No, your cat is not choking on food, that's a hairball! Cats love to groom themselves by licking their coats. However, too much grooming can sometimes cause cats to get hairballs. Getting hairballs is normal, but sometimes it can be risky for your cat’s intestinal health. Continue reading to learn about cat hairball symptoms and the best hairball remedies for cats.
What is a Hairball?
A hairball is a ball of hair that forms inside a cat’s digestive tract. Hairballs are more likely to form after several grooming sessions, and when the fur does not digest properly. You might hear your veterinarian refer to hairballs as trichobezoars.
Why Do Cats Get Hairballs?
Like we just mentioned, cats get hairballs from swallowing their fur after grooming. Hairballs can be gross at times, but they are actually a healthy part of a cat’s grooming routine. Cats have small structures on their tongue that work like hooks to catch any loose or previously shed hair. Once the hair is trapped on their tongues, most cats will easily swallow and digest it. The majority of the time, the swallowed hair will make its way through a cat’s digestive tract and is released in their next stool.
However, sometimes hairs can sit in their stomach and build up into a ball over time. When a hairball forms and sits in a cat’s stomach without being digested, their natural intolerance of it causes them to throw it up. As hairballs make their way up through a cat’s narrow esophagus, they appear thin and long, instead of round like a ball.
Do All Cats Get Hairballs?
All cats can develop hairballs in their lives. Although, some types of cat breeds are more likely to get hairballs than others. Long-hair breeds, for example, shed their hair more often than cats with shorter hair. More hair overall makes it easier for fluffy cats to swallow and spit up hairballs. Felines that are excessive groomers are also more susceptible to developing hairballs, regardless of their breed.
Cats that are older also fall into the more-susceptible category. As a cat gets older, it becomes an expert at grooming. Consequently, this cleanliness leads to more hair in the gut. Also, as cats age their hair may become dry and brittle which causes their fur to shed easier. Both these factors make it more likely for elder cats to develop hairballs.
Cat Hairball Symptoms
Seeing or hearing your cat vomit or cough up a hairball can be a bit unsettling. If you’re unsure whether your cat has ever eliminated a hairball, there are a few telltale signs. Some indicators your cat is vomiting a hairball include:
- Choking sounds
Shortly after these sounds, a healthy cat will usually vomit a hairball. In a single cough-gag session, your cat should only vomit a hairball. If your cat brings anything else up, like bile, it could indicate an underlying condition like pancreatitis. Here are some symptoms to watch out for:
At times a cat will try to regurgitate a hairball but fail to expel it through their mouth. Usually, you’ll hear them hacking, coughing or gagging excessively. If that’s the case, you can try one of the cat hairball home remedies we listed below to help your cat get rid of their hairball.
If too much hair accumulates, it is possible for the hairball to pose as a choking hazard for the cat. Large hairballs can be dangerous because they have the potential to obstruct a cat's breathing. If you suspect your cat has difficulty breathing for any reason seek medical attention immediately.
If a cat is having trouble getting rid of a hairball, they might become sluggish, slow and sick. They might also lose interest in activities they usually find entertaining.
Anytime a cat loses their appetite, it’s a sign that something is not right. For cats, sudden loss of appetite and weight loss might be a reaction to a hairball that’s obstructing their digestive tract.
Constipation or Diarrhea
If a cat has developed a large hairball in their digestive tract, they might have additional trouble going to the restroom. Some cats will have diarrhea, while others may become constipated.
Your cat’s stomach can become swollen if there is an obstruction in their stomach, like a hairball.
Causes for Concern
If your cat is experiencing any of these signs, or your cat is in pain, the source of the problem might not be a hairball. If it is, in fact, a hairball causing these issues, you might have to rely on a surgical procedure to get rid of it. To be on the safe side, you should take your cat to a vet for a professional opinion.
