Karma-Kat recently has “urped” up more cat hairballs, and I know why. I bet you didn’t know that in hot weather, cats lick and groom themselves to cool off. Of course, that can lead to more hairballs, so in hot weather or shedding season, you may see an uptick in these problems.
Longhair cats like this Persian require extra grooming help to prevent cat hairballs.
Cat Hairballs: What You Need to Know
It’s shedding season, and cat hairballs (sometimes even dog hairballs, URK!) can be a problem at this time of year. Many cat owners discover wads of wet fur—hairballs—late at night when they step on them with bare feet. Cats seem to instinctively choose to decorate the most stainable portions of the carpet. Refer to this post about cleaning accidents on the carpet.
It’s normal for cats—especially those with long fur—to experience hairballs once in a while. Cats spend up to 50 percent of their awake time grooming and swallow fur in the process. What doesn’t end up in the litter box comes out the other end as nasty cigar-shaped cat hairballs.
But swallowing lots of fur isn’t healthy, and hairballs are more than a nasty nuisance. Kitties that produce three or more hairballs a month should be checked by the vet to rule out other health issues.
Hairballs cause diarrhea, appetite loss, coughing, retching, constipation—or even deadly intestinal blockage. Cats have had hairballs as big as baseballs that require surgery to be removed! Most cases won’t need surgery, though, and most hairballs can be easily eliminated. Refer to these tips to untangle your cat hairballs problems.
Grooming cats reduces the chance for hairballs.
7 CAT HAIRBALLS TIPS
Groom the cat. The cheapest, easiest hairball cure for cat hairballs is to regularly comb and brush your cat. Any hair you remove won’t be swallowed to end up staining your upholstery. The Furminator eliminates up to 90 percent of shed fur. Seren-kitty LOVES her Furminator (Magic loves his dog version, too).
Feed a hairball diet. A variety of commercial products are designed to prevent cat hairballs. They include extra nondigestible fiber. That helps push swallowed hair through the digestive tract, so it is eliminated naturally with each bowel movement. Most of these are dry diets, though, and cats do much better on wet foods.
Add some fiber. If you’d rather not switch foods, just add fiber to kitty’s regular diet. Cats love and need lots of protein but that sometimes promotes constipation and doesn’t help move the swallowed hairs. Mix in a teaspoon of plain bran or Metamucil to canned meals. Flaxseeds or psyllium husks, available in health food stores, also act as natural laxatives and work well. Add ¼ teaspoon of flaxseeds or psyllium for every meal.
Offer pumpkin. Canned pumpkin—the plain type, not for pies—is very rich in fiber and cats often love the taste. Get a jumbo-size can, and divide into teaspoon-size servings and freeze in an ice cube tray. Thaw one serving at a time, mixing into the regular food or offer as a treat once or twice a week. Some cats actually love fresh green beans or cat grass, so offer for extra treats and bowel health.
Give a bit of honey. If your cat doesn’t appreciate canned pumpkin, you can offer a natural laxative, two or three times a week. Combine raw oatmeal, honey, and olive oil into a paste. Offer one to two tablespoons as a treat when hairballs are a problem.
Lubricate the gut. Butter will make your cat purr, but it won’t help hairballs. Digestible fats like butter can cause diarrhea and usually get absorbed before they can move the problem out. Instead, offer non-medicated petroleum jelly. It looks nasty but many pets like the taste. It will coat the hairball to make it slide more easily out of the system. If kitty refuses to accept a finger-full scraped into his mouth, just spread the jelly on his paw so he has to lick it off as he grooms. We’ve been using Vetoquinol Laxatone for Karma (maple flavoring, who knew?!). Commercial hairball remedies often add salmon or malt flavoring to similar petrolatum products. Take care to follow label instructions or your veterinarian’s advice, though. Overuse of these products can interfere with the pet’s use of fat-soluble vitamins.
Do your cats suffer from hairballs? How do you manage the problem? Do tell!
