Cats groom constantly driven by instinct to preserve and care for their fur which of course leads to the dreaded hairball.
Not only is their fur beautiful, a well maintained coat actually enhances good health. Fur protects their skin from injury, sunburn and warms your pet when it’s cold.
Their saliva cools them when it’s warm and also has antiseptic properties.
Your cat’s tongue plays an important role in the grooming process
When your cat’s tongue is coated with hair, the only thing your cat can do is swallow it.
Hopefully, most of the swallowed fur will simply pass through your cat’s digestive system and be eliminated in his stools (poop).
But once in the stomach, those hairs – which are not easily digested – can start sticking to other stomach contents such as saliva, undigested food, and gastric juices … and the hairball is born.
Like rolling snowballs, cat hairballs grow larger. They then begin to irritate your cat’s stomach – which usually triggers vomiting.
When your cat is ridding itself of a hairball he or she will probably have your attention – with coughing, gagging, retching, and other happy sounds associated with throwing up.
Should your cat not be able to rid itself of the hairball by vomiting or leaving it in the litter box, your pet could be in real trouble.
Cats can choke on hairballs and – in severe cases – surgery will be required to clear a hairball blockage.
If your cat has a stubborn hairball symptoms can include:
… loss of appetite
… weight loss
… loss of energy
Your cat might regurgitate (throw up) undigested food.
Cat hairballs do not actually look like balls. They are, in fact, tubular or sausage shaped and can easily be confused with poop. Usually, the easiest way to find a discarded hairball is to walk around in the dark with bare feet 🙂
A green tip for removing cat hairball stains from carpets
As soon as you see a hairball stain, pour some club soda on it and leave it on for a minute or two. Gently blot with a paper towel or cloth and then let the carpet dry. Sometimes a second application is needed. This treatment works best with fresh stains.
Health problems can cause your cat to lose and then swallow a lot of hair
Excessive hair loss in cats can be a symptom of poor health. As a rule, feline hair loss should not be patchy, but fairly uniform.
If parasites or allergies are making your cat itchy he or she will scratch, lick and swallow more hair.
Skin disease or a poor diet can cause hair loss. Give your cat the best cat food you can afford.
Stress can cause a cat to over groom, and lifestyle … older and overweight cats who aren’t very active can spend more time grooming.
Vomiting the occasional hairball is considered normal for cats but reoccurring vomiting is not. If you have concerns, contact your vet.
Cat hairballs can be life threatening … my cat’s scariest experience
My huge, long-haired Maine Coon, does not like being groomed … at all. One evening he began to unsuccessfully gasp for air and run around in crazy circles. I thought he was having some sort of attack.
After a minute or so, up came a hairball.
He then tried to run off but couldn’t keep his balance and staggered on down the hall.
He was okay after that but it served as a strong reminder to give him his hairball lubricant on schedule.
What you can do to help your cat
… give your cat a hand with grooming
… a diet higher in fiber
… hairball lubricants or oils
Your best solution for preventing cat hairballs … remove some of that loose hair!
Some cats loved to be brushed … and others don’t. Many cats have sensitive skin – often the stomach and lower back areas. For that reason, it is best to start with the neck or upper back.
(Some of these brushes are pretty rough. If you run the brush through your own hair it’s easy to understand why some cats don’t like being brushed.)
If your cat isn’t co-operating begin with shorter sessions. You know your cat and what will work.
After a nice meal, cats usually relax and groom themselves.
Ideally, you should brush your cat at least every few days but that isn’t always possible.
Don’t expect to remove all the loose cat hair with a deshedding tool, in one go, as you see on commercials. If your cat fusses, you may only be able to do a bit in one session.
I use the Furminator. Some of my cats can’t wait for their turn and the one cat that really needs it wants very little to do with it.
Offering your cat a lubricant is one effective hairball remedy
Pet stores and vets carry lubricants for cat hairballs. They come in a tube and are flavored so they appeal to cats. This hairball medicine will lubricate your cat’s digestive system allowing the hair or hairball to pass through.
Many are petroleum based. There is some concern that too much petroleum lubricant can interfere with absorption of nutrients from your cat’s food. Vetbasis hairball gel contains natural oils and is boosted by vitamins and antioxidants.
In order for any lubricant to be effective and safe, follow the package instructions. Never use human medications on your cat.
Some cats like the taste of the hairball lubricants and will lick it right off your finger. For those who don’t, smear it on the front of the leg or paw in a thin layer. If you only dab it on, your cat can flick it off and make a mess of your walls.
If your cat is on a budget
… cats like butter, and some will lick it right off your finger. It can also be melted and added to wet food. Butter is not the best solution for cats that are overweight, on a salt restricted diet or not well.
… some cat owners use vaseline; give about 1/4 teaspoon for a few days then weekly.
Hairball cat food
Some cat foods have been specifically developed to help control hairballs. Hairball cat food contains more fiber which assists in the passage of hair through the digestive tract.
Some natural remedies for cat hairballs
… you can also add fiber to your cat’s diet by providing organic cat grass or catnip. Cats gobble it up and some will vomit it back up shortly after. This is nature’s way of ridding your cat’s body of unwanted hair.
Cat grass is easy to grow and some pet stores carry little containers of the growing grass. Cat grass is a must have for my indoor cats … and my daughter’s dog likes it too.
… another good source of fiber is canned pumpkin (not the pie filling which has sugar and spices added). Add about a teaspoon or so to your cat’s wet food daily. If your cat can’t eat a can of pumpkin in a few sittings try freezing some in ice cube trays. Some brands of canned pumpkin have a higher fiber content than others.
… offer your cat plain sardines packed in oil about once a week
… mix a small amount of fish or olive oil into your cat’s wet food
Cat hairballs and other ingredients
House cats swallow string, Easter grass, Christmas tinsel, twist ties and other odd things. Once in their mouths, cats may not be able to spit them out.
Do try to keep your floors clear of these items so your cat can’t get at them.
If you think your pet has swallowed anything unusual, don’t try to remove the object yourself by pulling it. You could damage your cat’s organs.
Give your vet a call immediately. Your cat could be in serious – and even life threatening – trouble.
Prevention is the best hairball medicine
Brush your cat or use a deshedding tool. Offer a high fiber diet and use some form of lubrication to help those hairballs to move along.