Hairballs in cats: How to prevent them & when to worry
- by DR Roxanne Jones
Cat owners, paws up if this has ever happened to you: you’re pottering around the house when suddenly you hear an awful hacking sound. It continues for a few seconds, reaches a crescendo, and then your lovable ball of fluff coughs up a… wait, what is that?
That, dear cat owner, is a hairball, and it’s a pretty common thing to see in cats. Although they look pretty nasty – ugly, grey-ish, sausage-like lumps of matted fur and other detritus – in most cases they’re normal.
But of course, they’re not fun for your cat to deal with, plus no one wants to step in squishy, wet piles of semi-dissolved fur when they’re walking through the house – particularly when barefoot!
Where do hairballs come from?
How often do you look over at your cat and she’s grooming herself… again? Cats love to keep themselves clean and will lick their fur for several hours every day. It’s totally normal and healthy behaviour for your furbaby, and in fact, it’s cause for concern if they’re not grooming themselves!
But all this licking leads to a fair amount of fur ingestion. Loose hairs get swallowed, and most pass through the intestinal tract and come out in your cat’s ablutions. However, in some cats, the fur doesn’t leave the body the way it should. Instead, it collects in the tummy, eventually forming a ball that irritates the stomach lining and causes your kitty to vomit up unsightly hairballs.
When should I worry about hairballs in my cat?
The occasional hairball is normal, particularly in long-haired cats, and shouldn’t cause you concern. However, if your kitty is vomiting regularly or excessively, or has other worrying symptoms like abnormal faeces, loss of appetite and/or weight, skin irritations and/or grooms constantly, it’s time for a trip to the vet.
In rare instances, a hairball can actually get lodged in the intestinal tract and cause an obstruction. In this case, it can’t simply be vomited out, and your furbaby will become quite ill indeed, vomiting profusely. In this case, surgery is usually needed to remove the offending hairball.
Is there anything I can do to help prevent hairballs in my cat?
Yes! Although you may not stop them altogether, there are steps you can take to help lessen the problem, like:
- Changing your kitty’s diet. There are cat foods specifically designed to prevent the formation of hairballs and to move fur through the digestive tract so it can be easily expelled. Diets like Hill’s Science Diet Adult Hairball Control and certain breed-specific foods from Royal Canin – such as those for Persians and Maine Coons – work very well and are a simple, convenient way to help address the problem.
- Adding small amounts of laxatives to your kitty’s diet. This helps to lubricate the hair fibres and move them through the digestive tract. Chat to your vet before adding any laxatives to your cat’s diet.
- Regularly brushing your kitty. Not only will your furbaby love this, but it will help to remove loose hairs and prevent them from getting into her belly in the first place.
As with all other things, when it comes to your pet’s health and wellbeing, prevention is always better than cure. Try these tips to help prevent hairballs, and don’t hesitate to take your kitty to the vet if you’re concerned about her symptoms.
Here’s to a happy, hairball-free life – for your furchild and for you!