Having a feline family member is one of life’s great pleasures. They offer love, playtime, cuddles, kneading, and the sublime sound of purring. Dealing with hairballs, however, is not so sublime.
If you’ve ever owned – or spent significant time with – a cat, you know the drill: Fluffy is quite relaxed then she suddenly bolts up, perhaps lets out a horrific yowl, and crouches down low. She stretches her neck, then coughs, hacks, and retches in distress. Finally, after what seems like an endless struggle, she spits up something from a horror movie. Usually on your carpet or favorite rug.
Not only are hairballs enough to make you gag as well, but they are also obviously unpleasant for your cat, distressing to witness, and messy (at best) to clean up. They’re even worse if you’re “surprised” by one – typically in bare feet in the dark.
But what are they? What causes them? And how do you make them stop?
What Are Hairballs?
Hairballs (or furballs) are a very common issue in cats. Known scientifically as trichobezoar, they are a wad of undigested fur mixed with digestive juices from the stomach and duodenum, including bile. They are usually sausage- or cigar-like in shape, reflecting the shape of your cat’s esophagus – which is where they travel from to be regurgitated if they do not pass through the cat’s entire digestive tract and land in the litter tray.
Hairballs can vary in size but are usually around an inch in length. They can be much longer. On first inspection, they may be mistaken for feces that have missed the kitty litter tray. The hairball will be about the same color as your cat’s fur.
Shedding season is the worst time for developing hairballs. Older cats are more likely to experience hairballs than kittens and younger cats. Understandably, a long-haired cat will experience more hairballs than a short-haired breed.
Why Does My Cat Get Hairballs?
Funnily enough, hairballs are the sign of a fastidious cat. Healthy cats groom themselves relentlessly, especially as they leave their youth and spend more time relaxing in the sun and less time playing. This causes fur to loosen and, as she licks at it, the papillae on her tongue will direct the fur to the back of her throat. As such, she’ll inevitably swallow it. This fur is not digestible. A cat’s stomach is, however, designed to process fur. (This enables predatory cats to digest their kill in the wild).
Most of the fur your cat swallows will pass through the entire digestive tract and be eliminated in her feces. Some, however, can remain in the stomach (or esophagus in extreme cases). This will gradually accumulate and when it mixes with the natural juices in the stomach, it becomes the dreaded furball.
Hairballs occur primarily because:
- More fur is being swallowed (e.g. shedding season, excessive grooming)
- Due to gastrointestinal disorders (motility disorders, bowel disease)
Can Dogs Get Hairballs Too?
Cats aren’t the only ones who get hairballs. Medium and long-haired dog breeds who are prone to shedding may also develop hairballs as a result of grooming. In general, most of the ingested fur will pass through the digestive tract, but on some occasions, the hairball may become too large to pass through the intestines and cannot be coughed up. If your dog is licking and shedding more than usual, it’s a good time to start a digestive supplement like Hairball Care.
Are Hairballs Serious?
A normal, healthy cat will potentially produce a hairball once every week or so. Every cat will develop hairballs at some point. She will likely be very relieved as soon as she’s disposed of her hairball! This is no cause for concern, as long as the cat is not unduly distressed, lethargic, or refusing to eat for more than a day or so. It should also not be happening more than once per week at most. These signs, as well as frequent unproductive retching, may indicate a problem and you will need to take Fluffy to see the vet.
You need to understand that:
- Signs of hairball issues that require a visit to the vet include lethargy, weight loss, bloated belly, and unproductive gagging or hacking.
- Hairballs can block the stomach and prevent food from passing through. This will result in vomiting. They may also cause reduced appetite and constipation.
- Occasionally hairballs can pass from the stomach to the intestine, in which it may cause a blockage. If extreme, this may require surgical removal or clinically-administered laxatives.
- If your cat is coughing or hacking a lot, it may not be hairballs at all but a condition like asthma – she needs to be seen as soon as possible to identify and treat the problem appropriately.
How Can I Stop Hairballs?
Fortunately, there are numerous ways to help your cat pass hairballs naturally and comfortably. You may not be able to stop them completely, but you can certainly make your cat more comfortable.
- Groom your cat by brushing regularly, especially in shedding season
- Provide plenty of fresh clean water to drink
- Provide a high protein, low carbohydrate, grain-free diet (unless your vet recommends otherwise)
- Monitor your cat’s appetite and kitty litter tray
- Maintain regular vet health checks
- Feed her a hairball control diet – the added fiber binds the fur and stimulates the intestine
- Offer cat grass or catnip as a treat
- Medications like laxatives can be helpful to lubricate and move the hairball through the digestive tract (under vet supervision). You can also try a little butter or probiotic yoghurt.
- Provide natural hairball relief supplements
NaturPet Hairball Care
A gentle, natural solution for the relief of hairballs, NaturPet Hairball Care helps to loosen hairballs while at the same time stimulating the appetite to aid in the digestion of food. it contains all-natural ingredients including:
Together, these ingredients help your cat by:
- Loosening hairballs
- Stimulating the appetite
- Cleansing the liver, gallbladder and kidneys
- Improving digestion
- Boosting fat metabolism
- Relieving flatulence and bloating
Part of loving your furry family member is ensuring she is comfortable and feeling as well as possible, at any age. You wouldn’t enjoy coughing up hairballs – and neither does she!
Is your cat losing hair? Did you know cats can lose hair from stress? Find out more here!