Dealing with Cat Hairballs: A Guide.
Vanesa Farmer, DVM, conducted a review on February 26, 2023, highlighting the unpleasantness of hairballs in cats. These undesirable balls of fur can cause intestinal blockages, posing a severe health risk to your cat. While cats have a natural tendency to groom themselves, certain measures can be taken to minimize hairballs.
As unpleasant as they are, hairballs develop from your cat's healthy and conscientious grooming habits. Cats have tiny hook-like structures on their tongue that catch the loose and dead hair, which they then swallow. Usually, the hair passes through the digestive tract without any issues. However, if any hair remains in the stomach, the cat develops a hairball. Typically, your cat will vomit the hairball to remove it, causing it to appear thin and tube-like rather than round.
Long-haired breeds, such as Persians and Maine Coons, are more prone to hairballs, as are cats that shed excessively or groom compulsively. As cats age, they become better groomers, which means more hairballs to deal with. While rarely, hairballs can cause serious health problems if they become too large to pass or get lodged in the digestive tract.
Hairball symptoms include hacking, gagging, and retching, typically relieved once the cat vomits the hairball. However, ongoing symptoms such as vomiting, gagging, retching, or hacking without producing a hairball, lack of appetite, lethargy, constipation, or diarrhea could indicate a life-threatening blockage that requires veterinary attention.
While hairballs can't be completely prevented, measures can be taken to reduce their frequency. Regular grooming and brushing can remove excess fur, minimizing the hairball buildup. Cat food formulated specifically for hairballs, with increased fiber, oil, minerals, and vitamins can help fur to pass through the digestive system naturally. Adding extra fiber to your cat's diet can also help reduce the likelihood of hairballs, without disrupting their nutritional balance.
When dealing with hairballs in cats, it’s important to remember that a feline's fiber needs are vastly different from those of a human. Adding too much fiber to their diet could lead to blockages, preventing proper nutrient absorption and resulting in unpleasant side effects. If you’re already feeding your cat hairball formula food, adding more fiber may not be the best idea. Consult your veterinarian to determine the proper amount of fiber for your cat’s diet.
At the same time, using hairball products or laxatives can help hairballs pass through the digestive tract. It’s important to follow the instructions on any over-the-counter products. Be sure to check with your vet before administering a laxative as some may be unsuitable for certain health conditions.
Discouraging excessive grooming is another way to reduce the risk of hairballs. Overgrooming may be an indication of pain or anxiety, so be sure to check with your vet if you suspect something amiss. Furthermore, after brushing your cat, wipe them with a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic baby wipe or damp cloth. This removes loose fur, reducing the amount that ends up in the cat’s stomach and lowering the risk of hairballs.
Water intake is another crucial factor. If your cat eats dry food, they might not be receiving adequate hydration, which could impact their digestive system. Providing a clean, fresh water source is essential, and some cats prefer running water over still. A water fountain might entice your cat to drink more. Canned food, on the other hand, could provide enough hydration to promote proper digestion.
Finally, lubricating the digestive tract can help hair pass naturally, and incorporating oil into your cat’s diet is an effective way to achieve this. A teaspoon of olive oil in your cat’s food once a week, a small amount of canned tuna or sardines, or a dab of petroleum jelly on their paw could do the trick. Be aware that in rare cases, hairballs can become too large to pass or create blockages in the digestive tract. If your cat vomits phlegm or bile, coughs often, has difficulties defecating or has diarrhea, has an enlarged abdomen, is lethargic, or lacks appetite or thirst, seek prompt veterinary care.
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