It’s National Hairball Awareness Day! Yay?

April 25, 2014

By Julia Williams

It’s pretty much a given that if you have a cat, you don’t need a special day in April to make you aware of hairballs. Cat owners are, unfortunately, all too familiar with those awful things. I don’t think there’s any sound more wretched than the gagging noise a cat makes that signals a hairball is about to be deposited on your carpet.

That our cats never do the hairball hack on the linoleum is surely proof that they’ve all been carefully trained by someone other than us. (And you thought cats couldn’t be trained. Ha!). Ah yes, there it is…right there in chapter one of the Cat’s Handbook on How to Annoy Your Human.

Now, you might think it’s funny that, some years back, some unknown person declared the last Friday in April to be National Hairball Awareness Day. I would chuckle right along with you, except that hairballs are really no laughing matter. Aside from the carpet cleanup and the likelihood that sooner or later, you’re going to “find” a hairball with your bare foot, frequent hairballs could be a sign of trouble with your cat’s digestive system.

How frequent is too frequent? That depends upon who you ask. Some say even one hairball is one too many. For me, more than one every few months per cat would cause me to take a much more proactive approach. While I’m not sure you can ever completely eliminate hairballs, there are some things you can do to greatly minimize them (more on that later).

What are Hairballs?

A typical domestic cat will spend roughly 30% of its life grooming. To aid them in their rigorous self-cleaning routine, a cat’s tongue has rows of backwards-facing barbs called papillae. When the cat licks its fur, the papillae act like a stiff-bristled hairbrush, pulling off loose hair. Inevitably, some of this hair gets swallowed.

In healthy cats with a properly working digestive system, most of this ingested hair will just pass on through. When the hair wads up in the cat’s stomach instead, it forms a hairball which will eventually be hacked up on your poor, unsuspecting carpet.

Veterinarians believe that frequent vomiting as a way to eliminate hairballs is a strong indicator there’s an issue with your cat’s intestinal motility (in layman’s terms, this is the movement of food from the stomach through the intestines). Impaired intestinal motility may also be a precursor to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and intestinal lymphoma. Additionally, stomach acid hurts the esophagus and teeth, and frequent vomiting upsets the electrolyte balance. See why hairballs are really not something to joke about?

Preventing Hairballs

If your cat has frequent hairballs, the first step would be a visit to your veterinarian. If everything checks out fine but the hairballs continue, consider the cat’s diet. Are you feeding your cat a high quality, grain free canned food such as CANIDAE? This can certainly help reduce the frequency of hairballs. Probiotics and digestive enzymes mixed into the wet food can also help with intestinal motility.

Brushing your cat daily, especially in spring when shedding is in overdrive, can help to minimize furballs because you’ll be getting rid of the loose hair before your cat can ingest it. My favorite cat grooming tool is the Furminator. Before I got one, I used to read the glowing reviews and wonder if they were mostly fabricated by people hired to promote the brand.

I had all sorts of other cat brushes – how could this one be any better? One grooming session later, I quickly saw what all the fuss was about. I got enough hair off of Annabelle to make a kitten! That thing works like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s been designed to reach the cat’s undercoat to gently remove the loose hair, and boy does it ever. I don’t mean to sound like a commercial for Furminator, but honestly, every other brush I’ve tried pales in comparison.

What about petroleum-based hairball remedies…e.g. that sticky brown goo you let your cat lick from your finger or a spoon? Years ago, my uneducated self gave my cats some of that stuff. Now that I know better, I wouldn’t use it. Petroleum is derived from crude oil which means the product is basically malt flavored grease; not something you really want your cat ingesting, is it? I’ve read there are natural hairball formulations comprised of ingredients like slippery Elm, psyllium, enzymes, probiotics and such, but I’ve not tried them.

Now that we’re all fully informed, let’s celebrate National Hairball Awareness Day by doing something good for our feline friends…may I suggest a nice, long grooming session, followed by some kisses and cuddles?

Top photo by Like Kittysville
Middle photo by Graham Richardson
Bottom photo by Julia Williams

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