If you’ve ever owned a cat, you are probably familiar with the term “hairball.” A hairball is actually not a ball at all, it is usually cigar-shaped and most often is the color of the cat’s food. The scientific name for a hairball is bezoar or trichobezoar. Although an occasional hairball is usually not a cause for concern, if you notice that your cat is not eating, is straining to defecate or has unproductive vomiting and retching, this could be a sign that a hairball is blocking his intestinal tract. You should seek veterinary attention right away.
What is a Hairball?
A cat’s tongue has small barbs that pull out loose hair and debris during the normal grooming process. Some of this hair and debris is swallowed by your cat in the process. Most of the hair and debris your cat swallows is expelled in her stool; however, since hair is not easily digested, it often builds up and becomes compacted in the stomach and intestines. When the hairball becomes large enough to cause irritation to the stomach, your cat will begin the retching process to bring the foreign material back up. Although hairballs are not a serious medical condition, they are annoying both for you and your cat. Following are some simple suggestions to help minimize or eliminate hairballs in your cat.
The easiest way to reduce the formation of hairballs is to brush your cat on a regular basis. Brushing removes loose hair and will reduce the amount your cat swallows during his grooming sessions.
Adding a small amount of soft, oily food can act as a lubricant in your cat’s intestines and may help the hair pass through her system a bit easier. You can try adding a couple of spoonfuls of baby food or unsweetened canned cooked pumpkin to her food on a daily basis. A half teaspoon of butter once or twice a week may also be beneficial. Pure petroleum jelly (Vaseline) is also a good option. Apply a small amount to your cat’s front leg daily for a week or two and then reduce to once or twice a week for maintenance. Remember to always check with your veterinarian before adding items to your cat’s diet.
Grass and catnip are great sources of fiber and daily consumption can provide that extra push to get the hair through the cat’s digestive system. Wheat, barley, oats or rye type grasses work well and can be grown indoors. Many pet stores even carry “cat blends.”
Feeding your cat a high-fiber diet is also an excellent way to limit the formation of hairballs. There are several foods on the market that contain special ingredients and contain more fiber than normal cat foods. Be sure the food contains 3.5 to 10 percent fiber for optimal effectiveness.