Most cat owners, especially ones who own a longhaired feline, have heard a gagging or coughing sound from their kitty followed by a fur ball or hairball being expelled. Although common, it’s not ideal for a cat to have too many hairballs; they could even be dangerous.
About Fur Balls
Cats get fur balls from grooming. When they swallow loose hairs, some pass through their digestive tract and come out with stool, but some don’t. The hair that remains in the stomach or small intestine is what cats typically vomit. The vomited hair is matted and generally comes out tubular shaped.
Brush and Comb
It is far better to prevent fur balls than trying to treat them. The best way to do that is to brush or comb your cat. Longhaired cats usually require daily brushing. Afterwards, wipe your kitty down with a damp cloth to remove even more excess hair. The more loose hair you remove, the less your cat will swallow. If you don’t have time for this and you have a longhaired cat such as a Maine Coon or a Persian, take her to a groomer every few months.
Some cat foods might help prevent or control hairballs. These foods typically contain a higher percentage of fiber. The theory is the more fiber a cat eats, the more stool she will pass, and the more stool passed should lead to more hair being passed as well. High-fiber cat food might do the trick with some cats, but not all. Another theory regarding diet is to feed cats a meat-based, grain-free diet. Cats are carnivores, and a meat-based diet is a cat’s natural diet. The theory is if you feed a cat grain, you are tampering with its natural diet, which interferes with a cat’s digestion. By feeding a grain-based diet, you might be making it more difficult for your cat to pass hair with her stool.
Some over-the-counter products that contain petroleum are supposed to help control fur balls. They lubricate the fur ball, which makes it more likely for it to be passed with stool. The results are similar to the high-fiber diet: These products work on some cats, but not all. Some veterinarians do not recommend petroleum-based products and think they might be harmful. Before you buy an OTC fur ball remedy product, discuss with your vet what is occurring with your cat.
Hairballs can be dangerous if they lodge in the intestinal tract. This can cause a blockage that requires surgery. If your cat is constipated and has a decreased appetite, take her to the vet. Also take her to the vet if she is gagging and coughing but producing no hairball.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.