As any cat owner knows, every once in a while, cats sometimes eliminate hairballs. It's certainly an unpleasant process for them, and cleaning it up is unpleasant for the owner, but can hairballs pose any serious danger? Let's look into why hairballs are formed and, most importantly, how to get rid of hairballs in my cat.
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What are hairballs?
Hairballs are clumps of partially decomposed hair that the cat vomits out periodically. How often this happens depends on the cat's fur length, its grooming habits, as well as its digestive patterns. To groom themselves, cats use their tongues, which have small keratin spines on the surface called papillae. These untangle the fur and remove the dirt between them.
However, cats also ingest fur while grooming. The fur is composed of keratin mainly, which they can't digest because they don't have the enzymes required to break it down entirely. Since the hairs swallowed by the cat cannot be decomposed entirely, they will maintain their shape throughout the digestive tract. Cats eliminate most of the fur they swallow when they defecate, but if there is too much hair, they will vomit out hairballs.
In most cases, cats can eliminate hairballs themselves quite easily and do not require extra assistance. They become agitated before they vomit, they fret, and they might have to put in a bit of effort, but they feel better immediately after they vomit. Here's what our readers on Facebook had to say about getting rid of hairballs.
How often do cats eliminate hairballs?
Cats can eliminate hairballs as often as once a week, or once a couple of weeks. But for some cats, it can happen as rarely as a few times a year. If it does not happen at all, you have nothing to worry about. But if it happens more often than once a week, then you should take your cat in to see the vet.Cats can eliminate hairballs as often as once a week, or once a couple of weeks. But if it happens more often than once a week, then you should take your cat in to see the vet. Click To Tweet
When Are Hairballs Dangerous? Or When to See a Vet
While eliminating hairballs is an entirely natural process in cats, sometimes things might not go so well. So, if in the vast majority of times cats will eliminate the hairball all on their own, there are some situations when they are unable to eliminate them.This is when hairballs can become dangerous and when it’s time for you to take the cat to see the vet. There are three types of situations you should watch out for:
Hairballs can become dangerous when the cat is unable to eliminate them. There are two types of situations you should watch out for:
1. The cat is struggling to vomit out the hairballs
In most cases, eliminating the hairballs does not take a long time, but if the hairball is too large and won’t fit through the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus or if the cat has any lesion of deformity of the upper digestive tract (esophagus, pharynx, mouth, tongue), it will struggle to vomit it out. When cats struggle to vomit, the contractions in the stomach continue for a long time, which puts immense strain on it.
This should be avoided because prolonged gastric contractions could cause gastric ruptures, which could be fatal. If you notice that your cat is struggling to vomit out a hairball, ideally you should take it to the vet.
If that is not possible, call the vet's office and try to talk to the doctor. If that is not possible either, give your cat a lubricant, which can ease the passage of the hairball.
You can use salmon oil, olive oil, or paraffin oil. You need 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Especially with salmon oil, cats might lick it right off your finger. But if the cat has been struggling to vomit for a while, it might not have an appetite and it may not be interested in the salmon oil.
You can administer the oil using a medicine dropper or a plastic syringe (without the needle). Keep the cat's head steady and don't lift its head up too high to ensure a natural position.
Then, place the dropper on the side of its mouth and put it in gently. Then simply squeeze it to get the oil in the cat's mouth.
As an alternative to the oil, you can use a laxative paste, which usually has an attractive smell for the cat.
Keep in mind that butter is not a good lubricant for cats. Butter has a huge amount of fat and it can be dangerous for cats, especially for those suffering from digestive or liver disease.
The lubricant will hopefully help the cat vomit out the hairball. However, if the cat still can’t get the hairball out even after you’ve administered lubricant, then you need to take your cat to the emergency room because it needs professional help.
2. Your hairball-prone cat is not defecating
If you notice that your cat has not defecated in the last 48 hours, then you must take it to the vet. If your cat is prone to developing hairballs, it is possible that the hair it has ingested has formed a large lump in its intestine, leading to an obstruction. You will notice that the cat is lethargic and that it is not eating.
Please note that this is a medical emergency and that you shouldn’t wait to call the veterinarian. Obstructions are life-threatening conditions.
Make sure to tell or remind the vet about the cat's predisposition to developing hairballs. The vet will palpate the cat to try to locate the obstruction and assess the level of inflammation in its intestines.
Then, the doctor will do an ultrasound to find out more about the nature of the obstruction. In some cases, an X-ray might also be necessary. While some laxative treatment can be tried out if the obstruction is situated closer to the rectum, most bowel obstruction cases are resolved surgically to avoid ruptures and peritonitis.
3. Your Cat Is Eliminating Hairballs Very Often
The natural process of eliminating hairballs happens only so often. The specific periodicity depends on the length of the cats’ fur (naturally, long-haired cats like Ragdolls, Persians, or Maine Coons eliminate hairballs more often because they simply swallow a larger quantity of fur), on their temperament, on the quality of their fur, and many other aspects. It is normal for a cat to vomit out hairballs even as often as every week or every other week. The key is to learn what your cat’s periodicity is. Then, if you notice that your cat is eliminating harballs more often than usual, you should be aware that something is happening with your cat.
