Cats are excellent at self-grooming. As well as other reasons, they groom to heal wounds and minor abrasions with their ‘antiseptic saliva’. However, the cat tongue is rough and during the process quite a few loose or dead hairs tend to stick to it, which are then swallowed. Hair is not easily digestible and accumulates in the cat’s stomach or intestinal tract, forming what we know as a ‘hair ball’. A cat retches out the hair ball when it irritates the stomach. If the hair balls do not pass out with stools, they can block the intestinal tract leading to loss of appetite, constipation and weight loss.
Formation of hairballs is natural in cats. Unlike medical and physical conditions like feline hair loss , cat dandruff and feline acne, it does not require any complicated process for prevention. If you pay attention to hair growth and shedding in your cat, you will be able to limit the accumulation of hairballs in the cat’s body.
Comb your cat’s coat regularly, preferably daily. Use a comb that helps you to remove dead hair effectively. The choice of the comb should depend upon the breed of the cat that you have and the length of the hair. If the dead and loose hairs are removed regularly, your cat will tend to swallow less hair in the process of self-grooming.
Treatment for hairballs in cats is even easier. It does not involve medication like other cat and dog skin problems. Like self-grooming, cats are very good at self-treatment too, at least as far as it concerns hairballs. A cat with hairballs indulges in eating grass and plants in an effort to rid itself of hair balls. The fiber in grass and plants facilitates easy elimination. In case you want to help your cat in getting rid of hair balls, here are suggestions to help aid your cat in his own efforts:
- Feed extra fiber to your cat. Catnip, wheat, oats and barley, pumpkin, oat bran, green beans, flax and psyllium husk are natural sources of fiber. Add small quantities to the feed every alternate day. A high fiber diet helps in easy elimination of hair balls.
- Petroleum jelly acts as a lubricant and makes it easy for the cat to excrete the hairballs. Petroleum jelly is perfectly safe for cats and passes out unabsorbed. There are commercial products available that contain petroleum jelly. If you do not wish to buy some, the best way is to either administer it directly as a treat or apply some on the leg below the elbow for the cat to lick.
A word of caution regarding high fiber diet needs to be added here. High fiber may be necessary for treating hairballs in cats, but it can cause certain symptoms that you need to be aware of:
- High fiber holds more water in the system, and this can lead to concentrated urine making your cat more susceptible to a urinary tract disorder.
- Fiber does not guarantee elimination of hairballs that get stuck in the stomach.
- Too much fiber can lead to diarrhea or a significant increase in the bulk of stools.
Hairball formulas available commercially may deny your cat some other nutrients that are necessary for growth. These formulas can also be expensive. If you do have to opt for a hairball formula, choose a natural product over chemical ones to avoid any further side effects.