What Causes Hairballs, and What Can I Do About It

by The Pet Care Guy on August 6, 2009

As a cat owner, one of the things I automatically do after I come home (especially during the summer months), is to do a sweeping visual check of the house. The reason? Hairballs!

If you own a cat, you know that every so often, you’ll come across your cat heaving and wretching up a hairball, or if you don’t catch him
in the act, you’ll just find the results somewhere on the floor. It’s certainly not pleasant, but it’s to be expected with these fastidiously
clean animals.

WHAT’S A HAIRBALL?

A hairball or furball is just that – a ball of the cat’s fur. It’s an accumulation of the fur they swallow while they’re grooming themselves. Sometimes they don’t swallow too much and it just passes through and out of their digestive system. Other times, the amount of fur is a bit too much for the system to pass, accumulates in the stomach and causes irritation and vomiting. The cat may cough, wretch, and vomit up only saliva, or recently-eaten food, or the mass of fur itself. Once the offending fur is out of his system, he will be fine and back to normal.

WHAT CAN I DO TO PREVENT THEM?

No one likes to discover and clean up these balls of yuck, so here are few things you might want to try to keep your cat hairball-free.

 - Groom your cat

Brushing your cat will rid him of shedding fur and will do a lot for helping prevent hairballs in the first place. Regular brushing, especially during the hot summer months when cats shed, should reduce the amount of fur your cat swallows.

 - Hairball prevention cat treats

You can find all types of hairball treatment or prevention cat treats at the grocery store or pet store. They are given just like other treats, but the directions usually call for only a couple of treats per day.

 - Hairball prevention cat food

There is also cat food specially formulated with extra fiber. The food will help push the fur out of the stomach and be eliminated. Now, there are also foods that use a natural soy-lecithin fat emulsifier that breaks up the fat in the hairballs, making them easier to pass, and also prevents further hairball formation. Like the treats, you’ll be able to find them at your grocery store or pet store.

 - Hairball treatment and prevention medicine

You can buy this medication without a prescription from your vet, from the grocery store or pet store. This paste or gel-like medicine is usually mineral oil or petroleum-based so it lubricates the stomach contents and makes it easier for the cat to pass the hairball.


Most cats will eat the paste, which comes in several different flavors, but if they don’t want to eat it, you might want to try mixing it with yummy food like canned cat food or tuna. One of my clients found success by sprinkling a little cat nip on the paste to entice her cat. Some suggest smearing it on the cat’s paw so that they ingest it while trying to clean off the paste. A client tried that trick, but didn’t like it because her cats tended to shake their paws vigorously and run away, causing some of the paste to fly off and make a mess. Even when she kept the smear of paste to a minimum, her cats still found a way to spread it around the house.

Other substances, such as vegetable oil and butter are usually not recommended because they will be absorbed and add unwanted calories to your cat’s diet.

Sometimes, when your cat can’t completely eliminate the hairball, he might begin exhibiting additional symptoms, such as lethargy, dry hacking/coughing, hard stools with fur showing, and loss of appetite. Sometimes the hairball can become a serious blockage in the intestines that will have to be surgically removed by your vet.

As with anything to do with the health and well-being of your pets, consult with your veterinarian to become informed about the various prevention and treatment products and methods and to confirm whether your cat’s problems are definitely just hairballs. If hairballs are the cause of your cat’s vomiting and you give him special food, treats, and/or medicine, he should be fine in a few days.
If your cat continues to vomit, you should take him in for a thorough follow-up check at the veterinarian’s office.

References:
http://www.catchannel.com/care/grooming/PamJB0007.aspx?cm_sp=InternalClicks-_-RelatedArticles-_-care/grooming/pamjb0007
http://cats.about.com/cs/catmanagement101/a/hairballs.htm
http://www.thedogbowl.com/PPF/category_ID/55/dogbowl.asp

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