Treating Cat’s Hairballs

Kitty Got a Bad Hairball Day?

If you live with a cat sooner or later you will hear the charming sound of retching late at night somewhere in the house. You will quickly learn the value of wearing slippers as you stagger around those cigar-shaped masses early in the morning. Yes, kitty has hairballs.

Yep, out side of litter boxes, this is usually the thing most non-cat owners find the least attractive about our feline friends. The sudden gagging and elongated neck movements, I admit can be startling when first viewed. But hairballs are a common part of cat owner’s life.

What causes hairballs?

Basically cats are the neat freaks of the animal kingdom and will spend up 3 hours a day just licking and primping their coats. All this grooming continually pulls hair tufts loose, which your cat promptly swallows down.

Since cats are predators of all things small and furry, you would think that any swallowed hair would, uh…pass out the other end. And most of the times it does, but seems cats have developed sensitive stomachs over the thousands of years of mooching…I mean, living with us humans. All that soft living seems to make hairballs more prevalent.

So over time, these fur masses get bounded up in the feline intestinal tract and can not comfortably pass in the accepted manner. Hence the near death experience to bring up a hairball.

Can hairballs hurt my cat?

Normally no, most hairballs will pass harmless out of either end of your cat or the other and pose no health threat, although human disgust is an unfortunate side effect. Occasional hairballs, 1 to 4 times a month are considered normal.

But you should pay attention if your pet experiences frequent retching or straining without visible results (no hairball). This and staining at the litter box may indicate a possible blockage in the bowels. Take your pet to a vet’s office immediately since a blockage is life threatening.

How to prevent hairballs?

As long as cats groom themselves, this will always be an issue but there are some things you can do lessen the frequency and severity of the problem.

1) Combing or deep brushing your cat. For short hair cats you can use a fine tooth flea comb available from the pet section of a department store. For long or fine hair coats, I have found that instead of a comb that a good wire tooth coat brush (made for long hair dogs) seems to pull out loose hair tufts better than a comb on my pets.

2) Add fiber to your cat’s diet. Cats who travel outdoors often try to remedy this problem themselves by munching on grass. But if your pet is an urbanite or you don’t have access to a grassy enclosure, you can try adding a few teaspoons of canned pumpkin to the nightly dinner bowl. Or switch to a higher fiber dry cat food.

3) Add a lubricant. There are a number of good tasting commercial hairball remedies available. Most are petroleum jelly based and basically acts as both a lubricant and laxative for your kitty. Of course you can always just smear a dab of plain old Vaseline on the front paws of your pet. They in turn will rapidly lick the offending stuff off and into their stomachs.

But be careful that you don’t smear too much or else you will be washing gobs of petroleum jelly off the walls and lamp shades!

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