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How and why cats groom impacts physical, emotional, and social health. My Karma-Kat even tries to groom his best friend, Bravo-Dawg. The instinct starts during kittenhood and lasts a lifetime. Of course, some cats get dingy when cats don’t groom, and there are reasons for that as well.
Kittens learn to lick themselves by two weeks of age by copycat behavior, and a slovenly Mom-cat will raise kitten slobs. Most times, though, kittens wash themselves by the time they are weaned, and adults spend up to 50 percent of their awake time in some form of grooming.
How Cats Groom
The specialized structure of the tongue makes it a perfect kitty comb, while teeth nibble and gnaw at tangles, dirt, and burrs caught in the fur. Each cat’s clean regime varies but a good wash often happens after meals, naps, and potty breaks.
First, the mouth, chin, and whiskers get licked, followed by shoulders, forelegs, flanks, and hind legs. Finally the genitals—how DO they pretzel themselves to reach?!—and then the tail gets attention. Forepaws re-dampened every few swipes serve as furry washrags to scrub face, head, and ears. Rear claws scratch to groom the neck and ears, and claws get nibbled clean while front claws also scratch objects to groom them healthy.
Grooming is a barometer of kitty health. Cats that feel bad often stop grooming, or lick and pull fur out due to stress or pain. Consider an unthrifty appearance or “barbering” themselves bald a kitty cry for vet care. Cats often need help in the grooming department—especially longhair beauties. Here are 5 common reasons why cats groom.
5 Reasons Why Cats Groom
Healthy Skin & Fur. Grooming keeps skin and fur healthy. As they clean themselves, cats also search their skin and fur for dirt, sores or parasites and vacuum away buggy pests. Eww! Of course, that also can take care of shedding issues but can lead to cat hairballs upon occasion.
Waterproof Fur. Sebaceous glands at the base of each hair release an oily secretion—sebum—which lubricates and waterproofs the hair coat when your cat licks herself. Grooming also removes shed hair and prevents mats, which get in the way of temperature regulation.
Kitty Warmers & Cool Cats. Healthy fur falls in loose layers that protect the cat’s body from injury, and insulates her from temperature extremes. That keeps her warm in cold weather and cool in hot temps. It can actually help protect against over-heating. A well-groomed coat free of mats can be fluffed and allows air to pass between the hairs and cool the skin. Cats also pant to cool themselves when they are very hot—but panting is a kitty danger signal! Since cats don’t have effective sweat glands, they lick skin and hair, and the saliva evaporation keeps Kitty cool.
Furry Social Networking. Mutual grooming helps cats take care of hard-to-reach head and neck areas, but also connects cats socially by sharing communal scent. Grooming another cat expresses comfort, companionship, and even love. When kitty accepts your petting (or you help her out with grooming) and she grooms your hair or licks your arm she’s engaging in mutual grooming that expresses utmost trust and affection.
Stress Buster. Cats use displacement grooming to feel better emotionally. Cats may groom themselves when fearful, to relieve tension, or when uncertain how to react to situations. For example, instead of attacking or running away from an aggressive animal, your cat may suddenly begin to furiously groom. You’ll see the same frantic grooming if kitty misjudges a leap and falls on his furry fanny. Cats also use displacement grooming when other behaviors aren’t allowed; perhaps you’ve put the cat on a diet, or are trying to convince an outdoor cat he should stay inside. They may also increase scratch behavior to reduce stress. Keep cat claws trimmed to reduce damage and refer to this claw training post for more help.
We don’t know if displacement grooming has a direct effect on the neurologic impulses in the brain, or simply is a way for the cat to distract himself. Strong emotions like kitty separation anxiety may cause a rise in body temperature which the cat cools by grooming, or perhaps the benefits of massage and touch calms feline anxiety. Some displacement grooming is normal, but if kitty becomes obsessed loses fur, or damages the skin, seek vet help.
So are your cats neatniks or furry slobs? Do you help your cat with grooming? Seren used to love being combed by the Furminator, but Karma could care less.