What are hairballs and how to prevent them

What are hairballs and how to prevent them

Cats spend a lot of time cleaning their fur. This leads to the ingestion of the hair, which turns into hairballs in the digestive system. Hairballs are dangerous to your cat’s health. In this article, you will learn about effective and healthy solutions for your cat’s hairball problem.

Which cat breeds are most at risk

My cat Apollo is a British Longhair.

Longhair and semi-longhair cats (for example Siberian, British Longhair, or Maine Coons) and shorthair cats with a thick undercoat (for example Russian Blue or British Shorthair) are, particularly at risk.

The strangulation risk for all cats (not only those mentioned above) increases during the fur change period, which is in spring and fall.

Why you should worry about your cat’s hairballs

The cat usually deals with the standard amount of swallowed fur on its own – by expelling it in the feces or by vomiting. Excess fur that is swallowed can remain in the intestines, transforming into hairballs – called trichobezoars, which can lead to various diseases, and even to complete obstruction of your cat’s digestive system.

Most common hairball symptoms

  • vomiting undigested food,
  • choking and coughing,
  • loss of the appetite,
  • weight loss,
  • apathy and reluctance to move,
  • constipation and flatulence.

What to do when symptoms of the hairballs occur

Don’t underestimate any of the symptoms as hairballs are truly dangerous to your cat’s health and require veterinary attention. The vat will use an x-ray or ultrasound and choose the best treatment for your cat.

Under critical conditions, surgery may be necessary. For milder problems, your doctor may use an enema or paraffin wax to help your cat remove any hairballs. Remember that paraffin shouldn’t be handled by you alone, as improperly administered can lead to the cat’s death.

How to prevent hairballs

It is better to prevent than to cure. The risk of hairballs can be reduced by various more or less effective methods.

Popular methods (social media)

I conducted a survey among the followers of our Instagram @apollo.fluffy.cat regarding the most commonly used methods of fighting hairballs. Here are the results:

  • Anti-hairball paste
  • Anti-hairball treats and cat food
  • Goose or duck lard
  • Cat grass
  • Regular cat’s fur brushing

As you see as many as 50% of them use ineffective and unhealthy methods. Yikes! Let me help you change that .

Healthy and effective remedies

I recommend you these four effective and completely safe remedies for your cat’s hairball problem.

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Remedy #1: Regular cat’s fur brushing

The most important and effective way to prevent hairballs is to brush your cat regularly. By brushing the fur, you remove excess dead hair before it is swallowed by the cat what prevents trichobezoars from forming.

How often you should brush your cat depends on many factors: breed, fur type, and texture, age, and health. Longhair cats, like my cat Apollo, should be groomed at least once a day, and shorthair cats once a week. Additionally, during the molting period (in spring and autumn), use a brush for combing out the dead undercoat once a week (eg. Furminator).

Remedy #2: Cat grass

A natural remedy way to get rid of fur that was already swallowed is through cat grass, which provokes the expulsion of the felted fur by vomiting. Not all grass types are healthy. The best grasses for a cat are barley, wheat, rye, and oats, from which you can use to create a cat’s garden by yourself.

You can read more about cat grass and creating a cat garden in my article Grow your own herbs and grass for cats

Remedy #3: Goose or duck lard

Goose or duck lard is a natural and powerful method of removing trichobezoars from your feline’s belly – and generally enjoyed by cats. The lard creates a glide so that the hair balls in the cat’s digestive tract can move further.

Once a week, give one teaspoon of lard straight into the cat’s mouth or mix it with cat food. If your cat refuses to eat lard, nothing is lost. You can outsmart him by fighting with his own weapon – the need to groom. A proven method of outsmarting a cat is to smear its paw with lard, and it will instinctively “clean” and eat all the lard.

Remedy #4: Linseed

The method that I use least often, but is as effective as lard, is to give the cat linseed. It creates a glide that allows the hairballs to move further through the cat’s digestive system (and can be excreted).

Once a week: pour boiling water over one teaspoon of ground linseed, set aside to make a gruel. When the gruel has cooled down, pass it through a strainer and then add it to the feed. If your cat does not want to eat it, you can try to outsmart him in exactly the same way as I described above for lard, i.e. by smearing the cat’s paw with cooled linseed gruel.

Unhealthy and less effective remedies

As I already mentioned, not all popular methods of fighting hairballs are effective, and they can have a negative impact on your cat’s health. Now I will introduce those methods that are not recommended and also try to explain what is wrong with them.

