Home Remedies for Cat Hairballs
Hairballs are never comfortable for the cat. They can also be disgusting for the pet parent who has to clean up the mess. If the mass of fur inside the cat’s gastrointestinal tract grows and becomes impacted, there is a chance that serious health problems can ensue. Pet parents can address such issues by observing several effective cat hairball home remedies.
First, a Look at What Hairballs are and How They Form
All organisms that have hair or fur undergo a cycle of hair growth and rest. In the initial stage of the hair growth cycle, individual hair follicles produce cells that lengthen the hair. At a certain period, the growth slows down and enters into a resting stage. During this stage, the hair follicle does not produce new hair cells. At the same time, nourishment to the hair follicles also stops because of its separation from the dermal papillae. This leads to the shedding of the hair follicle. After some time, the dermal papillae start producing hair follicles and restart the hair growth cycle once more.
Individual hairs are at different stages of the hair growth cycle at any given time. While most hairs are growing, some are also slowing down in their growth. Some hair follicles may already begin to separate from the dermal papillae. This results in the loss of hair.
When a cat grooms itself, it takes some of these loose fur in its tongue and ingests it. These strands of cat fur pass through the animal’s stomach and intestines. Together with undigested food material and other byproducts of digestion, these strands of fur end up in the cat’s feces. That is why, if you were to examine their stool, it is possible to see these individual fur strands.
Hairballs occur when these individual strands of pet hair do not pass through the animal’s gut. Instead, they collect in the intestines and form hairballs. In such cases, the natural reaction of cats will be to expel the hairball. They try to vomit the it. As such, you can see them gagging or retching in an attempt to force the hair mass from their stomach and out through their mouth. In some instances, the cat may produce a hacking cough that some can mistake for kennel cough.
If the cat is unable to vomit the hairball, it will try to pass it through its stool. However, if the mass of fur is large enough to cause blockage in the cat’s gut, the cat can become diarrheic or constipated. Diarrhea can occur because not enough fecal matter passes through the colon. Only liquid stuff does. If there is no liquid passing out, then the animal has constipation.
The repeated attempts to remove the hairball from its intestines can deplete the cat of its energy reserves, making it weak or lethargic. This can also lead to a loss of appetite. If the condition continues, the animal is at risk of developing other health problems. An impacted hairball can cause severe blockage of the intestines, requiring surgical removal.
Longhaired feline breeds have a higher risk of developing complicated hairballs because of the lengthy nature of their fur. But this does not mean shorthaired cats cannot form hairballs. They can, too.
Natural Remedies for Hairballs in Cats
Hairballs in cats develop because of excessive grooming, whether on themselves or on other cats. There are natural mechanisms in the cat’s body that allow it to remove hair strands from its intestines. However, they are often not enough to allow for the more effective removal of such masses. Here are some natural remedies that you can observe in the management of hairballs in your cat.
Add Fiber to Its Diet
Adding fiber in the cat’s diet can help push the hairball through the colon. It allows the cat to pass the hairball in its stool. This also helps prevent the cat from vomiting out the hairball, minimizing cleanups on your furniture, carpet, and other surfaces.
Canned pumpkin is one of the best home remedies for feline hairballs. A cup of unsalted, canned pumpkin contains 28 percent dietary fiber. It also contains minerals and vitamins than can contribute to the pet’s overall health. Fiber can help push the hairball through the cat’s intestines. Canned pumpkin also contains a bit of fat. This can facilitate the easier passage of the mass of hair through the gut.
One can add canned pumpkin to the cat’s regular meal. However, it is important to consider the serving size and calculate for its calories. For instance, an ounce of canned pumpkin is equivalent to 9.5 calories. If you give 3 ounces of canned pumpkin to the cat, it is a must that you subtract 28.5 calories from its regular meal. This will help balance its calorie intake and avoid making your cat obese.
You can also give small slices of sweet potatoes, apples, and carrots. These are also rich in fiber. However, they may not be that convenient. You will have to prepare them in such a way that it is easy for the cat to eat them. Canned pumpkin offers convenience, while also giving the cat the fiber it needs to push the hairball through.
It is essential to talk to your veterinarian about how much fiber you should give to your cat. Too much fiber in the cat’s diet can also lead to health problems such as constipation. It can also make the hairball situation a lot worse than it already is.
Add Oil to Its Meals
Most pet parents are not keen on putting oil in their cat’s diet because of the negative connotation that ‘fat’ has. However, adding a teaspoon of healthy oils in the cat’s diet should help it pass the hairball a lot easier.