Try to examine the cat to see how its fur looks like. Think about its grooming schedule and whether or not you’ve made some changes. Have you missed the latest grooming sessions? Pet your cat to see if the fur pulls out easily. Another thing you can examine on your own is your cat’s skin. Make sure you have access to a good light source and push the fur aside with your fingers to get a proper look at your cat’s skin. Look for redness, irritation, signs of scratching, dandruff, cuts, or anything else that’s out of the ordinary. If you notice anything, make a note and then call your doctor.
Another aspect to think about is whether or not your cat is going through a stressful time that might make it shed more than usual. Also, make sure to take the cat’s temperature. If it’s either too high or too low, it might be associated with excessive shedding as well, but also with a systemic issue, so it’s time to see the vet.
With these aspects in mind, when you take your cat to see the vet, tell the doctor about what you’ve noticed because it might be very useful information for the diagnostic process.
✔️ Best Way to Get Rid of Hairballs in Cats
Hairball Prevention - Groom, Groom, Groom
The best possible way to get rid of hairballs is to prevent them from developing. The most efficient hairball prevention strategy is periodic grooming. If you groom your cat regularly, then when it grooms itself, it will not ingest a lot of hair.Most of the hair that cats swallow when they groom themselves is dead hair that comes out as the papillae go through its fur. If you remove that dead hair yourself, there will be very little left for it to swallow. This is particularly challenging for cats with long hair, which require special attention with grooming. Read all about Grooming the Fluff!Readers Favorite tools:
- Equigroomer Self-Cleaning Deshedding Grooming Tool
- Safari Pet Products Shedding Comb
- Lilly Brush BE FOREVER FURLESS PET HAIR REMOVER
- Seam Ripper
- Flea Comb
Caring for Hairball-Prone Cats
If your cat eliminates hairballs on a regular basis, then you can introduce some key ingredients in its diet to help it deal with the hairballs easier.If your cat eliminates hairballs on a regular basis, then you can introduce some key ingredients in its diet to help it deal with the hairballs easier. Click To Tweet
These types of pastes are malt-based and they stimulate digestion, which, in turn, prevents the formation of hairballs. There are plenty of products available on the market, but it is best to talk to your vet before giving it to your cat.If your cat has food allergies or other digestive issues, then introducing malt paste into its diet might lead to episodes of diarrhea or other complications. Your vet can recommend the best type of malt paste and explain how you should use it.
This type of cat food diet also stimulates digestion and prevents the formation of hairballs. It has malt in its composition, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids, which are excellent for the cat's skin and coat, and plenty of fiber to promote digestion.If regular grooming is not enough as a preventative method, then your vet will recommend this type of diet. As for the paste, there are plenty of products available on the market, and your vet will indicate the best one for your cat. If your cat is already on a diet aimed to treat an illness (such as kidney or liver disease) or to keep an allergy at bay, changing its food may not be an option.
Oil is a natural lubricant and it can be very useful for cats prone to developing hairballs because it eases the passage through the digestive tract. You can give your cat salmon oil regularly, which will do wonders for its fur, aside from lubricating the passage of hairballs. You can give your cat the oil orally using a medical dripper or you can put it on its food.You can give your cat salmon oil regularly, which will do wonders for its fur, aside from lubricating the passage of hairballs. Click To Tweet
Pumpkin is very rich in fiber. This is yet another natural remedy for healthy digestion and a good way to prevent the development of hairballs.You can add baked pumpkin to your cat's food if it will have it. Mix it in with wet food for better chances of your cat eating it. There are also some wet food recipes that you could try that include pumpkin.
Fish is a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids. Introducing fish in the cat's diet will also help to get rid of hairballs. You can try fish-based wet food cans or pouches, as well as regular tuna cans.Make sure that the tuna cans are in water or its own brine. Tuna in oil is not a good choice for cats because the amount of oil in the can is too much for them, even after draining it out. Raw fish is also not a good choice, but you can boil it or bake it with no salt or condiments.Tuna in oil is not a good choice for cats because the amount of oil in the can is too much for them, even after draining it out. Click To Tweet
Dealing with Excessive Grooming
Cats are very careful when it comes to their grooming patterns. They do it at least once a day to keep their coats clean and neat. However, some cats groom themselves so much that it becomes a problem. These cats frequently develop hairballs because they swallow a lot of hair in the process.The solution, in this case, is to treat the cause of the excessive grooming. The vet will assess the cat and determine if the cause is a dermatological issue, a metabolic imbalance, or something else. In many cases, though, the cause is stress or emotional trauma, such as a family member leaving the household or the passing of a companion animal in the house.As you can see, there are plenty of ways to get rid of hairballs in cats. Groom your cat regularly to make sure that it does not ingest a large amount of hair when it is grooming itself. Make sure that its diet promotes digestion and that it is getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids.
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How often does your cat eliminate hairballs? Has it ever had trouble eliminating them? What did you do? Tell us all about it in the comments section below. Read more about cat health: