Hairball Awareness Month
To those of us that live with a feline companion, it can be a magical experience. Especially if you have to make a quick trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night and your bare feet finds a special little wet “gift” that has made a return appearance. I think there isn’t much more that can wake me up quicker! If you do live with a cat, it is probably a common incident of finding little piles of vomit or hairballs throughout your house. But did you know that, cats shouldn’t be vomiting more than once or twice a month. Hairballs especially shouldn’t be produced more than once a month. In honor of Hairball Awareness month, this week’s blog is going to be all about hairballs.
Cats groom themselves to keep clean by removing old hair and debris from their coat. This holds true for both the domesticated housecat and their wild cousins. With the exception of the male lion’s mane, they have evolved into having short hair lengths so that less debris is caught in their coat and they ingest less hair as they groom. Once humans started to manipulate Mother Nature’s design, domesticated cats’ hair grew longer but not their ability to eliminate the extra hair. Obviously, a long-haired cat will ingest more hair than their short-haired counterpart. Cats living in a happy multi-cat household are more likely to ingest more hair than a single cat household. But neither having a long-hair or multi-cat household is a good excuse for your cat to regurgitate hairballs more than once or twice a month.
More hair can be swallowed if the cat is over-grooming itself. There are several reasons as to why a cat could be over-grooming. Often times they will over-groom themselves by frequency or length of time because they are stressed. Just like when a kid sucks their thumb, a cat will provide the coping mechanism of grooming to help with anxiety and emotional stress. Pain is another reason why a cat may be over-grooming. They may lick the painful area as another coping mechanism. Urinary tract, musculoskeletal and abdominal pain can trigger excessive grooming. Fleas and flea dermatitis can cause a cat to ingest more hair as they are trying to relieve themselves from the itching.
In a normal, healthy cat, the ingested hair should be able to naturally pass through the digestive tract and be excreted in the feces. Age can play a part in the frequency of hairballs. You also need to think of it as a visual sign of a health condition. Cats can vomit from metabolic diseases like hyperthyroidism or renal failure and for gastrointestinal problems like inflammatory bowel disease or cancer. Running blood work and a urinalysis can help the veterinarian determine if the vomiting and hairballs are related to common metabolic disorders. Radiographs and ultrasounds can help the veterinarian determine if there are other internal issues.
Prevention is always the best medicine. Brushing your cat frequently will remove the loose hair before they have a chance to ingest it. Dietary changes can help with GI concerns as well. A majority of cats have trouble digesting beef, lamb and seafood flavors. By avoiding these meat proteins in their food, it can minimize the GI inflammation and vomiting episodes. Hairball formula foods contain two things to help move ingested hair through their digestive tract. It has higher amounts of fiber that pushes everything through the GI tract and an enzyme that helps prevent hairballs from forming in the stomach. There are also hairball control supplements that helps lubricate the hairball to help it pass through their digestive tract. *Special note on these supplements – due to how they work, it is recommended to not give it at the same time the cat is fed because it can decrease the amount of nutrients being absorbed from the food.
Discuss with your veterinary team the frequency and what is brought up in the vomit to help discover why your cat is vomiting more than it should be. They can help determine what food and supplements might help your cat.