What’s The Deal With Hairballs?

Bengal cat eating or being sickIt’s safe to assume that almost every cat owner has some experience with one of the cat’s most delightful attributes; the majestic hairball. These elusive balls of cat hair and spit seem to appear out of nowhere and can certainly take you by surprise. Some cats are more prone to hairballs than others, and there are many ways that you can as a pet owner reduce the pesky accidents. Brace yourselves, because it’s time to learn everything there is to know about hairballs.

What is a hairball?

Contrary to popular belief, hairballs are actually a healthy and natural part of your cat’s grooming routine. Have you ever looked closely at your cat’s tongue? A cat’s tongue feels like sandpaper when touched, and is designed perfectly for grooming. The tongue has tiny hook-like instruments all over it, designed to help pull out shedding hair. Your cat then swallows this dead hair. Most of the hair that your cats swallows will make it all the way through their digestive tract. However, if hair gets left in the cat’s stomach or there is an abundance that your cat’s stomach can’t handle, a hairball will be produced and passed through your cat’s esophagus, out of their mouth, and onto one of your favorite surfaces, most likely.

Kittens don’t tend to produce hairballs, since they aren’t shedding as much as adults nor do they have a grooming technique down pat. Not all cats get hairballs on a regular basis. If your cat is long-haired, they are more prone to producing hairballs since they’ve got a lot more hair to have to work with. Cats that have a habit of obsessively grooming will also have more hairballs. There are ways to ensure that your cat is grooming his/herself an appropriate amount, through observation, brushing, distraction, and diet.

Symptoms of hairballs include:

Hacking: You’ll notice your cat hacking and gagging like they are trying to cough or throw up. This can be startling if you’ve never experienced it before, but your cat should be fine. As long as they are breathing normally, you can assume that they are having a hairball and not choking.

Vomiting: When your cat has a hairball, they will hack and gag until they produce a fuzzy glob of hair and saliva. There is a difference between regular throw-up and a hairball. If your cat is regularly throwing up food, you should consult your veterinarian. Hairballs are very distinct tube-like masses that are clearly made up of mostly hair.

Decreased appetite and/or constipation: If your cat is having trouble with a hairball, they may feel ill and have less of an appetite. Although this is a pretty disturbing visual, imagine if your stomach was filled with fur and you weren’t sure which was it was going to come out. You probably wouldn’t want to eat anything else. Your cat may be constipated since their body is focused more on working the hairball out than anything else.

What measures can I take to reduce hairballs?

If you are worried that your cat is producing an abnormal amount of hairballs, you should consult your veterinarian. An excessive amount of hairballs could point to a more serious medical condition. However, some cats are more prone to hairballs than others, so don’t panic.

There are many over-the-counter solutions to hairballs, as well as practices that you can do to help cut down on excessive grooming. Try:

Hairball formula food: Most brands of cat food offer a hairball-reducing variety. This type of food combines nutrients and minerals that are designed specifically to improve the health of your cat’s skin and fur. Most hairball formula food also contains an extra boost of fiber which will help the hair that does get ingested to get our easier and quicker. You will usually find hairball formula food as dry food.

Hairball formula treats: If you don’t feel like changing your cat’s food for fear of a finicky cat or an upset stomach, you can purchase hairball formula treats. These treats will contain a similar makeup as the formula food, with skin and coat enhancing nutrients and added fiber for digestive ease. You can even use these treats as a reward for your cat being successfully distracted from obsessive grooming.

Anti-hairball supplements: You can purchase a liquid or paste designed to combat hairballs and administer it to your cat on a regular basis, or whenever you feel that they are having a hairball problem. These supplements are designed to be applied directly to your cat’s regular food, and contain a variety of ingredients designed to fight hairballs.

Regular brushing: The best way to prevent your cat from ending up with excessive hair in their belly is by stopping the problem before it even starts. Brushing your cat as much as possible will help get rid of extra fur, and can be a great bonding experience for you and your cat. If your cat is long-haired, you’ll want to be brushing them on a daily basis. One way that cats naturally bond with each other is through grooming, so your cat will likely accept your offer to help groom with open arms.

Stopping excessive grooming: You will need to work with your cat in order to train them to not obsessively groom. Whenever you are home and you catch your cat non-stop grooming, you’ll need to distract them with a new toy or a favorite game. Using engaging play can help to make your cat forget all about grooming, and give the two of you some bonding time. You might not be able to be there at all times to distract your cat, so you’ll want to include as many interactive toys as you can throughout your home. You may want to purchase an electronic toy to keep your cat distracted while you’re away.

Keeping your home clean: Cats aren’t as bad as dogs when it comes to ingesting random objects, but this doesn’t mean that it never happens. You’ll want to make sure that your home is clean and clear of string, thread, and extra hair. If this gets accidentally ingested, it could cause an obstruction to your cat’s esophagus or digestive tract.

Hairballs are usually not a health hazard, and are a normal part of your cat’s grooming regime. However, if your cat is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, you should contact your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary hospital.

Each of these symptoms could mean that your cat is having trouble with blockage in their throat, stomach, or intestines.

Can’t stop hacking: It shouldn’t take more than about fifteen minutes of hacking for your cat to expel their pesky hairball.

Diarrhea: If your cat has diarrhea on a frequent basis, you should have them checked-up. This could mean that they are blocked up, or could point to a different medical condition.

Loss of appetite: If your cat loses their appetite after a hairball, there may be a more serious problem. If anything, your cat should regain their appetite after expelling a hairball, since now their stomach is actually ready to ingest food.

Hairballs are a natural and normal part of having a cat, and require low-maintenance cleaning. If your cat has a hairball, simply pick up the hairball and dispose of it in the garbage with toilet paper or a paper towel. Then sanitize and disinfect the area in which your cat’s hairball was sitting. Unlike with urine or solid waste, your cat won’t sniff out their old hairball spots and re-distribute the mess.

Cats are clean animals, and as pet-owners, our responsibility is to keep them as safe, healthy, and clean as possible. Your cat’s hairball problems will subside just as soon as you commit to reducing the common causes of hairballs. With regular brushing and tweaks to your cat’s diet, you’ll have reduced the amount of hairballs showing up around your home in no time.