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Cats and Hairballs: How to Prevent Them

By Dr. Patty Khuly

hairballs in cats

All hail the hairball!

Yes, this year and every year the US pet industry sets aside the last Friday in April so we can collectively contemplate the deep mysteries of what is technically known as the trichobezoar.

Call it a marketing tactic designed to sell more hairball remedies, if you’re so inclined, but veterinarians everywhere are undeniably on board with April 27th’s simple take home: hairballs are bad.

Of course they’re disgusting. Nothing beats a pile of twisted, slimy fur to amp up the ick factor in any discussion.

But we cat lovers become acclimated to it, don’t we? Getting treated to early morning wake-up calls by the sweet strains of “Gaaaaaakkk!” (or the squish between your toes as you pad barefoot to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Picking up the fur-filled chunks with paper towels by the bag load.

Need I say more to convince you there’s little quite so unwanted –– and frustratingly relentless –– as hairballs?

Not as long as there’s fur on Fluffy’s back will it ever cease, it would seem. And that’s a good thing, too, you think. At least she hasn’t completely stripped herself in the process of ingesting the incomprehensibly copious amounts of fur that might otherwise accumulate on your floors, carpeting, and counters (or send your Roomba into daily overdrive).

Luckily, not all cats are seriously afflicted. For the ones who are, hairballs can mean more than just a household annoyance. Indeed, chronic vomiting, malnutrition, and surgical intervention are in no way unheard of. But that’s the topic of another post. This one here’s all about the simple stuff.

So without any further ado, just in time for Hairball Awareness Day, I offer you a few choice tips on how to make hairballs less of a hassle:

Hairball Remedy #1: Daily “Brushing” Sessions

I recommend that all cat people get their kitties addicted to daily brushing from a very early age. Five minutes of fun while watching television should do it. How hard is that? My only caveat (of sorts) is that you use a high-quality brush that selects the denser, finer undercoat. It seems it’s this super-fine, downy stuff that tends to gum up the gastrointestinal works more than most. (I like the Furminator® best.)

Hairball Remedy #2: Petroleum Jelly-based Products

For those who suffer more than others (more than once a week), daily petroleum-based hairball remedies are often the best solution. The most common ones are flavored with malt or chicken and come in extra-gooey formulations to help stick to all that incoming hair and smooth it through the gastrointestinal system.

Hairball Remedy #3: Hairball-formula Foods

If you happen to have cats who won’t accept anything they didn’t think of first, hairball-formula foods are a reasonable idea. Infused with petroleum jelly-like ingredients, they can often do the trick when more direct alternatives just aren’t doable. Having said that, feeding wet diets can often solve the problem too. (FYI, I prefer wet formulas over dry diets for all cats.)

Hairball Remedy #4: Address the Underlying Problem (If Any)

If you’re tired of picking up the nasties and justifiably concerned over what havoc future hairballs may wreak, think hard about what makes your cat ingest all that stuff. Is it her coat (long-haired or an extra-dense undercoat)? Skin disease (resulting in excessive licking)? If possible, get to the root of the problem and solve it. With your vet’s help, of course.

Hairball Remedy #5: When all else fails, groom her!

There’s always the possibility of frequent bathings and even full-body clip-down sessions to keep all that hair from unduly influencing the quality of her life. It may seem extreme but if it solves the problem it’s worth it. Plus, those lion cuts are super-cute!

Hairball Remedy #6: Talk to your veterinarian.

Always inform your veterinarian if you think hairballs are becoming a problem. We veterinarians always have tricks up our sleeve. Moreover, you never know when a simple feline annoyance can morph into a medical concern.

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