I like to follow the calendar of National Days because it means that, on any given day, you have something to celebrate or learn about. If you’ve seen past posts, then you know that there are lots of pet-related days and weeks to be aware of. Some of these days are light-hearted (like National Puppy Day), some are more serious (like Pet Theft Awareness Day), and some are just downright strange. For example, this week, we are celebrating something unusual. This week on April 24 the holiday is, no joke, National Hairball Awareness Day.
I know what you’re thinking: “Hairballs? Yuck!” And you’re right. Hairballs are definitely not on the fun side of pets. So why are we talking about them? Well, beyond the gross factor and the inconvenience of cleaning hairballs up, there’s more to hairballs than you might expect. Hence a whole day dedicated to teaching us a little bit more about them.
Hairballs: How They’re Made
Cats are often thought of as fastidious creatures. Their very involved grooming routine does a lot to add to this persona. A cat’s tongue is equipped to be the perfect grooming tool. The stiff bristles on the tongue strip away loose and dead hair and dander. It also allows the cat to undo tangles in their coat, preventing hair matting.
A cat is prone to groom itself multiple times a day. With all that work, your cat is bound to ingest some of its own hair. On it’s own, hair ingestion is not a huge problem since it can pass through your cat’s system and into the litter box. But when the hair doesn’t pass through the system, it accumulates and starts forming a ball. With time, the blockage will trigger regurgitation, producing a hairball. It’s an unpleasant experience but not an unusual one for most cats. In fact, 35% of cat owners report that their cats have hairball problems. Some cats go through their whole life without having a single one. They’re the lucky ones. For the rest of the cats, and us, their owners, hairballs are going to be the reality.
Who gets hairballs?
While hairballs are most often associated with our feline friends, any pets or animals that use their tongue as a brush for self grooming are candidates for hairballs. This includes rabbits, cows and even llamas. The likelihood of any animal getting a hairball depends on two factors: the amount of hair, and the state of the digestive system. A shorthaired cat might not ingest the same volume of its own hair, but if that cat’s digestive system isn’t as good at passing the hair out of the body, a hairball could develop. On the other hand, a longhaired cat might end up ingesting more hair, but if it’s digestive system can handle it, hairballs might not become an issue. When it comes to your pet, you simply won’t know until your cat does or doesn’t have a hairball.
When are hairballs normal and when are they a problem?
One or two hairballs a year is not something to worry about. It’s just an indication that your cat’s system is naturally dealing with hair accumulation on its own. More frequent hairballs, however, are a problem. It’s possible that your cat just ingests a lot more hair, but it’s also possible that your cat has a more serious issue with its digestive system. If you’re worried that your cat is producing too many hairballs, consult with your veterinarian about treatment options.
If your cat has hairballs, don’t worry! There is help. You have a variety of options, depending on what fits your pet’s needs the best.
There are certain cat foods that are specifically formulated to help manage hairballs. These types of cat food have a higher fiber content to promote better digestion. They also include nutrients for improving the health of your cat’s coat and skin so that they’re less likely to shed. Introducing pumpkin into your cat’s diet is another way to up their fiber intake.
You can also find cat treats that are uniquely made to treat hairballs. These treats have lubricants like petroleum jelly or mineral oils that are meant to help hair to pass through your cat’s digestive system.
An important preventative measure is helping you cat to stay groomed. Regular brushing sessions will cut down on your cat’s personal grooming routine and will remove hair that might otherwise be ingested by your cat.
In extreme cases, hairballs become too large to pass or to be coughed up and must be removed surgically. In most cases, however, hairballs can be treated early and need not escalate to such a serious point.