Hairballs are an inevitable part of life for many cats. For some cats, hairballs may only be a problem during the shedding seasons of spring and fall. For others, especially long haired cats or cats with fine silky hair, hairballs are a constant irritant.
When cats groom themselves, they swallow the loose hair that their rough tongue removes from their fur. Hairballs form when this swallowed hair accumulates in the esophagus or stomach. If a cat only swallows a few hairs during a grooming session, these hairs may mix with the other stomach contents and pass right on through. Longer hairs or large amounts of short hair may form clumps that stay in the upper part of the intestinal tract until eventually they cause enough irritation that the cat will regurgitate them up – usually onto your prized carpet or couch.
There are a couple of things you can do to lessen the likelihood that your cat will develop hairballs. First, you should groom your cat regularly. This is important because the more hair you remove by means of a brush or comb, the less hair that your cat will swallow. Brushing doesn’t remove all the loose hair, but it certainly helps. Ideally you should brush your cat daily, but even a weekly brushing will make a difference. Second, you can give your cat a hairball preventative on a regular basis. These medications are designed to coat and lubricate the hairs that are in the stomach so that they will pass through the digestive system. Hairball remedies come in various formulas with different tastes and most cats enjoy them as a treat. To prevent hairballs, these remedies should be given at least once per week; cats that have more problems with hairballs may need the treatment more frequently than this. You may even want to ‘reward’ your cat after brushing him by giving him a dose of hairball preventative. Finally, over the past couple of years, cat food manufacturers have developed formulations that are said to help prevent hairballs. They may be a worthwhile addition to your hairball prevention strategy, particularly if your cat does not enjoy grooming.