23 May 2015 | Cat health issues

*Cough * Splutter * Spit * Vomit – Hairball!

How to treat hairballs in cats

Your alarm goes off. You push the snooze button. Begrudgingly, you swing your legs over the bed and start to make your way to the kitchen to make your morning coffee, when – squish. You step in something soft and mushy. A hairball. While this is a far from ideal wake-up call, not to mention an unpleasant experience for the feline too, if you own a cat, this is not an uncommon occurrence. The good news is, there are a few things you can do to prevent this unfortunate incident happening in the future.

What is a hairball? 

Cats are fastidious groomers, and all that licking leads to some of the hair being ingested – think of their rough tongues, it’s no wonder hair gets trapped in the millions of little ‘hooks’ found on the tongue’s surface. Nine times out of ten, the hair will pass through the digestive system and will be eliminated sometime later in the faeces. However, sometimes the hair will collect in the gut and in order for your cat to get rid of it, she will need to vomit it up.  Despite its name, the hairball (or trichobezoar as is the correct medical term) will most likely be long and thin in shape, considering it’s just come up the oesophagus.

Do all cats gets hairballs?

Hairballs are more common in long haired cats, for obvious reasons. Also, adult cats are more likely to get hairballs than kittens as they have become more adept at grooming.

Is a hairball dangerous?

For the most part, no. However, sometimes the hairball can cause an obstruction in the digestive tract – and it then could become cause for concern. Consult your veterinarian if you notice any of the following:

  • Excessive vomiting and retching without producing a hairball
  • Lack of appetite
  • Extreme lethargy or depression
  • Diarrhoea

Also, frequent hairballs could indicate an underlying problem, so head to your vet if your cat is producing more than two hairballs a month.

Remedies for hairballs

  • Brushing, brushing, brushing. Like with so many things in life, prevention is better than cure and a good, regular grooming routine will not only eliminate excess hair, it will also provide great bonding time with your cat.
  • Food. Many cat food manufacturers make products specifically to prevent / eliminate hairballs due to the high fibre content. Ask at your pet shop.
  • Supplement/Lubricant. Largely petroleum jelly-based, these products are formulated to assist the hair ‘sliding’ through the digestive system and out the ‘correct’ end. Just make sure you follow the directions on the label correctly.
  • At home remedies. Some people find that putting a knob of butter on your cat’s paws (so they lick it off, or pouring the oil from a can of tuna over their food has helped with lubricating of the digestive tract.
  • Discourage excessive grooming. If you find your cat is continuously grooming, try and distract her with a game or toy – great for upping your bonding time, and reducing hairballs.

So, as a cat-owner, be prepared to have your morning coffee stalled every so often while you clean up your cat’s hairy deposit, but be on the look-out for any warning signs that indicate things might be amiss, and don’t forget to give your furry friend a bit of tlc – it can’t be pleasant vomiting up hair!   

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