Hairball Home Remedies for Cats
If you notice your cat attempting to pass a hairball there are a few home remedies you can try. These remedies will not make a hairball disappear but they may help your cat regurgitate or pass one:
Oil or Butter
If your cat has a hairball problem try adding a teaspoon of olive oil or melted butter to its food, snack, or water. This may assist with passing the hairball or eliminating it. Never force the oil or butter inside your cat's mouth, you don't want your cat to inhale it. Allow your cat to take the oil at its own will. Do this about once a week if your cat experiences hairballs often.
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Your cat probably won't like the idea of ingesting petroleum jelly, luckily we have a little trick to get them to comply. Some veterinarians suggest applying about 1/4 teaspoon of petroleum jelly to the front paws or under the nose of a cat. This will entice the cat to lick it off. Apply the jelly once a day for 3-4 days to help lubricate the hairball. This makes it easier to pass. Similar to petroleum jelly, there are gel-type products for cats specifically made by pet companies.
You need to use pure pumpkin for this, not pumpkin pie filling. Try adding a teaspoon of pumpkin to your cat's meal. The fiber in pumpkin sort of acts as a binder to the hair. Doing this might promote the passage of feces and balls of hair.
Preventing Hairballs in Cats
You can’t completely prevent a cat from developing a hairball since it’s part of healthy grooming routines. Although it can get annoying and, at times, disturbing, there are a few hairball home remedies you can try that might lessen the chances of your cat having hairballs.
After all, you probably don’t want to see your cat coughing up hairballs on a daily basis. If that’s the case, here are some tips that can help you prevent cat hairballs or, at least, reduce their frequency:
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Brush your cat’s fur daily
Brushing is probably one of the most important habits that will help reduce hair build-up in a cat's tummy. When you regularly brush your cat’s fur, it can help get rid of any dead or loose hair.
Try using a brush with many fine spokes or one that captures hair well. With less loose hair on your cat, the next time they groom themselves, they’ll pick up and swallow less fur.
Use a damp wipe after brushing
Dampen a towel or a wipe and gently clean your cat's coat. This further helps the removal of dead or loose hairs after a good brushing. Remember, keeping loose hairs off the coat, keeps them out of the stomach.
Give your cat healthy food
Cats are carnivores by nature. Their body isn’t designed to digest and process foods high in carbohydrates. A grain-free diet high in protein and low in carbs can help decrease the chances of digestive issues. If they have healthy digestion, they are less likely to cough up hairballs.
Try anti-hairball dry food
Some kibble is made to help reduce hair loss in cats. This food contains vitamins and minerals that can help decrease the chances of hairballs.
Make sure your cat is hydrated
If a cat drinks plenty of water, it will help hydrate their intestinal tract. Water keeps their intestinal tract lubricated and working properly.
Have catnip or cat grass handy
Give your cat digestive supplements
Supplements for digestive aid can help your cats get rid of hairballs easier. There are several supplements on the market that can encourage healthy digestion to help hairballs pass through the digestive tract, instead of sitting in their stomach. There are also hairball removing treats that contain these supplements making it more enjoyable for a cat.
Provide stimulating activities
Surprisingly, many excessive groomers do so out of boredom. Many pet owners claim that their cats spent less time grooming once they supplied them with more outputs for stimulating activities. There are many types of exercises and cat activities to promote the positive stimulation of a cat's mind and body.
Promote a healthy coat
Some of the anti-hairball food, supplements, and treats may include ingredients that promote a healthy coat. Always keep in mind that healthy fur sheds less and less shedding equals fewer hairballs. Be on the lookout for cat products containing vitamins A, B, and E because they are essential for hair growth.
Hairballs are a natural and healthy occurrence in cats, due to their love of self-grooming. A few factors might make cats more or less susceptible to developing hairballs, such as being a long-hair breed, excessive grooming, age, diet, and health.
Usually, hairballs are harmless and are digested and then expelled naturally in a cat’s body. Other times, cats will vomit hairballs. On rare occasions, cats might not be able to get rid of hairballs naturally and will require expert care from a veterinarian.