A hairball is a compressed, tube-shaped mass of hair, saliva and varying amounts of undigested food. Hairballs can form whenever a cat grooms itself and swallows hair. Since hair is not easily digestible, it can remain in the stomach and form a hairball.
Cats that produce frequent hairballs usually also have dental issues, since stomach acids present in vomit erode the enamel from a cat’s teeth. Loss of enamel weakens a tooth’s protection against plaque and bacteria, which can lead to infection and poor feline oral health.
Most cats do not have to suffer hacking up hairballs on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. By addressing the causes of hairballs and adjusting a cat’s food and other routines, hairball problems can be infrequent, rare events. A handful of simple and effective tools are available to help cats have fewer hairballs:
If a cat is suffering from hairballs, one of the best things to do is find a more meat-rich, more digestible food. When a cat gets plenty of protein and digests the food properly, she sheds less often, swallows less hair, and the little hair that she does ingest is passed more gently with the feces. She also vomits less often and, as a result, has healthier teeth.
Consider foods with high amounts of quality proteins and proper fats to meet the cat’s nutrient requirements. Foods should also include high levels of digestible and non-digestible fiber. Fibers can snag the hair in the stomach and help it pass through with food before it tangles and balls up with other hair in the stomach. A diet high in moisture can also keep a cat’s digestive tract hydrated, reducing the risk of hairball formation.
Cat-friendly grasses are a fresh, high fiber snack that can help digestion and reduce hairballs in cats. A teaspoon or more of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) fed 2-3 times per week may help to improve a cat’s skin and coat, and result in less shedding. Since cats’ bodies cannot synthesize some EFAs, they must get them from sources in their diet.
Specific hairball remedies are often made with indigestible oils or waxes that coat the hair and slide it through the digestive tract, creating a form of digestive lubrication.
A cat’s tongue has many little barbs on it, all of which point toward the back of the throat. These barbs act like a brush and help the cat groom its skin and coat. Unfortunately, cats must swallow hair as they groom.
An indoor cat is not subject to light and temperature changes of seasons. She lives in an environment with relatively constant temperature and lighting all year. Because cats’ hair growth, resting and shedding cycles are triggered by light and temperature changes, indoor cats’ coats do not go through seasonal periods of intense shedding. Rather, they may be in a less pronounced, though constant, state of shedding.
Indoor cats spend a lot of time grooming–up to four hours a day–so many suffer from constipation and hairballs. Give cats a helping hand by combing and brushing them regularly. Not only will these grooming sessions reduce hairballs by helping to limit the amount of hair a cat ingests, they can provide for happy bonding moments together.
Occasional hairballs are normal. However, if your cat suffers from chronic hairballs, speak with a veterinarian promptly to rule out any more serious conditions.
We’re not veterinarians. Mud Bay staff are well educated, and our writing is well-researched, but neither the advice of a Mud Bay staff member nor reading Mud Bay's written materials can substitute for visiting a veterinarian. We offer carefully chosen, natural solutions, but we believe that veterinary conditions should be diagnosed and treated by professionals.