Today is Hairball Awareness Day! And if you (much like myself) are wondering why hairballs need their own “awareness” day, you’re in the right place! Cat parents are very much aware of hairballs, thak you, we don’t need an entire day dedicated to being aware of them. Hairballs are simply part of the cat parent package, though they can also cause issues in dogs, too.
What is a hairball?
Hairballs (trichobezoars if you want to get technical about it) are exactly what they sound like: clumps of hair that get stuck in your cat’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract. “Trich” means hair in Latin, and a “bezoar” is an accumulation of undigested material found in the GI tract. As fastidious self-groomers, cats ingest a small amount of hair every day, with a little extra help thanks to the barbs on their tongue that help get rid of dirt and debris.
The keratin in the hairs can’t be digested, so they normally pass through the digestive tract and end up in the litter box. Sometimes the hairs get tangled together - so instead of going out the back, they come out the front, accompanied by lots of heaving and hacking.
Okay, okay. We know what hairballs are and how they happen. So what are some ways to help reduce hairballs in our furry feline friends?
Groom your cat regularly.
It stands to reason that the more fur you remove from your cat, the less fur they'll end up swallowing. Combing or brushing your cat on a daily basis can be an effective way to minimize hairballs. Brushing can also help distribute the natural oils in your cat’s fur, resulting in a sleek and shiny coat that’s free of tangles. And an added bonus? It can also provide a wonderfully relaxing way to bond with your cat. Meowssage, anyone?
Not every cat loves to be groomed right away, and it may take some time to get your cat used to the idea of it.
- Introduce your cat to the brush slowly; let them sniff it, maybe rub their face on it, and get familiar with the brush before you begin brushing.
- Be patient and pay attention to your cat’s signals - ears pressed backward, lashing tail and twitching back can mean their uncomfortable and it’s time to stop.
- If your cat is food motivated, give them their favorite treat when it’s time to groom.
Longhaired cat breeds such as Maine Coon and Persian cats are more prone to hairballs thanks to all that extra fluff. Anxious or bored cats may also suffer more from hairballs if they are overgrooming as a way to self-soothe.
If your cat has long hair, you may need to brush them more frequently to prevent mats and tangles. Use a slicker brush or a comb with long teeth to get through their fur. For cats with short hair, a rubber brush or grooming mitt can be effective in removing loose hair.
Plain, canned pumpkin (without sugar or flavor) can make an excellent natural hairball remedy.
While it won't completely do away with hairballs, pumpkin is a natural source of fiber for cats, aiding digestion, while also providing a few beneficial vitamins. Many veterinarians turn to pumpkin as a remedy for constipation in feline patients.
Mix between one and four teaspoons of canned pumpkin in your cat's food one to two times a day, or a couple times a week.
It's best to check with your veterinarian first before making any changes to your cat's diet. They can advise you on the proper amount and frequency of pumpkin to serve.
If your cat doesn't take to canned pumpkin, "hairball formula" foods are high-fiber foods designed to improve the health of your cat’s coat, minimize the amount of shedding, and encourage hairballs in cats to pass through the digestive system. As always, check with your vet for recommendations!
Hairball Prevention Treats
There are many hairball prevention treats on the market that can help reduce hairballs in cats, from gels to soft, chewable niblets. These treats typically contain natural ingredients that help to lubricate the digestive tract and aid in the passage of hairballs. Make sure to read the ingredients carefully and choose a reputable brand.
Note: If you notice that your cat is vomiting frequently with or without hair in the vomit, there may be other health problems and a vet checkup may be required. Abnormal signs and symptoms include vomiting or gagging up more than one hairball a day, constipation, diarrhea, lethargy, or lack of appetite. These symptoms could mean an internal blockage that can potentially be life-threatening.
Hairballs may be a common issue in cats, but there are steps you can take to help relieve your kitty (and your cleaning supplies). Happy grooming!