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Hairball Relief for Your Beloved Ball of Hair

Updated on December 30, 2016
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What are Hairballs

Hairballs are certainly unpleasant for both the cat and the person that has to clean it up. Unfortunately while they are disgusting, they can also pose as a serious health problem for your cat. Cats are going to groom themselves, which is in their nature. Fortunately there are foods that can help to alleviate some of the problem.

When your cat grooms themselves, tiny hooks on their tongues catch the loose and dead hair. The hair is swallowed once captured. The majority of this hair easily passes through the digestive tract. Cat’s digestive systems are built to handle the digestion and expel it with waste. However, some hair will not pass through and will remain in their stomach. Eventually your cat will vomit to get rid of it. Because the hair has to pass through the narrow esophagus on the way out, the vomit is usually thin and shaped like a tube. Some cats have very robust digestive systems and may never experience a hairball. However most will have at least one in their life.

Typically hairballs appear more in long-haired breeds of cats. Persians and Maine Coons are known for having more of a problem than most short-haired breeds. Additionally, cats that shed a lot or compulsively groom themselves, are also more likely to have hairballs, as they swallow a large amount of fur. Older cats have more hairballs then kittens do. As cats mature they tend to groom themselves more frequently and become more proficient at removing fur from their coats with their tongues. As cats continue to age, their digestive system may weaken, therefore developing more hairballs.

When Hairballs Become a Real Problem

While hairballs in cats are definitely common, in some cases they may become too big for a cat’s digestive tract and cause a life-threatening blockage. In some extreme cases, surgery may be required to remove the hairball. Another problem caused by hairballs is that sometimes their symptoms appear similar to respiratory problems, such as asthma. Therefore keeping hairballs to a minimum will help your veterinarian to diagnose respiratory problems more quickly, should they develop.

There are several key symptoms that can help to determine minor hairballs, from those that can cause serious problems. Watch out for continued retching that doesn’t end in a hairball coming out. Loss of appetite after repeated hairball episodes is also another clear sign that something is wrong. In addition, your veterinarian should check out frequent diarrhea, or constipation should that occur. Any of these symptoms can indicate that your cat’s throat, stomach or intestines are blocked by a hairball obstruction.

The Best Defense Against Hairballs

Hairball control cat food is a specially designed formula that helps to eliminate hairballs in cats. If your cat experiences more than one hairball a month, treating with specially formulated food can help to address the problem. Many cat food brands market a special food under “hairball control”. There are many questions as to how this food varies from regular food. In most cases, the difference is simply an increase in vegetable fiber. This increase in fiber helps the stomach digest its contents and more easily move waste through the intestines. Increasing fiber in your cat’s diet will help hold onto the hair and aid it in passing through the digestive tract. The average fiber content in cat food ranges between one to two percent. Specially designed “hairball control” cat food can have as much as eight percent fiber. Typically these cat foods are also lower in fat. This aids in lessening the insoluble substances in the stomach and intestines that lead to indigestion or constipation.

There are several of these on the market. My two cats have very simple tastes and prefer Meow Mix for Hairball control. This particular cat food is very inexpensive and my cats love the taste. However it does contain chicken by-product meal. If you are looking for a food that does not contain by-product, Science Diet Hairball Control is another effective way to go. Another highly recommended, all natural cat food for Hairball Control is Blue Buffalo. My veterinarian recommends this particular food as a healthy alternative.

The key is to look for foods with beet pulp, carbohydrate blends and a fruit and vegetable extract known as FOS, which promotes healthy stomach bacteria. This combination of ingredients not only helps to reduce hairballs, but also increases your cat’s ability to absorb nutrients, while providing bulk to better move food through intestines. This promotes colon health and reduces waste and litter box odors. Adding around half a teaspoon of olive oil, petroleum jelly or butter can also be effective in pushing the fur through the digestive system. Oat grass is another very effective addition to your cat’s diet, provided they will consume it mixed in with their food. Most commercial hairball remedies contain the above mentioned ingredients, combined with flavor enhancers to tempt your cat.

Nutrition Facts

Benefit
Nutrient
How it Works
Avoid hairball formation
Fiber
A natural fiber blend carefully reduces hairballs
Healthy Body Weight
Protein
High quality lean proteins promote healthy body weight and lean muscle.
Healthy Skin and Shiny Coat
Omega-6 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids and vitamin E promote healthy skin and shiny coat.
Source
Playing together
Playing together

Other Helpful Tips

Make sure to keep your cat’s environment clean. Ensure that pieces of string or thread are not left around the house as these can get wrapped up with swallowed fur and cause obstructions. Christmas tree tinsel can be especially dangerous. I no longer decorate my tree with tinsel as the temptation is too great for my cats.

Another very important task is to brush your cat frequently. In order to complete this task effectively you must get down to the skin to loosen some of the fur. Soft rubbery brushes are very useful, followed up with a fine-tooth comb. Brushing sessions are extra necessary in older cats, less able to get rid of hairballs. Keeping your cats away from grass can also help, many cats that like to eat grass have more stomach upsets then those that don’t. Keeping them away can aid in limiting hairballs. My cats however will not stay inside and insist on being outside as much as possible. Limiting their grass intake is very difficult. Therefore, I rely on brushing almost daily and hairball control food.

Favorite Spot
Favorite Spot

Hairballs are an unpleasant side effect of your cat’s natural inclination to stay clean and beautiful. Cat owner’s such as myself enjoy this about them and want to keep our cats healthy and beautiful. Therefore it is our job to allow this grooming to continue but take responsible steps to ensure it doesn’t become a dangerous health habit to our cats. While it is very disturbing to watch our cats expel hairballs, it’s our job to ensure there are not additional problems causing the disturbance. Most importantly we must take every action to limit this problem as much as possible, while keeping our precious cats as healthy and comfortable as we can.

Cuddle Time
Cuddle Time

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    • sangre profile image

      Sp Greaney 2 years ago from Ireland

      I'm lucky my cat very rarely gets these. Once we started grooming her, we significantly reduced them occurring. It's awful when you see your poor cat trying to cough one up a hairball too.

    • Leslie Ramos profile image
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      Leslie Ramos 2 years ago from Denver, Colorado

      It is the worse thing to watch for sure! Grooming definitely helps! We have to rely on hairball formula food also. Notice an instant difference when switch to regular food.

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