Sometimes our pets can experience things that are completely normal and natural, and yet that alarm us as pet owners because we simply don’t understand them. On the flip side, there may be things that our pets experience that we assume are completely normal and natural because we have heard it is so when actually they are not entirely normal or natural. And so it is with cats and hairballs.

Understanding Hairballs

April 28th is National Hairball Awareness Day, a day that is expressly devoted to helping cat owners better understand this rather odd and unpleasant activity. Not only can learning more about hairballs help owners to better understand the normal and natural aspects of hairballs, it can help owners to better understand what isn’t normal or natural and therefore needs to be checked by a veterinarian. Following are five facts about hairballs:

  1. Some cats tend to have more hairballs than others. Cat owners can attest to the fact that their cat is usually doing one of three things: eating, sleeping or grooming. Obviously, since their entire body is covered with hair, grooming can lead to swallowed hair that builds up in the stomach. Healthy cats simply pass this hair through their digestive tract and out their body with other unused foods and wastes, but there are occasional times when the hair clumps together in a mass that cannot pass through the digestive system and therefore must be regurgitated. Long-haired cats may obviously experience more hairballs than short-haired cats, while kittens haven’t yet mastered thorough grooming and therefore tend to ingest less hair overall. This means that mature, long-haired cats may experience more hairballs than other cats.
  1. A completely healthy cat should not experience hairballs on a regular basis. One or two hairballs over the course of an entire year is about normal for a healthy cat, even a long-haired cat that loves to groom frequently, as their digestive system can successfully handle any other ingested hair. This means that if your cat is regularly coughing and vomiting, with or without hairballs, they may be suffering a health issue and should definitely be checked by a veterinarian.
  1. There are many remedies that can be used to safely reduce the amount of hairballs a cat experiences. If your cat seems to experience an abnormal amount of hairballs, the first step is to get their health checked by a veterinarian. Once your veterinarian has determined that they aren’t suffering from any other health conditions or issues and are simply experiencing a high volume of hairballs, there are many safe remedies you can consider. There are cat treats that contain mineral oil or petroleum jelly to help lubricate the digestive system, and even high-fiber cat food to help things move along. You can also help by brushing your cat regularly and even taking them to a professional groomer every now and again so that they won’t have as much loose hair available to ingest.
  1. Hairballs are more common in springtime. As cats shed their winter coats, they tend to ingest more hair while grooming and are therefore more likely to experience hairballs.
  1. Some hairballs can become too large for the cat to get rid of on their own. While it is incredibly rare, some hairballs can become so large that the cat can neither digest them nor regurgitate them. In these cases, surgical removal is required. Though this is unlikely to happen to your cat, it could be one reason why they are disinterested in eating, and so any changes in normal behavior (including eating) should be discussed with a veterinarian.

Dealing with hairballs is not actually a normal part of cat ownership that you simply have to learn to live with. While your cat’s ingestion of hair is totally normal and natural, it’s helpful to understand that their regular regurgitation of this hair is not.