Cat owners everywhere know that sound: The loud hacking, retching sound your kitty makes just before he or she coughs out a hairball (and in some cases some of their lunch!)
Your cat may have a special place in your home where they feel comfortable coughing up, this could be under the table or even on your favourite shag pile rug! Wherever and whenever it happens it’s sure not to be a pleasant experience for all both cat and cat owner.
Why do cats cough up hairballs?
Hairballs or ‘fur balls’ are just that, balls of fur that have managed to get into your cats digestive system over time. Your cats sticky coarse tongue is tailor made for removing any dirt, but for this very same reason it will also pick up fur. Cats shed their fur in the same way that humans shed hair so it is only natural that they will end up eating a lot of it as they groom themselves.
Hair is mainly made up of Keratin, a strong protein which is hard if not impossible to digest. So in the case of your cat, any hair will travel to your kitty’s stomach and clump together in a ball. In some cases a random few hairs can pass harmlessly through their system, but the majority stays in the digestive tract along with partially undigested food.
The cats system will eventually reject this bundle and push it out. If it doesn’t, then it could restrict the digestive system and cause your cat more problems ( hair balls have been known to block cats intestinal tracts). This will cause your cat to lose interest in food and possibly be constipated. In the most severe cases, surgery maybe needed to remove the blockage!
So coughing it out is the best option.
What you can do to help?
Unfortunately, hairballs are just part of life for cats but there are a few things that we their human friends can do to make things a little easier for them when it comes to hair balls.
It’s good practice to brush your cat’s fur everyday; the brushing action will pick up any stray hair that would otherwise end up in your cats stomach. Even a five minute ‘all over brushing session will significantly reduce the amount of hair that you cat ingests.
Choosing a brush for this purpose will depend on the length and thickness of your cats fur. For domestic shorthair cats (the most common of domestic cats) a bristle brush would be helpful. For your long haired kitty opt for a wide toothed comb instead. Whichever brush you choose make sure that it is soft enough to be used everyday and not too harsh. The few minutes you spend with your cat brushing his or her fur each day should be a bonding time and not something that you both dread.
You can also help with reducing hairballs by providing a staple ‘anti- hair ball’ diet. Many cat food brands have identified this need and are now offering ‘Anti hairball’ food. It’s high in fibre, helping food and hair to pass through the system quickly. But we do recommend that you consult with your Veterinary surgeon before making any major changes in your cats diet. As you know many cats can be very fussy when it comes to food and the last thing you want to do is put them off or cause another problem such as constipation.
Hair ball medicine is available from your vet or online, however tread with caution when it comes to self medicating your cat. Some such medicines have been known to cause a vitamin deficiency. Check with your vet and find out if this is the best solution for your cat.
Although you can significantly reduce the number of hairballs your cat coughs up, it is difficult to get rid of them altogether. But we are sure that your feline friend will appreciate anything you do to help.