If you own a cat, you know all about hairballs. They’re yucky, they pop up everywhere, and they happen far too often.
A “hairball” occurs when a cat swallows indigestible hair after grooming, and it builds up in the stomach. In a healthy cat, that hair passes through the digestive tract and reappears later in the litter box. But, sometimes, the hair forms a mass that has to be regurgitated through the esophagus. That’s when it ends up on your hardwood floor (if you’re lucky).
All cats groom, but not all cats get hairballs. Of course, long-haired cats are more likely to spit up a hairball, while kittens aren’t quite as affected.
But, if hairballs are a problem for your cat, there are a few ways to deal with it:
- Don’t forget to brush! Shedding causes hairball formation, so removing loose hair is critical in eliminating hairballs. Brush your cat every day, and you will see a difference.
- Then, wipe away. After brushing, wipe down your cat with a wet paper towel or baby wipe to get rid of any remaining loose hair. Just use a fragrance-free brand that is hypoallergenic.
- Use oils or butter. Drizzling a bit of olive oil or melted butter over your cat’s food will lubricate the intestinal system and help expel hairballs. High-fiber cereal is another dietary supplement that can help.
Remember: If your cat is healthy, hairballs shouldn't be too common—say, once or twice a week. According to Dr. Jane Brunt, a feline veterinarian and executive director of the CATalyst Council, “Even long-haired cats should not develop more than one or two hairballs a year.”
Just because your cat is “coughing up” doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a hairball. It may be a cough or a vomit. If that’s the case, or if hairballs are happening too often, there could be a deeper issue, such as inflammatory bowel disease, valve blockages, or even intestinal cancer.
In that case, you should schedule a veterinary exam for your cat. Better to be safe than sorry!