Cats are meticulous groomers. It keeps them clean and removes any excess fur. The problem is that long-haired cat breeds, in particular, can find it hard to pass furballs. It can lead to health issues such as constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and lethargy. That’s why you may need to find an effective way to help your cat pass a hairball so that it can start to feel better again.
In this guide, we’ll explain why cats swallow fur and need to pass hairballs. We’ll then look at some effective ways to reduce the amount of fur consumed by your cat. Finally, we’ll explore the symptoms of a hair blockage before stating the different ways that your cat can pass a furball safely.
Understanding Cats and Hairballs
Regardless of your cat’s life stage, small amounts of hair are consumed and then expelled while your feline is in its litter box. This is common and just the byproduct of being covered in hair.
However, when large amounts of hair begin to accumulate in the esophagus or stomach, your cat will rid itself of the hair through the act of vomiting. Most hairballs, after release, are coated with mucus and gastric acid. From a distance, a hairball can sometimes be confused for a bowel discharge.
A typical cat, in good health, will vomit a hairball once every 7-14 days. Additionally, most furballs are no longer than one inch and are typically the color of your feline’s coat.
However, some hairballs can be much longer. This is according to Richard Goldstein, DVM, who serves as an associate professor of small animal medicine at the prestigious Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
During an episode, it is common for a cat to make loud and crying noises just seconds before vomiting. As a cat owner, this is a warning to you. While not all cats are the same, the sound of hacking and gulping or what is known as retching is common across all ages and breeds.
- Furballs take the shape of a cylinder rather than a ball once they are vomited. This is because hair that cannot be digested changes its shape as it travels up through the esophagus. This is often why a hairball can be mistaken for many other things at first glance.
Why Do Cats Eat Their Fur?
As an owner, it can be easy for you to get frustrated with your cat over the visual of hairballs. Seemingly unavoidable, at least to the human mind, having large pieces of hair trapped in your esophagus and stomach strikes most of us as something that can be avoided. Unfortunately, this is not the case for your cat.
Cats are grooming professionals. Spending almost every free moment of the day licking and cleaning their own hair, furballs are the byproduct of loose hair and a rough tongue. The same sandpaper-feeling tongue that allows your feline to clean away dirt and debris also sweeps up loose hair.
Once hair reaches the mouth of a cat, there are only two options. Attempt to shake it off and remove it from the lips or swallow it. Unless you are there to grab the loose hair from your feline’s lips, the hair will be consumed. The hair will be digested and excreted, or it will be vomited in the form of a hairball.
Can You Change Your Cat’s Grooming Habits?
You can adjust your cat’s grooming habits by not allowing them to do all of the grooming. With the help of a professional or your handy work, taking the reins of the grooming can be beneficial.
Brushing your cat while collecting loose hair can be a gamechanger. You can even make the experience really enjoyable with the use of a cat grooming glove. Your cat will be less likely to face issues if all (or most) loose hair has already been accounted for and discarded.
Another way to change your cat’s grooming habits is by not allowing them to pull out their own hair. Many times, cats will attempt to pull out hair due to irritation, seasonal changes, ill-temper, etc.
Interjecting yourself into the situation can be helpful. If the hair your cat is trying to pull out can be trimmed, then you have likely “won the day” when it comes to removing hairballs.
Take charge when the situation calls for action.
How to Help a Cat Cough Up a Hairball?
Ranging from veterinarian recommendations, dietary changes, and home remedies, helping your feline to pass hairballs can be a matter of personal preference.
Not only will different cats respond to remedies, but age also plays its part. If your cat is a senior, there is a reasonable chance that quality digestion is already a concern. Getting your elderly cat to pass a hairball safely can be difficult compared to that of a young adult cat with healthy organs.
Specialized Cat Foods
Cat food that prides itself in hairball control can be a treatment option.
Foods that have increased fiber can improve your cat’s coat thus minimizing the amount of shedding. This process will naturally increase the chances of your cat healthily passing a hairball.
The less loose hair your cat has to lick the less hair will enter its system. Food brands that produce hairball-reduction products can achieve this objective.
