Almost every cat owner has seen or heard of them: hairballs. Cats produce about one per month on average. The good thing about finding one of these is they are a sign that your cat is taking very good care of her fur. But there’s a downside too: these little balls can irritate the stomache and the intenstines, and in worst case even cause a total blockage.
How are hairballs created?
Healthy cats spend lots of time every day to keep themselves groomed. A major part of grooming involves licking the fur throughout their body, which helps to keep everything clean and to remove loose hairs that are being shed. During this grooming ritual, most loose hairs are swallowed and will pass through the bowels undigested, until finally they are pooped out.
The formation of a hairball can occur when these ingested hairs get stuck somewhere in the throat or in the stomach and start clotting up.
Depending on your hairstyle, you may have experienced yourself at some point that loose hairs have a tendency to clog up into a ball. This is exactly what causes a hairball to be formed.
If you see these little balls, there is no need to worry! It is actually a sign that your cat is taking quite good care of herself.
From what age can cats produce hairballs?
Kittens start to groom themselves from roughly the age of 3 weeks. Before that time, the kittens are usually washed by their mother. By the time they are 6 weeks old, kittens have become proficient at washing themselves. Around the same time, hairballs can start to show up.
Why do only some cats throw up hairballs?
Some species of cats have longer hairs than others. Species with long hairs are more likely to cough up hairballs, because they have to wash themselves more frequently and the ingested hairs are more likely to get stuck or clot.
Excessive licking from exczeema, anxiety, pain or allergic reactions can also increase the odds of hairball formation.
Are they dangerous?
Most ingested hairs move through the bowels without problems and are eventually expelled through the feces. But when too many hairs get stuck in the stomach, after a while they will start to irritate the lining of the stomach. When this happens, cats will instinctively eat grass and other greens in an effort to try to vomit and get rid of the hairball.
When hairballs are not removed in time through vomit or feces, they can start to harden and cause real gastrointestinal problems like blockages and an upset stomach. Some cats may need surgery to get them removed.
How to prevent hairballs in cats
As we discussed earlier on in the article, the formation of hairballs is not something completely random. There are actually several things an owner could do to prevent these little balls from forming in the gastro-intestinal tract:
This is an umbrella term for several species of grass that are sold specifically to be eaten by cats. The main benefit of cat grass is that it invokes vomitting, which helps to remove any hairs that got stuck in the intestinal tract.
Cat grass has a number of other benefits as well.
Custom diets can help reduce the amount of hairs that are ingested. Many of these foods contain dietary insoluble fiber, which helps pass things through the intestines. This will ensure that more of the ingested hairs are excreted through feces. A good example of a diet food with a high amount of fiber is Royal Canin Fibre Response.
One more trick to help keep things moving is to give smaller portions throughout the day instead of the usual large ones at breakfast and dinner.
Special flavored treats are widely available. These are advertised as specifically designed to prevent and treat hairballs. But is there any truth to these claims?