You may not find many negatives to being a cat owner, but if you had to come up with one, dealing with hairballs would probably be at the top of your list. Those of us who live with cats know that the unpleasant task of picking up vomited hairballs comes with the territory.
But why are hairballs synonymous with cats? What is it about the feline that makes hairballs a part of life? The answer lies in your cat's behavior. Most cats don't need baths like dogs do, and with good reason: cats are great at self-cleaning. They wash their faces after every meal and regularly lick their entire coats to keep their fur spotless and healthy. The flipside of this fastidious grooming is that cats swallow a lot of hair in the process.
While the feline digestive system is designed to pass most of this hair out into the litter box, an occasional clump gets caught in the stomach and needs to come out the way it came. That's when you see your cat retching one minute and vomiting up a soggy hairball the next.
Your cat probably hates throwing up hairballs almost as much as you despise cleaning them. You can take some actions to help reduce the number of hairballs your cat regurgitates.
- Groom your cat regularly. This is particularly important if your cat has long hair like a Persian or has a short coat that is particularly thick. Choose from a variety of grooming brushes, and if you combine brushing with sweet talk, chin scratches, and an occasional treat, your cat will learn to love it.
- Switch your cat to a high quality cat food. Premium cat foods use better quality ingredients, which often result in a healthier coat with less shedding. Some premium foods are even designed to help reduce hairballs and usually contain more fiber than other types of cat foods.
- Watch for too much grooming. You should also observe your cat to see if he is grooming excessively. Some cats will over-groom out of nervousness or boredom. If your cat is constantly licking himself and he's undergoing stress in his life--you've just had a baby, added a new pet, or moved--talk to your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist to find out how you can help him adjust. If your cat spends a lot of time alone indoors, he may be over-grooming out of boredom. Buy him some interactive toys he can play with when you're not around, and spend some time playing with him one-on-one when you’re home.
- Talk to your vet. If you find your cat is vomiting hairballs every day despite your efforts to ease the problem, take him to your veterinarian for an exam. The chronic inability to pass hairballs can be a sign of a serious gastrointestinal condition. Healthy cats are good at getting rid of hairballs, but if you ever see your cat retching repeatedly without results or straining to pass stool, take him to your veterinarian. He may have a hairball blockage that your vet can help you deal with.