Ah, stepping on a cold, slimy furball in the middle of the night. Just another joy of being a cat parent. You may argue that your cat enjoys leaving you those little surprises, but if he had his choice, he'd probably rather not cough up wads of hair.
When your cat swallows hair during normal grooming, he can typically pass it through his digestive system with no problems, but when a mass of it gets trapped in his stomach, it forms an uncomfortable furball that doesn't pass through the digestive system, prompting him to cough it up. Introducing some lubrication into his system will help ease the hairball through his digestive tract. You can use a quarter teaspoon of petroleum jelly or half a teaspoon of butter, margarine or mineral oil. Once the problem is under control, you can keep it that way by giving him any one of these remedies about once every two weeks.
Fiber is useful for treating and preventing furballs. It accelerates the hair through the digestive tract so that you don't have to find it on your living room floor. There are high-fiber cat foods on the market, but you can add fiber to your cat's diet with half a teaspoon of a fiber supplement like Metamucil twice a day, or, if he will eat vegetables, use those to introduce more fiber into your cat's diet. Canned pumpkin can be a source of fiber and some cats will eat it with no extra encouragement. The website Vetinfo recommends growing a little garden of oatgrass or wheatgrass for your cat to munch on if he isn't a veggie fan.
Giving your cat a hand with grooming is helpful way to control the hairball situation. If you comb or brush him daily or even every two days, you'll remove hair that he might otherwise swallow during his routine bathing. After combing or brushing, wipe your cat down with a damp washcloth to remove loose hairs that the brushing left behind.
When to See the Vet
Hairballs are a nuisance for both you and your cat, but they aren't typically a serious problem. There are times, though, when you should consult your vet. If your cat's coughing continues for more than three days or if you notice that he is gagging and doesn't produce a furball, the problem might be bigger than you thought. Other signs that hair in the digestive tract may be a problem are constipation and lack of appetite. If you notice these symptoms in your cat, don't allow it to go on for more than a day. Blockage of the digestive system can be very serious and it is important to catch the problem early.
- cat image by Vera Kailova from Fotolia.com