The sound of a cat hacking up a hairball is sure to get any cat parent moving at the speed of sound. There’s nothing like cleaning up a hairball to start your morning, and the ensuing cleanup is sure to leave a scowl on your face for the rest of the day.
Luckily, preventing hairballs is as easy as 1–2–3, and it doesn’t take a large monetary or time investment to prevent your cat from choking up another tube of evil. However, to prevent hairballs, we have to first identify where they come from.
Understanding the science of hairballs is the first step to conquering them. You’ll hardly find an economical and successful strategy for handling anything that doesn’t consider the source of the problem. When you understand where hairballs come from, keeping them at bay becomes child’s play.
What Are Hairballs?
Like the name implies, a hairball is a mass of hair that your cat throws up. Cats ingest a large amount of hair when grooming themselves, and they groom themselves often! Cats spend about 4% of their days grooming themselves—that’s a whole hour every day! A lot of people can barely take a 5-minute shower, let alone lick their entire body for an hour.
Hairballs occur when the hair your cat ingests doesn’t get passed through the digestive system promptly. Cats can’t actually digest hair, so the hair would normally get passed through the digestive system mostly intact. However, if the hair doesn’t move through the digestive system, it can build up and form a massive ball in the stomach.
By the time the hairball hits the floor, it’s usually not ball-shaped anymore; it will probably be shaped like a tube of mucus and stomach fluids. The hairball may be slightly discolored and contain food particles that got stuck in the hair while moving through the stomach.
In most cases, the ball is relatively small and benign when the cat hacks it up. But in rare cases, the mass may become too big to pass through the digestive system and too big to throw up. In these cases, veterinary attention will be needed to remove the hairball from your cat’s digestive system.
The 4 Methods to Prevent Hairballs in Cats?
The only way to prevent hairballs is to prevent your cat from ingesting too much hair. You won’t be able to get your cat to stop grooming themselves, and you shouldn’t try. However, you can help your cat groom themselves by brushing them with a slicker brush or a deshedding comb. You can also give your cat anti-hairball treats, food, or medicine.
1. Deshed Your Cat Daily
Start by deshedding your cat every day. When your cat’s fur falls out, it will likely get caught in the undercoat, a layer of soft, fine fur that grows close to the skin.
If you deshed your cat every day or every other day, you’ll reduce the amount of hair your cat is ingesting when they groom themselves. It’s also imperative that you use a proper deshedding comb or slicker brush when grooming your cat.
A deshedding comb or slicker brush will feature sturdy pins or teeth that penetrate deep into the cat’s coat and undercoat and capture fur that has shed. Deshedding combs, like the Furminator, also pluck out any fur that is loose and ready to shed but hasn’t fallen out yet. This tool won’t just reduce hairballs; it will also reduce the amount of fur that your cat sheds onto your furniture and clothing!
Brushing your cat will be especially important for long-haired cats. You could also consider getting your cat groomed. A haircut like a lion cut will cut down on the fur they have to groom. If your cat is not amenable to being shaved, most vets can provide this service with your cat under light sedation.
2. Feed Your Cat Hairball Reducing and Gastro Health Foods and Treats
Another great way to reduce hairballs in cats is to feed your cat foods and treats that promote gastrointestinal health. These foods contain higher quantities of fiber than other foods that stimulate the digestive tract and help your cat pass hairballs before they can start to develop.
By stimulating food and other objects in the stomach to move through the digestive tract quicker, the foods move smaller quantities of hair through the digestive tract more frequently. By moving the contents of the stomach through the digestive tract more regularly, fur is prevented from building up in the stomach to the point where the cat will purge the hairball because it can’t pass through the digestive tract.
Hairball treats generally also contain a mild, edible lubricant that will help protect your cat’s digestive tract as the laxative moves the hair through.
3. Give Your Cat Anti-Hairball Medicine
Anti-hairball medicine is relatively easy to buy over-the-counter. Just like anti-hairball treats, there is a wide selection of pastes and tablets you can give to your cat every day to improve their hairball situation.
Anti-hairball medications usually contain laxatone, a common lubricant medication that lubricates the hair in the stomach and the digestive tract. Laxatone allows your cat to pass hairballs more comfortably and allows larger amounts of hair to pass through the digestive tract with ease.
Laxatone is also a mild laxative that will push the contents of your cat’s stomach through the digestive tract and stimulate digestion. This way your cat will pass a smaller quantity of hair instead of choking up a hairball.
4. Discourage Excessive Grooming
While grooming is a part of being a cat, you can discourage your cat from spending all day licking themselves by playing with them and introducing them to new stimuli. Your cat will need to spend some of their day grooming their fur to stay clean, but you can help reduce the amount of grooming they do by spending ample time playing with your cat, so they’re tuckered out.
Can Hairballs Be an Emergency?
Hairballs can absolutely be an emergency. If the hairball is too large, it will not be able to be eliminated from either end of your cat. Additionally, the presence of hairballs can cause other serious complications like constipation, repeated vomiting, and lack of appetite.
If your cat experiences prolonged vomiting, gagging, or retching without producing a hairball, this is a good sign that your cat needs to be seen by a veterinarian. Lack of appetite, lethargy, constipation, and diarrhea are also common signs of intestinal blockage.
Hairballs can be frustrating for owners and cats alike. Your cat doesn’t find it pleasant to hack up evil onto your carpet. So, treat them as if they have a medical condition because they do! It’s not hard to give your cat a helping hand to prevent hairballs from forming. Doing your due diligence as a cat owner should have your cat feeling tip-top perfect again in no time!
Featured Image Credit: Montakan Wannasri, Shutterstock