Hairballs – if you’ve ever lived with a cat, chances are that at one time or another you’ve come across (or even stepped on) one of these gooey, tubular masses of grossness. Needless to say, we’d much rather spend our time cuddling with our kitties than cleaning their hairballs off of our floors or feet. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent these paws-itively yucky gobs of fur from happening!
What Causes Hairballs in Cats?
Cats are meticulous groomers, and they use their tongues to get the job done. Cat parents who have enjoyed the occasional affectionate tongue bath from their kitties will be familiar with the rough texture of our furry friends’ tongues. That is because their tongues are actually covered by tiny barbs which are perfect for removing dirt and other debris from their coats. They are also perfect for grabbing excess fur, which they then swallow.
Much of the time, this fur can pass through the stomach and intestines and comes out the other end with no trouble. However, when a large amount of fur becomes trapped in kitty’s stomach, it gets regurgitated back up in the form of a hairball.
Natural Cat Hairball Remedies
Thankfully, hairballs are not usually a sign of a serious problem. However, if you’ve ever watched a cat in the process of coughing one up, you’ve probably noticed that it isn’t a pleasant experience for them. Not that we particularly enjoy the cleanup, either! You’ll be happy to know that there are a few easy and natural remedies for cat hairballs.
1. Brushing. Of course, one of the most effective ways to deal with hairballs is to prevent them in the first place. Regular brushing will remove much of that excess fur that would normally be swallowed and regurgitated. It can also provide a special opportunity for some bonding time with our kitties. While some cats just love being brushed, others may not be quite so enthusiastic. Introducing grooming time gradually may help them to adjust with as little pain (for cat or cat parent!) as possible. Starting with one or two strokes with a grooming glove and following up with special treats may make the transition easier.
You can gradually increase the time spent brushing as your kitty learns to tolerate, and hopefully enjoy, this quality time spent together.Brushing doesn’t have to be a long, drawn out process. Just a few minutes each day is usually enough for long-haired cats, and short-haired cats may only need to be brushed a few times each week.
2. Add fiber to your cat’s diet. We know that humans need to take in enough fiber in our diets, but did you know it’s important for our kitties too? Increasing the fiber in your cat’s diet can help the fur that he swallows to keep moving through his digestive tract instead of being vomited back up.
Some possible sources of fiber include hairball-control cat foods, canned pumpkin, or small bits of fruits and veggies such as apples, carrots, or sweet potatoes. Always make sure that you talk to your vet before increasing your cat’s fiber intake, since too much fiber (or fiber from the wrong source) can have some uncomfortable and unpleasant side effects!
3. Lube it up. A teaspoon of fish, safflower, or flax oil added to your cat’s food can coat a hairball, allowing it to pass through your kitty’s system. Another option is a hairball prevention jelly containing slippery elm, marshmallow, or papaya. These are usually given once or twice a week.
4. Make sure your cat is getting enough water. If a cat’s diet isn’t providing enough moisture, his digestive tract is working harder than it should, which may make his hairball problem worse.
Changing this situation may go beyond simply making sure that your cat’s water dish is always full. A cat who eats a diet composed of mainly dry kibble may not be getting the moisture that he needs. Gradually introducing canned food will increase the water he is taking in and will help his digestive tract to move all that hair and debris through instead of sending it back up where it came from.
While most hairballs are harmless, there are a few danger signals that we want to be on the look out for. A kitty who is dry heaving or vomiting undigested food, stops passing stool, or has abdominal swelling or loss of appetite needs to see a vet.
In most situations, however, trying these natural remedies can make a big difference. Our cats (and our floors) will thank us for making hairballs a thing of the past!