Did you know that tomorrow is National Hairball Awareness Day? This is a great time to learn how you can help keep your own kitty hairball-free. Hairballs are common in cats, and almost everyone who has owned a cat is familiar with the telltale sound of a cat disgorging a hairball, or has cleaned up a hairball thoughtfully left behind by Fluffy. Luckily, there are several simple steps you can take to help prevent or treat hairballs in your cat. Your cat will be happier and healthier, and you’ll appreciate having fewer hairballs to clean up.
What is a Hairball? Cats are naturally fastidious, and can spend up to 30% of their waking hours grooming themselves. A cat’s tongue is covered with backward-facing barbs which act as a built-in comb to remove loose fur. However, since the barbs are backward-facing, any fur caught in the tongue is naturally swallowed. While most of the hair swallowed during grooming will pass through your cat’s digestive system, some fur can remain in the stomach or intestines until it is eventually vomited up by your cat. Cats with long fur or cats that groom excessively are more likely to develop hairballs.
Hairball Prevention: It is best to prevent rather than treat hairballs. Prevention involves removing loose fur before it can be swallowed by your cat. A de-shedding tool such as the FURminator for cats is great for removing loose, dead hair from your cat’s coat, but any type of regular brushing will help. Another positive is that most cats enjoy being brushed, and daily brushing is a great way to reinforce the bond you have with your cat. A high-quality cat food and/or an Omega 3 fatty acid supplement will support a healthy coat and reduce shedding.
Hairball Treatments: If your cat has hairballs, there are hairball treatments which are lubricants to help your cat pass the hairball through the digestive tract. Products such as Petromalt come in palatable malt or fish flavors that most cats will readily take. Adding fiber to your cat’s diet in a form like Vetasyl or plain canned pumpkin can also help.
While an occasional hairball in cats is common, hairballs can cause blockages in your cat’s digestive system which can become life-threatening. If your cat has excessive vomiting, lack of appetite, constipation or frequent diarrhea, contact your veterinarian for advice.