Cats are very clean creatures and your kitten will spend approximately five hours a day grooming themselves. In doing so, they'll pick up any loose hairs from their coat. These are difficult to spit out and will probably be swallowed. Most of the time, this will cause no problems whatsoever and the hairs will just pass through the digestive tract. Sometimes, however, the hairs can remain in the stomach and form a fur ball.
Usually, once a fur ball has reached a certain size, the cat vomits it up (look out for sausage like balls of hair), although some will pass hair in their stools. Either way, it rarely causes much distress. Every now and again, a fur ball can be difficult to get rid of and the affected kitten may have repeated bouts of ‘gagging’ or vomiting. If you are at all concerned, don't hesitate to call your vet.
In some very rare cases a cat may be unable to pass the fur ball naturally and surgery may be required. Thankfully, this is very unusual.
How can you help to prevent fur balls?
One of the best ways to help prevent fur balls is to groom your kitten regularly. Get into the habit of doing this when they are very young, so they get used to it.
The type of grooming brush you use can be important and your vet can offer you advice on which one is best for your kitten. Many people with short-haired kittens favour a rubber brush. They're soft enough not to cause any discomfort but great at removing loose hair. If you have a long-haired kitten, you'll need to be even more diligent with grooming. A large-toothed, metal comb is probably a good choice. You'll need to step up the regularity of your brushing during Spring and Summer when your kitten will moult more heavily. This needn't be a chore, though. It can be a good way for you and your kitten to bond. A cuddle or a game is a nice way to round off a brushing session.
There is some evidence that a high fibre, dry food such as Hill's Science Plan Adult Hairball Control can help reduce the formation of fur balls in the gut. Ask your vet for advice.
Seeing your kitten struggle with a fur ball can be upsetting, but it's important to remember that most cats have problems with them from time to time and there's hardly ever any reason for real concern.