Hairballs – they may feel inevitable when it comes to owning a cat, right? You've probably noticed your feline friend constantly grooming themselves, always keeping their coat clean, shiny and immaculate - cats are self-grooming; they're not an animal known for being unkempt.
From the common house cat to the wild tigers living in the jungles of Asia, all cats groom themselves and keep their fur tidy. But, while they’re regularly cleaning themselves, their fur can become ingested, leading to potentially painful and uncomfortable hairballs.
And, although they are incredibly common, with cats evolving to expel these clumps of loose hair, sometimes they can cause serious problems…
Hairballs are exactly what they say they are, a collection of fur from your kitty’s coat that has bundled together in their digestive tract. These can build up over time the more your cat grooms themselves, ingesting more and more fur each time. Normally they are not dangerous, but sometimes they can result in intestinal blockages – which will require surgery to remove.
But why do they happen, you may ask? Well, you probably have already noticed that your cat’s tongue isn’t like yours. In fact, cats have evolved to have hook-like barbs on the surface of their tongue! These spikes help them digest food and aid in the removal of dead, unwanted fur from their coat. So, when it comes to grooming, the loose hair collects with saliva and builds up inside their stomach.
In most cases, hairballs will leave your cat’s digestive tract without problems, but for others, your pet will vomit to try and remove the build-up of fur. As they pass through the esophagus, it will force the cluster of hair into an oblong shape, resulting in an elongated clump of old fur and saliva - not necessarily a ball.
All cats with hair will experience hairballs - but some may be more prone to suffer than others. With that in mind, a lot of hairball complications can become more frequent and severe in long-haired cats.
Cat breeds such as; Persian, Himalayan, Norwegian Forest, and the British Longhair are all more likely to suffer from hairballs due to their long, thick coats. Their fur will shed and detach more often, meaning your kitten will pick up more loose hair whilst grooming, resulting in larger and more frequent hairballs.
It is only ‘hairless cats’, like the Sphynx Cat that can avoid hairballs - although they do have a small, fine coat, they do not have enough hair to cause problems like hairballs.
And in some cases, the breed is less relevant at all…
Age is one of the highest contributors to the frequency of hairballs. The older your cat gets, the more skilled a groomer they will become, leading to more hairballs.
When your cat is experiencing a hairball, there are a few signs that are extremely obvious; both audibly and visually. The sound can be unpleasant and the sight isn't much better.
The main concern is whether or not, we kitty parents, know what to look out for if they begin to experience difficulties trying to pass the hairball.
Always contact your vet as soon as possible if you notice your cat is struggling to bring the hairball up naturally.
Luckily, as cat hairballs are so common, there are plenty of ways you can help treat your pet. Whether it is with a simple homemade remedy or with a specialist hairball product, there are many options when it comes to treating your kitten for furballs.
Giving your kitten oil and butter in their diet is a great and simple way to help treat hairballs. The natural oils will lubricate your cat’s digestive system; including their intestines, helping them to remove hairballs when and if they occur.
There some products on the market that are aimed and specially designed to treat hairballs. These yummy chews can help your cat get rid of any stubborn hairballs that will not pass through.
One of the most effective ways to help treat hairballs is a specifically targeted treatment gel. They're formulated to lubricate any swallowed hair, it can help your kitten remove these problematic clumps from their digestive tract and can be used as both a preventative and non-medical treatment.
In some more server cases, surgery may be the only option to treat your cat’s hairball. If it becomes stuck and causes a serious obstruction, it could lead to starvation, chocking and death. Make sure you seek veterinary help if you think your kitten may need help. The sooner you get help, the higher the chances of successful removal.
Although it may feel like an inevitability, there are ways you can help prevent hairballs. From regular grooming to a change in diet, these preventatives shouldn’t affect or change your cat’s normal routine – only just benefit their health.
Making sure your four-legged friend is getting enough water is a simple and effective way to help prevent hairballs. This regular intake of water should keep the intestinal tract lubricated and functioning normally.
Even though your cat will keep themselves well-groomed and kept, you should also brush their fur, too. When you regularly groom them, you’ll be able to remove any loose and shed hairs – preventing them from being swallowed by your kitten.
Making sure you’re feeding your cat the right food is extremely important when it comes to preventing hairballs. All cats are carnivores, with bodies that are designed to process a high protein diet. Feeding them carbohydrate-rich foods or a heavy grain diet, it could affect their nutrition. And, with poor nutrition, your kitten will be more prone to digestive issues and increase the chances of developing difficult hairballs.
As a kitty parent, it is important to know how to deal with hairballs. As said above, they are extremely common and can affect your cat at any time of their life – more so if they are a long-haired breed. Leaning ways to treat and prevent hairballs is key to supporting your fur baby through their life with you as their human.