What are hairballs?
Felines are naturally are self-grooming animals, meaning that you will often see them licking themselves as a form of self maintenance much like showering. Since animals shed regularly, self-grooming will almost always result in some amount of fur or hair being swallowed. Cats generally have no problem letting the hairball run its course through their bodies since their digestive and intestinal system is designed to handle hair, but sometimes you will notice your cat vomit or ‘cough up’ the hairball instead.
Though it is natural for cats to self-groom and to develop hairballs, too many may end up causing health concerns; luckily, there are a number of things you as cat owners can do to help reduce the amount of hairballs that your cat creates. Regular, daily grooming your cat with a brush or comb, for example, removes much of the loose hair before it can be ingested. This is more important for longer haired cats since they are especially prone to frequently developing hairballs. Another great benefit to regularly brushing or combing your cat is that you will help keep their skin and coat healthy, and their fur shiny.
Aside from regular grooming by the owner using a comb or brush, there are a number of other remedies that may help control the number and frequency of hairballs your cat produces. Many of these remedies are petroleum based which is said to lubricate the hairball, making it able to pass normally and easily through the digestive and intestinal tract. As with all types of remedies for animals and humans alike, not everyone agrees that this remedy totally effective; some vets actually believe the opposite. These vets say that these types of ‘medications’ could actually be harmful and don’t even help treat hairballs. It is always crucial to speak to your vet to be sure if using these types of remedies will work with your cat.
Some brands of cat food market themselves as having a formula that is supposed to help with hairballs. These brands contain high fiber content in their formula, as they work under the assumption that, as with humans, fiber helps the gastrointestinal tract moving smoothly and with ease. As with the petroleum based remedies, using a high fiber food brand is not a guaranteed method and may not be effective in treating hairballs at all.
Instead, many vets and pet owners alike have come to agree that a grain-free diet may actually be best for your cat, especially if they tend to vomit or ‘cough up’ hairballs frequently. The working assumption for this remedy is that cats did not naturally evolve to eat grains; as obligate carnivores, their natural diet would have contained a high amount of protein and a low amount of carbs, or grains. They state that eating a grain-based diet which is high in carbs may actually have an effect on the balance of flora or bacteria in the intestinal tract. This change in balance could then effect your cats motility and thus contribute to their difficulty in passing hairballs normally.
Cats vomiting or coughing up hairballs happens from time to time but should not become a common occurrence. Frequent vomiting may indicate that you cat is suffering from other health issues which could include inflammatory bowel disease or intestinal lymphoma. Maintaining the amount of hairballs your cat produces is important since the frequent development of hairballs can end up causing other health concerns as well. The hairball could become stuck in your cats intestinal tract and become an obstruction to their natural ‘flow’. If you are at all concerned, speak to your vet for advice as this may signal a need to alter your cat’s diet or even have additional treatments.