Cat Hairball “Hacks”: What Causes Them and What You Can Do

Let’s celebrate Hairball Awareness Day with a few furry facts about the unique feline phenomenon.

When you hear a loud “HACK” coming from your cat, you know what’s on the way…a wet, gross blob of hair on the carpet. Thanks kitty! Hairballs are a normal, albeit icky, side effect of your cat’s grooming routine. Even though cats shed, some of that fur ends up in your cat’s belly (and then later on as a regurgitated hairball).

Most times, these hairballs are nothing to worry about—they’re a normal part of living with a cat. But there are also instances when they are serious and require your attention (and a trip to the vet). Let’s talk about what they are and what you can do about them.

What Causes Hairballs?

Hairballs are a part of your cat’s healthy grooming routine. A cat’s tongue has tiny hook-like structures that grab loose and dead hair. The fur is swallowed and makes its way through your cat’s digestive tract. Some of this hair, however, will make its way to the cat’s stomach, forming a hairball. In order to get rid of it, she’ll puke up a hairball. Here’s an interesting fact you’ve probably never taken into account: to make its way back up the narrow esophagus, the hairball tends to be thin and tube-like, so it doesn’t actually look like a ball at all. Not that it really makes a difference…it’s still gross no matter what it looks like.

Expect more hairballs from long-haired cats, such as Persians and Maine Coons. The same goes for any kitty that tends to shed or groom a lot. Your kitten may not have hairballs while she’s young, but it’s not uncommon for this issue to develop as she gets older.

Hairball Symptoms

If you have a cat, you probably know the telltale signs of an imminent hairball attack: retching, gaging and hacking. Keep calm and get a paper towel ready—the hairball will be within cleaning range in moments. But, if your cat is retching with no hairball in sight, or she won’t eat, is lethargic, constipated or has diarrhea, take her to the vet—that hairball needs some help coming out.

Hairball Remedies

If you can’t beat ’em, you might as well do something to ease the frequency of this yucky kitty by-product. Here are a few suggestions:

Regular Grooming: Your cat does a good job of grooming herself, but you can help by removing some of that loose or dead fur with your own grooming routine. Comb or brush your cat regularly—it’s a great way to pamper your pet. For longer-haired cats, you may want to take your cat to a professional groomer for haircuts a couple times a year.

Fiber: Your cat may need a little extra fiber to get things moving in the right direction—fiber helps encourage hairballs to pass through the cat’s digestive system. There are cat foods that offer more fiber than others, so you may have to supplement it into your cat’s diet.

Hairball Products/Laxatives: Most local pet store carry a variety of hairball products. You’ll find that the bulk of them are mild laxatives that help hairballs pass through the digestive tract easily.

Excessive Grooming: Some cats can over-groom, which leads to more hairballs. If you notice your cat is an excessive groomer, you’ll need to train her to switch to another habit. When you catch your cat grooming, distract her with a fun toy to play with or give her a tickle behind the ears.

Holistic remedies: Did you know that adding psyllium powder or digestive enzymes to your cat’s food will help her pass hairballs? It’s true! Check your cat’s skin to see if it’s dry—if it is, add an essential fatty acid supplement to her food in order to improve the health of her skin and coat (this helps to prevent excessive licking that result in hairballs).

Meet the Author: Amy Tokic

Amy Tokic is the Editor of Petguide.com, the flagship site to over 70 different pet communities, which offers pet parents a one-stop-info-shop for all things dog and cat related. Amy's been with PetGuide since the beginning, guided by the wisdom of her Shih Tzu mix and furry roommate, Oscar. Together, this pet power couple has their paw on the pulse of the pet industry, sniffing out trends, advice, news, tasty treat recipes and other tail-wagging stories.

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