Hairballs can be difficult to pass because of the inadequate lubrication in the intestinal lining. It is not slippery enough for the fecal matter to move through the colon with ease. As such, it can get stuck. Because of its very slow movement through the gut, more water gets drawn from it. The fecal matter and the hairball in it turns into a solid mass.
Adding oil to the cat’s diet can help provide lubrication in the intestinal walls. At the same time, it can lubricate the surface of the hairball itself. This reduces friction and allows the mass to pass through unimpeded.
Good choices include fish oil, olive oil, flax oil, and safflower oil. It is also possible to add a can of tuna in their meals since these often come with oil. Other alternatives include mineral oil and melted unsalted butter.
Replace its Food with Special Hairball Control Diets
There are cat food products on the market that have special formulations for feline hairballs. These have high fiber content which can aid in the passage of the mass of hair through the cat’s digestive tract. The best part of such cat foods is that they also come complete with other minerals and nutrients for optimum feline nutrition. There is also no need to make adjustments in the animal’s diet since you are already giving it a complete meal.
This is unlike adding canned pumpkin or a can of tuna to their meals. You will have to make the necessary adjustments in their regular meals to account for the calories present in these additions. One can always err in the computation of the calories.
Special hairball control diets are also more palatable for cats. They are like their regular meals, except that it contains more fiber. Some products may also contain additional oils that can help facilitate the passage of stool by lubricating the gut. These can also improve the cat’s coat and skin and contribute to the optimum functioning of its immune system.
In addition to replacing its meal with a special formula for controlling hairballs, you might also want to give it fiber-rich cat treats. These are also available on the market.
Encourage the Cat to Drink More
Cats that do not drink that much have a higher risk of developing hairballs. Water can act as a lubricant in the gastrointestinal tract. It reduces friction between the fecal matter and the lining of the gut. This allows it to move with ease.
While it is true that wet cat food contains more moisture than dry pet food, this is not enough. Cats will still need to drink water. One of the best ways to do this is by putting a few pet drinking fountains in strategic locations in the house. Such a measure can entice cats to drink more since they no longer have to go from their nook to the drinking area. Increasing the availability and accessibility of a drinking station makes it easier for the cat to drink.
There is another reason why pet drinking fountains work best in encouraging cats to drink. The continuous flow of water ensures fresher and cleaner drinking water for the cat. The ripples in the water can also stimulate a cat’s curiosity. It will think that a prey is in the water, encouraging it to “investigate”.
Ordinary water bowls work fine. However, you may have to make the water more enticing. Adding flavored ice cubes can make the drinking water cooler and more palatable. Some cat owners make ice cubes out of natural fruit juice. Others freeze a solution of water and chicken, beef, or tuna broth. An alternative is to add a few drops of canned tuna broth in the water.
The most common cause of hairballs in cats is excessive grooming. The severity of hairball formation depends on the amount of hair that cats ingest. A cat may groom itself in an excessive manner. But if there are too few hairs that are loose, then hairballs may not be a problem. If the cat has excessive shedding, then it is possible that hairball will form even if the cat does not groom itself excessively.
Regardless, regular brushing can remove any loose hair from the cat. When it grooms itself, there is less fur that end up in its gastrointestinal tract. Brushing the cat with a soft-bristled cat brush is important. You do not want to irritate the cat and cause skin inflammation if you use a stiff-bristled brush.
One good alternative is a grooming glove. This looks like an ordinary glove that you put over your hands. The palmar surface of the glove comes with nubs or ridges that function like the bristles of a brush. The good thing about this device is that you mimic the action of petting the animal. As you stroke the cat’s body, loose fur gets carried in the nubs of the glove. More importantly, the cat will feel as if you are petting it and not brushing it.
Provide More Interactive Activities
It may come as a surprise, but giving your cat more interactive and engaging activities can help minimize hairballs. Some cats perform excessive grooming when they feel bored. Other cats are also known for being compulsive groomers. This is often an indication of feline anxiety.
When cats are anxious, they will do certain behaviors that will make them feel calmer or more relaxed. This is also true with feline boredom. While you may see your cat happily napping in its place, this does not mean that it does not require any stimulating activity already. If you try to observe your cat while resting in its nook, there’s one activity that it always does – self-groom.
Providing more enjoyable activities can help reduce the cat’s tendency to self-groom. Teach it tricks or train it to follow simple commands. Buy a new toy and teach the cat how to play with it. A better alternative will be to purchase a cat toy that you and your pet can play together. This will keep the cat’s mind off the need to groom itself.
Managing cat hairballs involves facilitating the removal of the mass of hair through the cat’s intestines. Preventing it includes regular grooming and providing more enjoyable activities so that the cat will not engage in excessive self-grooming.