Hairballs, a scourge known most cat parents and some fluffy dog parents, are the messy consequences of a pet’s personal grooming hygiene routine.
Quite often, loose fur is inadvertently swallowed, passes through a cat’s digestive system and collects in the stool. Some hair, however, remains in the stomach or small intestine and results in the hacking/gagging/retching noises that play like an all-too-familiar symphony to a pet parent’s ears. A hairball is then regurgitated and left for discovery.
Long-haired cats and cats who compulsively groom are most prone to hairballs. According to our friends at the ASPCA®:“In some cases, frequent vomiting of hairballs may indicate an underlying gastrointestinal problem, such as inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.”
The most telling sign a cat has a hairball is when they repeatedly make a hacking cough-type noise. Periodic vomiting of food or mucus may occur prior to the release of the hairball, as well as a decrease in appetite and constipation or diarrhea.
Many times the situation will work itself out, but a veterinarian should be consulted if symptoms continue for more than 24 hours. It is rare, but sometimes hairballs can get lodged in the esophagus or cause intestinal blockages that may require surgery.
Cats are great self-groomers, but brushing them daily and wiping away loose hair with a clean cloth can greatly help decrease the formation of hairballs. Enthusiastic groomers can often be distracted from their favorite task with a new toy or game to play. See below for a few fun suggestions.
Hairball remedies or lubricants, which help hair pass through the intestinal tract, can be found at your local pet supply store. There are also a number of cat foods available that are specifically formulated to reduce hairballs. They do so by improving skin coat health, reducing shedding and increasing your cat’s fiber intake.
Game of Chase:
Try attaching a string to your belt loop or use a treat to start a game of chase, running from room to room with your cat close behind. You can also tie a cat toy securely to a ruler and move it up and down for your cat to jump after. Be careful your pet doesn't chew apart and swallow any toys or strings after you're done!
Create a pet playground with discarded gift boxes, wrapping paper, empty paper bags or cardboard boxes. You can also crumple up newspaper and throw it for your cat to pounce on and bat all around the house.