Cat owners know all about what comes from those horrible hacking and gagging noises our pets make. One moment your cat is happy, minding their own business, or perhaps playing, the next they’re spitting up a long, slimy ball of fur on your nice clean floor – a hairball.
Hairballs are wads of fur that have collected in a cat’s stomach from grooming. They collect such a large amount in their systems because of the backward pointing barbs on their tongues. So, when they groom, all of that loose fur attaches to the barbs, and your cat ends up swallowing it. When this happens and it collects rapidly in their digestive system they’re unable to pass it naturally, so it comes back up in the form of those gross hairballs.
Fortunately, there are measures you can take to help prevent hairballs or at least decrease their frequency. Here’s what you can do for your kitty:
- Brushing – Brushing your cat regularly can really make a huge difference. By doing this, you can remove all of that loose and dead hair from your cat’s coat before they’re able to ingest it, thus preventing hairball development.
- Tame Grooming – Cats can actually get in the habit of excessive grooming. So, as their caretaker, you should discourage this behavior as much as possible. They tend to do this when they’re bored or stressed, so regular interaction with them is key. You want to divert their interest into things other than just sitting around grooming. Of course, if your cat’s excessive grooming behavior continues, you should talk to your veterinarian, as this can be a sign of some underlying condition.
- Provide Water – Your pets should always have access to plenty of fresh water. With cats, in particular, dehydration can affect their ability to digest, which can lead to hairballs. So, be sure they know where to find water throughout your home.
- Playtime – By ensuring that your cats stay active with regular playtime, you can help ensure that their digestive systems stay in top working order. More activity makes their systems work more efficiently so that they’re better able to keep ingested hair moving through their system instead of clumping in their stomachs.
- Food – There are specially formulated foods available to help treat hairballs. They typically contain enzymes to help break down hair and higher amounts of fiber to help move hair through a cat’s digestive tract. You can even try fiber-rich treats to aid in their digestive health. Just be sure to check with your veterinarian before switching your cat’s diet.
- Prevention Products – There are cat hairball remedies available in the form of gels and pastes. They even come in enticing flavors so your cat will enjoy taking them. These products often contain small amounts of petroleum gel or mineral oil to help lubricate their digestive systems to allow hair to pass more easily. Consult with your veterinarian to find out more before administering and to see if this is even an option for your cat and their specific needs.
While these tips can certainly help prevent and decrease the frequency of your cat developing hairballs, it is important to note that sometimes hairballs can become a serious problem. If a hairball gets lodged in your cat’s digestive system, it can cause intestinal blockage. Symptoms of this include frequent dry hacking, lack of appetite, lethargy, swollen abdomen, overly matted fur, constipation, or diarrhea. If your cat starts to experience any of these symptoms, schedule a veterinary appointment right away to ensure they get help as soon as possible.