What are Hairballs?
Hairballs are most commonly associated with cats, but may also affect dogs. A cat has an intrinsic instinct to groom its coat – helping to get rid of unsightly burs and knots. The cat has a raspy tongue, like sandpaper – helping to brush the coat and dislodge small debris.
The licking of the coat means that a fair amount of hair is swallowed. Most hair is passed through the digestive system; however some hair may get trapped in the throat or stomach and combine to form a hairball.
What Causes Hairballs?
Trapped hair occurs more frequently in long-haired, young to middle-aged cats. This fur ‘ball’ accumulates, and when it reaches a certain size, the body attempts to eliminate it from the digestive tract. This usually causes retching and heaving for the cat or dog, resulting in vomiting. The fur ball is usually cylindrical in shape and may or may not be mixed with semi-digested food.
Irritable skin (eczema or flea bite dermatitis) or psychological disorders (stress and anxiety) can cause a cat to groom excessively.
When Should I Worry About Hairballs?
Hairballs are usually harmless, causing mild discomfort; however in severe, rare cases, a cat may be unable to pass the hairball – causing an obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract. This would warrant medical attention and may even require surgery. If there is any change in the pattern of hairballs, or your pet experiences weight loss, diarrhea or a picky appetite, consult with your vet.
Help for Hairballs
Conventional treatment may include laxatives (never give your pet laxatives without consulting your vet – as it may result in serious harm or dehydration!) Your vet may prescribe drugs that enhance gut motility – however this may disturb the delicate balance in the digestive system.
Natural treatment provides a gentle yet effective solution to hairballs. Psyllium nigrum is a very high source of dietary fiber while Aloe ferox (a well known medicinal herb native to South Africa) is known for its beneficial effect on digestive functioning. Nux vom is a proven homeopathic remedy often prescribed for indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, violent retching and abdominal cramps.
More Information on Hairballs
Tips to Help Prevent Hairballs
A number of steps can be taken to help prevent hairballs. Here are some helpful tips:
- Groom your pets frequently. Try to start when the pet is young – but it is never too late to groom. The more loose hair you brush off, the less likely a fur ball is to occur as a result of ingested hair!
- Use a rubber brush. It is soft and will not cause much discomfort (great for the cat and it works wonders for removing pat dander from carpets and furniture!)
- Dry foods can help reduce the formation of hairballs in the gut. These foods help to "sweep" the fur along the intestines in the right direction.