Saturday, April 28, 2012

Big Cats Cough Up Hairballs

Late yesterday, I stumbled upon the fact that it was National Hairball Awareness Day (yes, seriously). I also stumbled upon the above video from the Big Cat Rescue that shows you a lovely closeup of a lion's hairball (I've personally witnessed a bobcat coughing up a hairball, but not a lion).

Big cats can get hairballs just like our pet cats do, because they groom themselves with their tongues, also just like pet cats do. As almost any cat owner knows, hairballs are formed when the animal swallows dead hair. Some of the hair passes through, but some collects in the stomach, making a hairball. The technical name for a hairball is trichobezoar (a bezoar is an undigestible mass in the gastrointestinal system, and tricho refers to hair). Usually, your cat can cough or poop it out, but hairballs occasionally cause obstructions that require a visit to the veterinarian, and sometimes even surgery. The best thing to do is brush your cat frequently to try to prevent them, and/or feed hairball control food or treats. Of course, this method of prevention doesn't work so well for lions and tigers. In fact, a lion from a safari park in the U.K. had emergency surgery for a hairball a few years back.

Nowadays, we think of hairballs as gross, and cleaning them up is one of the least pleasant pet care tasks. However, not everybody sees them in such a negative light. The word "bezoar" is Persian for "protection from poison" and according to Popsci, ground up hairballs were once used as a sort of cure-all. Today, you can still buy a lion hairball souvenir if you travel to Africa! 

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