- Before modifying your cat’s diet, you should consult with your vet. If your cat is a senior, it is essential to make sure that hairball relief isn’t at the expense of nutritional needs.
Cat-friendly Laxatives and Digestion Products
These enable your cat to pass a hairball without issue. Many of these products are mild, so they are not likely to result in diarrhea or other digestive and bowel problems.
Consult your vet and ask if these products are safe for your cat. Elderly cats do not always respond well to treatments that promote increased bowel activity. This is due to their weakened digestive state.
Keep Your Cat Hydrated
Often caught up in the activities of the day, it is not uncommon for cats to drink insufficient water. Cats, by instinct alone, are more inclined to eat than drink. Once you throw playtime, sleeping, and stalking into the mix, water consumption can often fall behind.
As a casual gesture, prepare fresh water for your cat several times throughout the day and present the water accordingly. As soon as your cat begins to drink, stand by and monitor their consumption.
Shampoo and Cleaning Wipes
Hairballs begin with loose hair, so the introduction of quality hairball relief shampoo and cleaning wipes can act as prevention tools.
Washing your cat with a dry shampoo can have a positive effect on your cat’s coat. The better the coat, the less chance of random loose hairs while grooming.
While petting your cat, you can introduce cleaning wipes. Just stroke your cat as usual while using a wipe. Not only will this remove loose hair but it will free your cat from debris. This will reduce your cat’s desire to clean and pull hair.
Adding olive oil to your cat’s daily food can aid the digestion of furballs. One teaspoon of olive oil each week can be of benefit to your cat.
Olive oil can also calm your cat’s stomach and eliminate stomach aches that are often associated with hairballs. Please contact your vet before adding olive oil to your cat’s food.
- Never attempt to feed your cat olive oil via spoon. This can cause your feline to get oil on its nose and accidentally inhale it into the lungs. Placing olive oil in food and allowing your cat to lick the oil is preferred.
High in fiber, canned pumpkin can help your cat pass a hairball. Canned pumpkin can also eliminate constipation and allow your cat to move feces with more ease.
This aspect is crucial for senior cats that often struggle to use the bathroom. Mixing one teaspoon into your cat’s bowl can be beneficial.
- An increase in fiber can potentially clash with your cat’s existing diet.
- Purchase pure canned pumpkin rather than pumpkin filling. A pumpkin filling is rich in sugar and should be avoided.
Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
This is a natural lubricant. Free of mineral oil, organic extra virgin coconut oil is healthier than many of the alternatives.
Consider adding coconut oil to your cat’s bowl or allow your feline to lick it freeform. Less than one teaspoon every 5-7 days should help to improve digestion and enable a hair obstruction to pass without issue.
- Purchase the correct product by name. Coconut oil does not have the same benefits as organic extra virgin coconut oil. Check the label before your purchase.
- Consider adding this remedy to hairball control cat food. It will only serve to help your feline’s digestive health and rid your cat of unwanted furballs.
Which Breeds of Cat Get the Most Furballs?
While cats of all breeds can get hairballs, long-haired cats experience them more frequently, and the problem often increases with age.
Long-haired cat breed includes the following:
- Maine Coon
Seasonal issues can also lead to hairballs, regardless of breed. When cats attempt to shed their winter coats, the hair can go flying. If you have a long-haired cat that grooms more than others, your concerns will always be heightened compared to other cat owners.
Are Hairballs a Serious Health Issue for Your Cat?
All cats get hairballs. Some will even encounter several episodes over the course of their lives. However, this is typically not a serious concern.
What often determines the severity of a hairball issue is the frequency of the occurrences and what takes place during each episode. How your cat behaves is often more telling than the actual passing of the hairball itself.
Knowing what to look for during and after the appearance of a furball can help you to understand the potential severity of the issue better.
What Are the Symptoms of a Hair Blockage?
While the symptoms of a blockage can vary from cat to cat, the symptoms can also differ depending on where the obstruction is located.