Not recommended #1: Anti-hairball paste

Anti-hairball pastes are one of the most popular remedies for hairballs. The pasts work similarly to goose lard, creating a glide that allows hairballs to travel further through your cat’s digestive system and be excreted.

Anti-hairball pastes are based primarily on malt to which they owe their properties. But the problem is what else is in it.

Composition examples:

  • GimCat Malt-Soft Extra: vegetable by-products (malt extract 43.7%, cellulose 4%), oils and fats (31%), yeast (1%).
  • Pasta Słodowa Smila: vegetable by-products (43% malt extract), oils and fats, yeast.
  • Trixie malt paste for cats: vegetable origin (malt), oils and fats, sugar, EG ingredients.
  • Miamor Cat Snack malt paste: meat and by-products, vegetable by-products (min. 10% malt, min. 4% fiber), milk and dairy products.
  • Beaphar Malt anti-hairball paste oils and fats, milk and dairy by-products, vegetable by-products (malt extract 12%), yeast (MOS 1%), minerals.

Unfortunately, pastes contain ingredients that can harm your cat – for example, dairy products and vegetable oils. That is why I believe that it can be used only in an emergency because due to the poor composition of pastes, I advise against using them regularly. Instead of using pastes, I suggest you getting goose lard, which has the same effect, but it does not contain harmful additives. 

Not recommended #2: Anti-hairball treats and cat food

Przysmaki i karmy odkłaczające zawierają bardzo mało substancji wpływających na usunięcie kul włosowych z organizmu kota. Ich składy są zazwyczaj jeszcze gorsze niż w przypadku past, więc nawet jeśli w jakimś stopniu pomogą Ci w walce z kłaczkami to mogą przysporzyć o wiele więcej szkody niż pożytku.

Przykładowe składy przysmaków i karm odkłaczających:

Anti-hairball treats and cat food contain a small amount of anti-hairball substances. Their composition is usually even worse than in the case of pastes, so even if they help you fight the hairballs to some extent, they can do much more harm than good to your cat.

Composition examples:

  • Treats GimCat: milk and dairy products, yeast, oils and fats, vegetable products (dried malt extract 4%, ground elm bark 2%).
  • Treats Smilla Hearties: 19% fresh poultry, rice, animal fat, millet (milo), poultry meal, liver meal, dried beet pulp, pork scratch meal, protein hydrolyzate, salmon meal, meat meal, whole egg powder, linseed, dried brewer’s yeast, calcium carbonate, potassium chloride
  • Cat food Purina Cat Chow Adult Special Care Hairball Control: grain (38% whole grain), meat and offal (20%), vegetable protein extracts, oils and fats, (5.4% dried sugar beet pulp, 0.07% dried parsley corresponds to 0.4% parsley), vegetables (2% dried chicory root, 0.07% dried carrots corresponds to 0.4% carrots, 0.07% dried spinach corresponds to 0.4% spinach), minerals, yeast (0, 3%).
  • Cat food Carnilove Cat Duck & Pheasant Hairball Control: duck meal (34%), pheasant meal (25%), yellow peas (12%), chicken fat (6%), beet pulp (5%), boneless duck (5%), chicken livers (3%), tapioca starch (2%), apples (2%), salmon oil (2%), carrots (1%), linseed (1%), chickpeas (1 %), hydrolyzed shells of crustaceans (0.026%), cartilage extract (0.016%), brewer’s yeast (0.016%), chicory root (0.012%), yucca Schidigera (0.01%), algae (0.01%), psyllium (0.01%), thyme (0.01%), rosemary (0.01%), oregano (0.01%), cranberry (0.0008%), blueberry (0.0008%), raspberries ( 0.0008%).

Yuck! Enough of these compositions, because I felt sad at the thought that someone really feeds their carnivorous cats with grain, rice, peas and vegetables…

Instead of unhealthy anti-hair products, give your cat high-meat food and healthy treats, and to really prevent the hairballs, use the methods I suggest that are effective and safe for your cat.

For examples of healthy cat foods that I have tried, see Wet food section and examples of healthy cat treats can be found in the Treats section.

Summary

Don’t get bogged down by the marketing gimmicks of anti-hairball treats and cat food. Don’t waste time and money on unhealthy and ineffective products that may negatively affect your cat’s health and well-being. More expensive is not always better.

I recommend that you spend these few minutes a day brushing the fur and planting grass in the cat’s garden. Also, during the molting period, give your cat one teaspoon of goose lard once a week. Of course, everything should be done wisely, because you have to adapt it all to your cat’s needs. Remember that preventing now is better than to cure later.

For more advices on cat health and care, see the Layette section

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