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Hairballs and Cats: What You Need to Know!

hairball_Shutterstock_Montakan Wannasri

Hairballs are not glamorous. However, they are a standard part of cat ownership. While they have been popularized as a usual cat behavior, they are not healthy in the least. There is even a day centered around raising awareness of the problem of hairballs in cats. It occurs every year on the last Friday of April and is called “National Cat Awareness Day”.

This condition occurs when the cat self-grooms and ingests too much hair. Since the hair cannot be passed through the digestive tract, it sometimes comes up like vomit. If the hairball is smaller, it can sometimes move through the digestive tract, which leads to no hairballs at all.

Occasionally, hairballs can create a severe obstruction. This is a severe medical issue that can potentially be deadly and may require surgery to remove. Hairballs can be a real issue!

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Managing Hairballs

Regular grooming can reduce the amount of hair that your feline consumes while grooming. If your cat sheds a lot, they need to be brushed. Otherwise, they will consume much of the hair, which will lead to hairballs. Removing this hair before it gets consumed is the first step to ensuring that your feline has fewer hairballs and a lower chance of obstruction.

You can also consider other ways to reduce the amount your feline sheds. For instance, wipes and certain shampoos may have an anti-shedding effect. Of course, not all cats will enjoy this sort of treatment. Trying to bathe some cats is simply not going to end well. However, if you already have a grooming routine, you may want to add some wipes to reduce shedding further.

Some types of cat food can also manage shedding. High-quality cat foods will generally produce less shedding than lower-quality options. Foods packed with things like omega fatty acids can also help your cat’s coat. Look for foods that are designed explicitly for coat and skin health.

Hormonal influxes can also cause differences in your feline’s shedding. Usually, spayed and neutered cats will not undergo these hormonal changes and will therefore not have periods where they shed significantly as an intact cat would. If you aren’t planning on breeding your feline, you should consider getting them fixed to avoid these hormonal changes.

cat licking its paws

When Should I Take My Cat To The Vet For Hairballs?

Usually, a hairball or two isn’t anything to worry about. If the hairballs are coming up, it means that they are not getting lodged in your cat’s intestines and causing problems. However, it could be a sign that your feline is consuming more hair than it should.

This means that an obstruction is possible. Even if your feline doesn’t seem to have many hairballs, you should watch for symptoms of obstruction.

These symptoms include lethargy, refusal to eat, and unproductive retching. Some cats will vomit but will not produce any hairballs. Cats are very good at hiding their sickness from their owners and other household pets, so you may not get many symptoms to go off of. If your cat begins acting strange, you should speak to your vet.

Should Cats Produce Hairballs?

No, not necessarily. It is a myth that all cats produce hairballs. If a cat doesn’t produce any hairballs, it’s excellent! That means they aren’t consuming much hair when they self-groom, which further means that they likely aren’t in danger of obstruction (though that doesn’t mean you should ignore any symptoms).

If your cat does produce hairballs, it should only produce about two to three a year. Any more is a clear sign that your feline is consuming too much hair, and you should take steps to reduce their shedding considerably.

young cat sitting on wooden table with hairball
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

Can Cats Choke To Death On Hairballs?

Yes. This is called an “obstruction.” The hairball can also get stuck somewhere in the intestines, which prevents food from passing. At some point, this will lead to death.

Hairballs may be perceived as a regular part of cat behavior, but they can be deadly in certain circumstances. If your feline has too many hairballs, it is time to call the vet and increase your grooming routine.

How Do I Make My Cat Throw Up A Hairball?

Typically, you cannot make your cat throw up a hairball. If the cat has failed to remove a hairball thus far, it is likely causing an obstruction and calls for a visit to the vet. You may need to choose a hairball preventative food or increase your cat’s grooming times.

cat vomitting_Shutterstock_Nils Jacobi
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

Can My Cat Die From A Hairball?

Yes, cats can die from hairballs if they cause an obstruction. Hairballs should only occur a few times a year if any. If your cat has hairballs weekly or even monthly, then you need to take steps to reduce them. The more hairballs your cat has, the more likely they are to get an obstruction, which can cause death if left untreated.

Obstructions prevent food from passing through the digestive tract usually. This can cause death without treatment.

Can I Give My Cat Butter For Hairballs?

This is generally not recommended. Fat is a vital part of a cat’s diet. However, it is not tolerated by many cats in a concentrated form. This can cause stomach upset, which is the opposite of what you want if your cat has a hairball. It may also cause more severe issues, like pancreatitis.

Furthermore, this is not a permanent fix. Your cat will continue to get hairballs and will need a more permanent solution. If you believe your cat has an obstruction, you need to visit your vet to remove it.

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Featured Image Credit: Montakan Wannasri, Shutterstock

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