All cat owners know that horrible sound. The hacking and retching noise inevitably leads to a pile of warm goo on the floor. Hairballs are annoying and disgusting. While they cannot be completely avoided, they can be somewhat prevented.
What is a Hairball?
A hairball is pretty much exactly what is sounds like—a ball of hair. Cats are consummate groomers. They take pride in being clean and properly groomed. So they groom themselves, a lot. When they do, the barbs on their tongue catch all that hair and then the cats swallow it. Most of the hair passes through their system like so much food. If the hair cannot pass through the body, the cat vomits it back up.
Disgusting? Absolutely. But it also plays an important part in their health. If the hairball cannot pass through the body and cannot be regurgitated, it becomes a blockage in the intestines. Then it’s really a problem and may require surgery to fix.
Hairballs are most common in cats that have long hair, cats that shed often, and cats that groom themselves often. It is also more common as the cat gets older and spends more time grooming. Kittens do not often have hairballs because they spend less time grooming than their older counterparts. A cat having hairballs a couple of times per month is completely normal and not anything that needs the attention of a veterinarian. That doesn’t mean it is any more pleasant for you or for your cat.
How do I Prevent Hairballs?
Hairballs cannot be completely eliminated from your cat’s life. However, by taking some steps, the frequency can be reduced. This can save you and your cat a lot of pain and irritation. Here are steps that can help prevent hairballs.
Perhaps the most effective way to prevent hairballs is to brush your cat. Hairballs are, after all, balls of hair that your cat has swallowed while grooming herself. If you remove the loose and dead hair, there will be less for your cat to swallow. This also provides a great opportunity to bond with your cat. You and your cat can enjoy each other’s company and spend a few quiet moments together. Brushing daily is recommended, especially for cats with long hair or who shed a lot. Some cats will not be brushed, no matter what. If you can’t get your cat used to being brushed, consider using a professional groomer for a bath and a haircut every six months, or more often if needed.
Grooming can become a compulsive behavior for cats. Some grooming is completely normal for a cat. But if your cat is grooming too much and having too many hairballs, consider breaking the habit by distracting the cat with toys or treats. When you see your cat grooming, just get her attention by offering the toy or treats. Obsessive grooming is not healthy for your cat and providing something else for them to do may break the compulsive habit.
Yes, there are foods that will help reduce the number of hairballs your cat is experiencing. These foods are often high in fiber to help things pass through the body more easily. They are also specially formulated for a healthy coat. A healthy coat means less shedding and less hair for your cat to swallow. These foods can be an effective way to help prevent hairballs. Look for terms like “reduce hairballs” or “hairball formula” on the label.
Most products that are hairball treatments are mild laxatives. These can help the hair move through the body instead of getting clogged and regurgitated. They are made with yummy flavors (by cat standards) and most cats easily lick the gel off your finger. But be careful not to use the treatments too often. The gels are based on mineral oil and can prevent cats from absorbing nutrients like they normally would. Twice per week is the limit before it starts to have a negative impact on your cat’s health.
While hairballs cannot be completely eliminated, they can be prevented to reduce the frequency. By grooming your cat daily, feed your cat a food formulated to reduce hairballs, and providing a hairball treatment, you can prevent hairballs. Try one or all three of the steps to make your cat feel better. If you notice your cat has a lack of appetite, no bowel movements, or bowels that are hard as a rock, your cat may have a blocked intestine and you should consult a veterinarian.