You need to get this problem sorted out because it can lead to more serious conditions. In the most severe cases, the intestinal tract can get obstructed – this is very rare but it can happen.
Some signs you may notice are retching and gagging, which sometimes results in the cat bringing up food or water, not the hair. You may also observe some hair in the cat's stools.
I would consult the vet to make sure it's not another issue, such as cat asthma; the vet might prescribe a food that lets the hair pass through the stools.
One way to minimise the amount of hair entering your cat's system is to brush her regularly. Perhaps surprisingly, most cats love being brushed. And the process will also increase the bond between the two of you. One of the best cat brushes I've found recently is called the "Furminator". It works wonders and you can buy it via the internet.
Another tip which some cat owners swear by is to add a lubricant to your moggy's diet – ask your vet for a recommendation. This, like the special food your vet should also be able to provide, will help the cat pass the fur more easily. It's worth trying out this approach before investing in any expensive products. Good luck!
Remember that if an animal shows signs of distress or discomfort an early visit to the vet is always recommended