Helping your cat with hairballs

cat licking its paws
If are a cat owner that has found small clumps of moist hair lurking around your home, then there is a good chance that your feline friend is suffering from a relatively common cat problem – hairballs.

Many people mistakenly believe that hairballs are a comedic part of cat ownership. However, without Prevention or prompt treatment, they can pose a serious threat to the health and happiness of your pet.

What is a hairball?

A hairball is an accumulation of your cat’s own hair in their stomach. This happens as a result of their fastidious grooming routine, during which they spend hours each day licking and smoothing their coat.

Cats are born with tiny, hook-shaped structures on their tongues, which help them to lap up their water and milk. They also help to remove areas of fur which are matted as when a cat grooms herself, these hooks will also pull out any loose fur. However, some fibers naturally become stuck on the hooks and then get swallowed. Most of the hair your cat swallows should pass through their body relatively easily, but inevitably some could stay lodged in their stomach. Each time your cat grooms, the amount of hair in your cat’s stomach could grow, and eventually, it will form a clump of hair that their body then forces back out through regurgitation – in other words, she will puke it up.

Contrary to their name, because hairballs need to pass through the esophagus, they appear looking much more tube-like than round.

However, there are instances where a cat may be unable to dislodge a hairball, and instead, it forms a blockage in their stomach or intestine. At this stage, the hairball could become life-threatening.

How do I know if my cat has a hairball?

It is important to recognize the signs of hairballs so that they can access their veterinarian as soon as possible. Some common symptoms of hairballs include:

  • Vomiting a mixture of food, bile, and hair
  • Retching/gagging without bringing anything up
  • A reduced appetite or disinterest in food
  • Constipation

How to help your cat prevent hairballs

Prevention is always the best course of action wherever possible. Although it is impossible to stop your cat from grooming, there are some things that you can do to help reduce the likelihood of your cat developing a hairball.

Brush her regularly
While your cat will still groom herself regardless, by brushing her regularly you will be able to remove the bulk of the loose hair for her, meaning there is less to get trapped on her tongue and be swallowed.

Long-haired cats require brushing more often than short-haired varieties, and you can even purchase special brushes that are designed specifically for your cat.

Feed her a diet high in fiber
If you look in your local store, you will probably be able to find cat foods that are labeled as ‘hairball formula’. This essentially means that they are high in fiber, which encourages any swallowed hair to make its way through the digestive system. They also contain ingredients that reduce shedding and improve the overall quality of your cat’s coat.

However, just combining regular brushing with a high-fiber diet should be sufficient to help prevent your cat from suffering from hairballs.

What happens if my cat does get a trapped hairball

If you suspect that your cat has a hairball that isn’t coming out of its own accord, then you should arrange an urgent appointment with your vet. He/she will be able to prescribe laxatives or other medications that can help your cat to pass the hairball before it begins to block their digestive tract.

Hairballs may be a common part of cat ownership, but they don’t have to cause a problem. If you have any questions or concerns about hairballs, seek advice from your veterinarian.