Did you know that today is National Hairball Awareness Day?
Once upon a time, I had a roommate who shared his life with a long-haired cat named Miss Kitty. Miss Kitty didn’t like me. I know this because she told me so in very subtle, cat-like ways. She had a habit of leaving hairballs on my bed. It was not a pretty sight. Even less beautiful was the horrible noise she would make, in the middle of the night, right beside my pillow, as she coughed up one of her famous furballs, just before she would smack me with her paw so that she could laugh at me.
Today, in honor of Miss Kitty, I’m joining Romeo the Cat to celebrate National Hairball Awareness Day.
Long-haired cats, like Rasputin, can be prime candidates for hairballs.
What are hairballs?
Hairballs are a common problem in cats. Although they rarely cause serious problems, they can cause the cat obvious discomfort. In addition, they cause messes that can be difficult and inconvenient for the cat owner to clean up. While long-haired cats appear to have more problems with hairballs, nearly all breeds of cats (with the exception of Sphinx cats) can develop them.
The act of grooming for cats involves ingesting significant quantities of loose hair. For the most part, this hair moves through the digestive tract and is excreted. Sometimes, however, the ingested hair forms a mass in the stomach too large to continue passage into the intestinal tract, especially in animals with longer hair, and is expelled orally as a hairball. Some cats show signs of distress during the process. Some cats may also vomit for several days prior to a hairball.
Frequent hairballs rarely present true health problems, but may cause major inconveniences to cat owners, and may occasionally be the cause of a cat being relinquished for adoption.
Is there help for cats with hairballs?
The first, and most basic, step to help reduce the risk of hairball formation in cats is frequent brushing. By brushing away loose hair, you can reduce the amount of hair your cat will ingest. Therefore, you also reduce the chance that the hair will gather in the digestive tract.
Some cats groom themselves and their housemates. Therefore, it’s a good idea to brush all the cats in your house. Baths or professional grooming during a change in season help by ridding the cat of the loose hair from normal, seasonal shedding.
What about hairball diets?
Nutrition — provided through a specially designed diet — is another way to decrease the likelihood of developing hairballs. Dietary fiber is usually the way special diets accomplish this.
Most special diets contain one type of fiber to help move bulk through the intestines (nonfermentable). Nonfermentable fiber, such as cellulose, isn’t broken down by the normal bacteria in a cat’s intestines. Instead it passes through the digestive tract, helping other material, such as hair, move along as well. Other special diets contain a combination of nonfermentable fiber and another type of fiber (moderately fermentable). Moderately fermentable fiber, such as beet pulp, helps move bulk and helps provide nourishment to intestinal cells which, in turn, helps maintain intestinal health.
Because of the special fiber content, these diets are most effective if they are fed as the sole diet. Mixing with other foods can dilute the fiber that help reduce the risk of hairball formation.
Likewise, switching between a special diet and another cat food may decrease the benefit.
Another way that nutrition can help reduce the likelihood of hairball formation is by promoting skin and coat health. High-quality diets containing animal-based proteins, such as chicken, and a combination of fats — more specifically, a ratio of certain fat components (5-10 omega-6 fatty acids to 1 omega-3 fatty acid) —have been shown to promote healthy skin and coat. Feeding a diet that provides these ingredients can help keep skin and hair healthy and, therefore, may reduce the risks of excessive shedding, ingestion of hair from grooming, and, consequently, hairball formation.
Hairballs. Not a pretty topic. I’m glad that National Hairball Awareness Day is not an entire week!
And to all my favorite feline friends out there, are you a “Miss Kitty?” Do you leave hairballs where your human friends will find them?
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DISCLAIMER: This is my personal blog, and I am an employee of P&G Pet Care, North America. When I speak of company business (the nutritional benefits of Iams/Eukanuba products, et cetera), I am the voice of my employer. The personal things I post about my life, my dog, or my opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent the corporate position of my employer. Information posted on my blog (or on the Internet for that matter) should NEVER be substituted for the guidance and advice of your veterinarian or your animal behavior professional.