Hairballs in cats: Symptoms, Treatment + Prevention
Self-grooming is an important part of a cat’s life. Adult cats spend most of their waking hours self-grooming. While they may look absolutely adorable doing that, it leads to a common and very cringe-worthy problem known as ‘hairballs’ or ‘trichobezoar’. If you are a cat parent, then here are some great hairball remedies you need to know about.
What are hairballs?
When cats lick themselves, they ingest a lot of their own fur. If the fur doesn’t pass through the cat’s digestive tract, it remains undigested. The undigested hair forms a wad of hair in their stomach which is generally elongated and cylindrical in shape as it passes through cats’ esophagus (pet food pipe). Food and bile are often mixed in the hairball but the hairballs often don’t have the same odor as the feces.
Do all cats suffer from hairball problem?
Although developing hairballs is common in cats, it is more common in long-haired breeds, like – Persian cats and the cats that shed a lot.
Hairballs generally don’t form in kittens but are very common in adult cats.
Symptoms of hairballs in cats
Ingesting a few loose furs will cause no problem to your cat since they can be easily passed into feces or coughed up but when those hairs aggregate to form a big wad, it causes severe discomfort to cats. Their discomfort is evident from the following symptoms:
Lethargy—Cats love to sleep throughout the day. However, simple laziness should not be confused with lethargy. A lethargic cat not just looks uninterested but sickly too.
Loss of appetite and weight—Refusing to eat once or twice is not a serious problem, but if your kitty refuses to eat several meals in a row then there’s definitely something wrong.
Continuous gagging, retching and hacking—If your cat is continuously hacking, retching and gagging without producing hairballs then he/she should be immediately brought to the vet. Ignoring this can be a costly mistake.
Frequent diarrhea or constipation— If a hairball is stuck inside your cat’s body, then his/her body will try to eliminate the cause of distress through fecal excretion. But, if the hairball becomes too big to be excreted naturally, it will only result in bouts of constipation and diarrhea.
Swollen belly—As the size of the hairball continues to grow, you will notice a lump around your cat’s throat or stomach.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, contact your vet as soon as possible. Sometimes when the hairball does not come out on its own, it needs to be surgically removed.
Hazardous potential of hairballs:
If the wad of matted hair grows too large to pass through the narrow sphincters (flap located in the esophagus) leading either from the esophagus to the stomach or from the stomach to the intestinal tract then it needs to be surgically removed. If the surgery is not performed on time then it can pose a deadly threat.
Remedies and prevention:
Normally, a hairball is not a serious threat but if they grow too big in size, they can be deadly. It is therefore not just important to treat them on time but prevents them too.
- Hairball diets
Hairball diets are high in fiber diets. They help cats pass swallowed hair in their stool either by sweeping hair through the intestinal tract or promoting the overall health of the gut. You can even feed your cat little canned pumpkin or unflavored psyllium husk.
- Hairball Laxatives
Another common remedy for hairballs is hairball laxatives. These are typically petrolatum or oil-based. Oil-based hairball laxatives are better, but they should only be given once a week (not daily).
Although laxatives may be effective in enabling passage of a stubborn hairball, laxatives should never be given to cats without the supervision and approval of a vet. The wrong dosage of laxatives will do more harm than good. The same thing goes for the commercial diets that claim to be effective in preventing or removing hairballs.
- Regular Grooming with a Cat Comb
The very best remedy for hairballs is regular grooming. Regular combing removes much of your cat’s loose hair before it can be ingested. The more fur you remove, the less fur will end up as a hairball in your cat’s gut.
To remove more loose fur, you can dip the comb in water and comb your kitty in the direction the hair grows.
It’s always good to start regular grooming as a kitten so your cat gets used to it.
- Make her drink lots of water
Water acts as a natural lubricant. Place water bowls in whatever room your cat frequents. Good hydration will flush out your cat’s system, preventing the formation of hairballs.
- Keep your cat mentally stimulated
Some cats groom themselves too often due to boredom. If your cat is licking herself too often, it is important to keep your cat mentally stimulated. Give him/her lots of interactive toys to play with, make sure he/she has entertaining views of the backyard. Also, it is very important to make time to play with your cat to distract the overzealous groomer.
- Exercise your cat
Physical activities, like jumping, leaping, crawling and chasing will not just prevent excessive self-grooming but will also help encourage his/her digestive system to keep flowing
Are hairballs a cause of concern in senior cats?
For aging felines, constipation can be a big issue and on rare occasions, it may lead to complications. As the cats reach their old age, the movement of food through their digestive tracts slows, leading to constipation. Such cats are unable to pass whatever is in their digestive system, including hairballs. If you notice that your senior cat hasn’t been pooping as often as usual and seems bloated, lethargic, or sick, call your vet immediately to make sure nothing is amiss.
Hairballs can be a big nuisance not just for the cat parents but for their feline kids too. By making a few changes to your kitty’s lifestyle and her habits you can keep the hairball problem in control and make your life a lot easier!
Guest Blog Post Provided By: Harsh Arora is a proud father of four rescued dogs and a leopard gecko. Besides being a full-time dog father, he is a freelance content writer/blogger and an educationist, with more than 6 years experience in the field of content writing.