You Are At: AllSands Home > Pets > Cats > Treating hairballs in cats
Hairballs are probably the most common health problem in cats. They are usually diagnosed by the pet owner when the cat begins vomiting after meals. Surprisingly enough, rabbits and ferrets are also prone to hairballs.

The problem begins when cats ingest hair as they groom themselves. Felines that groom obsessively (and those with long hair) usually consume the most hair.

In the normal digestive process, food and other consumables are moved through the gastrointestinal tract by muscular contractions. Food is broken down by stomach acids and the waste products are moved along to the intestines. Masses of hair, however, may remain in the stomach. The hair can’t be digested and sometimes, for whatever reason, it is not moved along as waste. Sometimes it blocks the passage of food through the digestive system, causing the cat to vomit soon after eating.

Hairballs can also cause constipation and coughing. In some instances, an impacted hairball, left untreated, can result in the animal’s death. Cats with long hair should be monitored closely if they begin showing signs of hairballs.

Here are some methods for treating hairballs.

BRUSHING. This is largely a preventive measure. A daily brushing will remove much of the loose hair in your pet’s coat, leaving that much less for the animal to ingest. Many cats will enjoy being groomed and it can serve as a bonding experience between the pet and pet owner.

DIET. Some vets believe that commercial pet foods contribute to the hairball problem, pointing out that cats who are fed natural foods are less prone to suffer problems. This may be partially true. Cats who are fed oily fish like salmon or tuna are probably likely to benefit – the fish oils act as a lubricant, helping the ingested hair to move smoothly through the body and be eliminated. Adding more oil to your pet’s diet is something to consider.

COMMERCIAL REMEDIES. Available in pet departments, these hairball remedies usually come in tubes. They also have a lubricating action on the hairball. Most brands claim to be highly palatable and suggest you allow the cat to lick its daily dose from a spoon. Many cats, however, will turn up their noses at commercial remedies. It may be necessary to force it into the cat’s mouth or to add it to the pet’s food (instructions on the product usually recommend administering on an empty stomach, but the product will still benefit the animal when give with food).

Once a hairball is diagnosed, there are usually two stages in curing it -- remedy and maintenance. If you are administering a commercially prepared medicine, you will have to start out with somewhat large, frequent doses to get rid of the hairballs already present. During the maintenance stage, you can decrease the size and the frequency of the doses, as you are really trying to prevent a relapse. It's wise to continue some amount of maintenance dosing indefinitely, as your cat will never become immune to hairballs.