The most common symptoms of a blockage can include…
- Frequent gagging and vomiting without the production of a hairball
- Loss of appetite (Stomach pains and digestive complaints due to an obstruction)
- Constipation (Unable to produce waste because of hair)
- Diarrhea (Hairball causing severe stomach irritation)
Although rare, it is crucial to take emergency action if your cat begins to choke or gasp for air. This is a dangerous situation that requires immediate emergency attention. Do not wait for these critical symptoms to clear up or subside in any way.
If a hairball is large enough, it can become stuck in your feline’s airway. Similar to what can happen to a person, your cat will require immediate attention so the blockage can clear.
If your feline falls unconscious or enters a state of extremely labored breathing, you can do the following…
- Place your cat on its side and place one hand on its back.
- Place your other hand on its stomach, just slightly below the ribs.
- Using the hand that is placed on the belly, press up and in several times.
- Check your cat’s mouth for any foreign objects and remove them.
- Close your feline’s mouth and give the animal 2-3 small breaths through its nose.
- Repeat these steps until you are confident that the airway has been cleared.
Frequently Coughing Up Hairballs
The frequent coughing up of hairballs is severe. Although it may not be the result of a critical condition, the daily act can be dangerous. Grooming and anxiety levels can play a role in such behavior.
Felines that are stressed often pull out portions of their own hair. Most notably on their chest and legs, more intense grooming means more hair. More hair can equate to more hairballs. All of this can come together to promote more episodes of vomiting.
Frequent vomiting, from a severe condition or not, can be tremendously taxing on a cat’s body, especially if your feline is in its senior stage of life. Similar to a human, vomiting can deplete energy levels and lead to dehydration.
If your cat is throwing up several times a week, you should take your feline to the vet. Although a dangerous condition may not be the cause, frequent vomiting is not healthy behavior.
Coughing and Hacking Without a Hairball
Commonly associated with a blockage, coughing, and hacking without producing a hairball can be severe. If the urge to vomit is present, but nothing is being delivered, then hair is trapped.
While the initial episode should not be cause for alarm, multiple attempts over the course of several minutes and hours should raise a red flag. If your cat is attempting to pass a hairball and cannot, you should seek medical attention.
Unable to vomit and unable to pass it through everyday bathroom use, a hairball can cause digestive and stomach damage.
Constipation, Lethargy, and Loss of Appetite
Regarded as a symptom of blockage, constipation, lethargy, and loss of appetite can also be a sign of fatigue. If your cat has recently passed a hairball, it is common for your pet to be a bit distant for a while.
The act of vomiting is violent. Remember that passing a hairball (or anything) is a traumatic event and can negatively impact the body.
If your cat is showing any of these signs, you should monitor the situation for a while. Only take action if these symptoms linger for hours. Allow your cat time to regain strength and a sense of stability before concluding that a significant issue is at hand.
Are Hairballs a Sign of a Skin Condition?
Hairballs can be the byproduct of a skin condition. Fleas, allergies, environmental changes, dry skin, stress, grooming products, etc., can all increase the number of furballs.
If your cat’s skin is not comfortable, the more likely they will be to scratch, tug, lick and manipulate their hair. Not able to entirely get to their skin, cats will try to offer their own treatment in the next best fashion. Hair maintenance.
If your cat has been scratching more than usual or if you have noticed bumps and scabs on the skin, this could be a sign of a skin ailment.
Quite similar to a person attempting to get comfortable in an itchy shirt, cats will try to adjust any way possible if their skin is irritated.
Can Surgery Remove My Cat’s Hairballs?
Surgery can remove hairballs, but this is a harsh measure that is only performed in extreme cases.
Due to the many complications that can arise, surgery is primarily performed when a blockage has become so severe that the cat’s life is at stake.
While a scope can be used to extract a hairball, an incision into the intestines and stomach may also have to be made. Both procedures require anesthesia.
Attempting to prevent hairballs from being consumed by your feline is likely a fool’s errand. Cats will be cats, and there is only so much you can do. Ensure that your cat passes furballs through everyday bowel movements rather than having a recurrent episode of vomiting.
Limiting hair consumption and adding digestive aids to your cat’s food is the best course of action. It is even more important to do these things if you are charged with the care of an older cat. Furballs that become trapped in the stomach can cause problems.