If you're a cat owner, you've likely experienced this scenario: Your cat's body starts to undulate while she makes hacking and gagging noises. The next moment, a tubular, slightly slimy ball of fur sits on your floor.
The item most likely is a hairball, a wad of fur that collects in a cat's stomach when she grooms herself.
Because of the backward pointing barbs on a cat's tongue, the grooming action causes a cat to swallow a lot of dead hair. If the hair collects in the cat's digestive system more rapidly than the cat can naturally pass it, the hair often comes back up in the form of the slimy hairballs.
7 Tips to Prevent Hairballs
Obviously, long haired cats are more likely to experience hairballs than their short haired cousins. Luckily, you can take some steps to help prevent hairballs--or at least decrease their frequency.
- Brush your cat, especially during high shedding seasons. Removing the loose and dead hair from your cat's coat before your cat can ingest it is probably the best way to prevent hairball from forming in the first place.
- Keep your cat active with regular playtime. Regular exercise keeps your cat's digestive system working at its peak efficiency to keep the hair moving through the system instead of collecting in clumps.
- Give your cat hairball remedy, available in a gel or paste. These products (with tempting flavors such as tuna and chicken) often contain small amounts of petroleum gel or mineral oil to help lubricate your cat's digestive system, allowing the hair to pass more easily. Always check with your vet before administering this type of product to your cat.
- Feed your cat special food formulated to help treat hairballs. Such foods typically contain higher amounts of fiber to help move hair through a cat's digestive tract, as well as enzymes that help break down hair. Again, check with your vet before switching to a hairball formula food.
- Try a fiber-rich treat, such as canned pumpkin. This can help move the hair through the cat's digestive system.
- Discourage excessive grooming. Sometimes cats groom themselves too much if they are bored or stressed. Regular interaction with your cat, including regular playtime, can decrease your cat's potential to become bored or stressed, and increase his interest in things other than grooming. However, if your cat continues to groom excessively, schedule a visit with your vet to rule out allergies or other conditions.
- Give your cat plenty of water. Dehydration can affect your cat's digestion--and lead to hairballs. Offer your cat fresh water every day.
When Hairballs Become a Serious Problem
Sometimes hairballs can become lodged in a cat's digestive system, causing intestinal blockage. Be aware of these symptoms of a serious hairball problem:
- Frequent dry hacking
- Overly matted fur (a cat with hairballs may lose interest in self-grooming)
- Lack of appetite
- Lethargy or lack of interest in playing
- Swollen abdomen
- Constipation, or conversely, diarrhea
If your cat is experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule a visit with your veterinarian right away.