Hairballs are a common issue for cats that can occur when they ingest fur while grooming themselves.
Although generally harmless, they can cause discomfort, vomiting and even intestinal blockages if left untreated.
It’s therefore very important to take steps to prevent hairballs in cats.
This includes regular grooming, a healthy diet and the use of hairball control supplements or products.
Let’s begin by looking at the causes of hairballs in a bit more detail.
What Causes Hairballs in Cats?
Cats are of course known for their fastidious grooming habits.
They spend hours each day licking their fur to keep it clean and healthy.
Unfortunately, this compulsive grooming behavior sometimes leads to the formation of hairballs.
Hairballs occur when a cat ingests fur while grooming itself.
This is unavoidable for our feline friends given that their tongues are coated with backward-facing barbs.
The barbs drag loose fur in the cat’s stomach and intestines, forming clumps.
Typically, most of this hair is passed through the digestive system.
However, if too much hair is swallowed, your cat may end up vomiting tubular-shaped globs of wet hair.
Not all hairballs get vomited up or passed in the stool though. Some end up trapped in the intestines and may cause blockages.
Unsurprisingly, hairballs are particularly prevalent among long-haired cats.
So how do you know if your cat has a hairball stuck?
Symptoms of Hairballs in Cats
Let’s start with the hairball itself. Cylindrical in shape, a typical hairball will probably be wet and perhaps covered in partially-digested food and/or mucus. Nice!
In addition to the actual hairballs, there are a number of other symptoms you should look out for including:
Vomiting – If your cat is vomiting frequently, it might be a sign that she’s having trouble passing hairballs through their digestive system.
Vomiting often occurs shortly after your cat eats, but it can be somewhat sporadic.
Gagging/Retching/Hacking – Your cat might gag or retch in an effort to expel the hairball but without success.
This is a very common symptom. However, if this becomes frequent, you might need to consult a vet.
Lethargy – Cats with hairball issues sometimes appear lethargic or less active than usual.
This is causes by the discomfort caused from hairball accumulation.
Loss of Appetite – If your cat is experiencing hairball-related issues, she may also show a decreased appetite.
This can arise from the digestive discomfort or nausea.
Constipation – Hairballs can also contribute to constipation in cats, as they can block the digestive system and make it difficult to pass stool.
Diarrhea – Hairballs is known to cause diarrhea in some cats, particularly if they’re experiencing digestive issues related to hairball accumulation.
Preventing Hairballs in Cats
You’ve got a number of options when it comes to preventing and managing hairballs.
One of the most effective ways to prevent hairballs in cats is by regular grooming.
Brushing your cat’s coat regularly can help remove loose fur and stop it from being ingested.
Regular grooming also helps to distribute your cat’s natural oils throughout its coat, keeping it healthy and shiny.
Hairball Control Products
There are numerous hairball control products on the market that can help control hairballs in cats.
These include mild lubricants or laxatives that make it easier for your cat to pass hairballs through the digestive tract.
A lot of these products are mineral-oil based gels that aren’t absorbed by the body but instead work as a lubricant.
They should only be used around twice a week though, given that mineral oils can inhibit the body’s absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Specialized Foods and Treats/High Fiber Diet
Specialized foods and treats aimed at controlling hairballs can be helpful.
As well as preventing shedding, they promote healthy digestion and help to move hair through your cat’s digestive system before it can form a hairball.
Foods high in fiber are often recommended. Typical meals include those containing sweet potato, pumpkin and Psyllium husk.
Increase Water Intake
Making sure your cat is well-hydrated can also help prevent hairballs.
Encourage her to drink more by providing fresh water in a clean bowl. Also ensure that multiple water bowls are available throughout your home.
You might also want to consider feeding your cat wet food, which has a higher water content than dry food.
Stress can cause cats to groom themselves excessively, which in turn increases the likelihood of hairballs forming.
Reducing stress in your cat’s environment can therefore be of some help.
Provide your cat with plenty of opportunities to play and exercise, as well as a comfortable place to sleep.
Consider using pheromone sprays or diffusers to further reduce stress and promote calm.
If your cat is prone to shedding, try to minimize the amount of loose fur in your home.
Examine your cat’s bedding, the furniture and other surfaces for loose fur and remove it with a lint roller. Vacuum your house regularly as well.
When to Seek out Veterinary Care
While hairballs are common in felines, there are some instances when you’ll need to contact a vet.
If your cat is vomiting hairballs a lot and/or has difficulty passing them, it may indicate an underlying issue.
Your veterinarian can help determine whether or not the problem relates to hairballs and will be able to provide proper treatment.
Lack of Appetite or Lethargy
Lethargy and poor appetite often signal that your cat is experiencing some sort of discomfort.
Should this behavior accompany hairballs, you’ll want to get it checked out because your cat may have a blockage in his digestive system.
In such a scenario, veterinary intervention is required.
Straining or Constipation
Difficulty passing stool or straining may also be a sign of a blockage. Your veterinarian may therefore need to perform an examination and recommend appropriate treatment.
Coughing or Hacking
If your cat is coughing or hacking frequently, it may be a sign of a hairball that is stuck in their throat or esophagus.
Your vet may be able to dislodge the hairball while also recommending preventative measures to stop a repeat occurrence.
Observe any of the above symptoms and you should contact a vet. Professional intervention will help to solve the issue, thereby keeping your cat happy and healthy!