Cat hairball thoughts and tips in an infographic

An infographic on an often-discussed cat caregiving topic. All the information contained therein is from veterinary sources primarily Dr Bruce Fogle DVM and Drs Eldredge DVM, Carlson DVM, Carlson DVM and Giffin MD. I hope you find it useful. I have focused on some essential tips.

Cat hairball thoughts and tips
Cat hairball thoughts and tips by MikeB at PoC. It is free to use under a Creative Commons: ATTRIBUTION-NODERIVS CC BY-ND license. Please link back to this site.

Below are some more articles on hairballs:

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Cat Hairballs: information and thoughts

Feline vomiting a hairball?
Feline vomiting a hairball? Good pic. Photo: Catster.

The stomach of cats is designed to accept hair. It has to be as a lot of hair is ingested during grooming. Sometimes too much for longhaired cats.

Medical – mainly a longhaired cat problem

Longhaired cats accumulate hair in the stomach as hairballs. They can be regurgitated rather than passing through the digestive tract. Frequent regurgitation probably needs looking into. Hairballs can cause a blockage on rare occasions.

If a cat gags and coughs as if in preparation for sicking up a hairball but nothing is produced, there may be a health issue that needs to be checked out. Hairballs can cause chronic gastritis Symptoms include: lethargy, poor coat and weight loss. There are other causes of course such as persistent eating of plant matter. Hairballs are a common cause of hard stools and possibly constipation, mainly in longhaired cats.

Evolution and domestication

I’d say that the domestication of the cat is a possible indirect cause of what can be a cat hairball problem. A provocative, yes, but probably or at least possibly true. It would certainly be true of the long-haired cats that have hair that is unnaturally long such as the extreme Persian or Ultra Persian. I don’t think wild cats have the problem of hairballs.

What I mean is this: nature wouldn’t allow the cat that has evolved over millions of years to suffer cat hairballs that cause problems. Cats in the wild probably get hairballs but they are passed through the gut normally. The natural course of events is that cats lick themselves (including the big, medium and small wild cats) to keep clean and more ( cat licking behaviour). Licking themselves is a natural event for all cats so it would very surprising if evolution created the situation whereby a natural and positive event (licking) caused ill-health and possible death. The evolutionally process wouldn’t have happened if it was dangerous to the cat.

Domestication of the cat is essentially an unnatural state of affairs. Breeding has resulted in longer hair in long-haired cats and it could be argued that the more passive lifestyle of domestic cats, particularly full-time indoor cats, can cause poor bowl movements that exacerbate the problem.

What they look like

Cat hairball
Cat hairball — Photo in public domain

The making of a cat hairball (only kidding – nice photo and nice cat). Photo by eric_malette (new window) and published under an Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic

Cat Hairball. An Ugly One! Photo by Ruth aka Kattaddorra
Cat Hairball. An Ugly One! Photo by Ruth aka Kattaddorra

Cat hairballs are tubular, brownish wads. Other material that has been swallowed can bind with the hair to form a bezoar. If it becomes too large it cannot pass out of the stomach and through the gut. This results in sessions of vomiting (that might contain hair) and symptoms that are similar to chronic gastritis including wheezing type cough. Hair caught in the colon can cause constipation.

Video

Note: This is a video from another website. Sometimes they are deleted at source which stops them working on this site. If that has happened, I apologise but I have no control over it.

Prevention – proactive steps

People searching for remedies for cat hairballs are taking reactive steps, which is understandable because it may be the first time it has happened to the cat. Once the problem has been dealt with (see below) the best action is preventative steps. And there is only one, really, and that is grooming. And the best grooming tool is probably the famous FURminator.  I am not promoting it but it is all over the internet!

Here is the device:

FURminator in use on a cat
FURminator in use on a cat. Photo: FURminator.

A FURminator user quote:

“I bought a FURminator ‘de-shedding tool’ today. The box on the right contains the results of a 20-minute combing session. The best thing is that Lightfoot tolerated being combed for 20 minutes. Her usual tolerance is somewhere between two minutes and zero.”

So that, then, is prevention of cat hairballs. What remedies for cat hairballs? There are several.

Remedies

Bezo-Pet for hairballs
Bezo-Pet for hairballs and other obstructions
  • An effective remedy according to many vets is white petroleum jelly. You use about 0.5 teaspoon once or twice a week. The jelly melts in the stomach and lubricates te hairball to ease it passage.
  • Commercial cat hairball preparations, which are petroleum-based laxatives. These are commonly available on the internet and at the pet store. They lubricate the hair allowing it pass through the gut. They are often flavoured. Cats can lick it off their paw. They may even lick it from your fingers. Alternatively, it can be squeezed into a cat’s mouth. This product can interfere with the adsorption of the fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E and K. Laxotone includes extra vitamins for this reason. Try giving this product an hour before or after a meal.
  • A home remedy recommended by Drs Giffin and Carlson (Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook) is to apply a small amount of white petroleum jelly on the nose of your cat. It is licked off and into the stomach. The jelly lubricates the hairball allowing it to start moving from the stomach and through the gut. They recommend using it once or twice a week.
  • They also recommend mineral oil (see below), which can be added to the cat’s food once or twice a week at the rate of one teaspoon per five pounds of cat body weight. The average cat weighs about 8+ pounds. These products should not be given in large doses for long periods and a vet should be consulted if it doesn’t work. Mineral oil is liquid petroleum.
  • There is also specially prepared hairball cat food. One cat food is Royal Canin Intense Hairball 34. It contains psyllium (see below), which they say is rich in mucilage (see below) together with “micronized fibres” that help to stimulate intestinal transit. Others are: Science Diet Hairball Control Diet and Purina Pro Plan Hairball Management Formula.

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Mineral oil can be used on people (src: Wikipedia published under license):

Mineral oil is taken orally as a lubricative laxative, and is often prescribed to ease the pain of bowel movements for those who suffer from hemorrhoids and con stipation…

Psyllium

Psyllium is mainly used as a dietary fiber, which is not absorbed by the small intestine..

Mucilage is edible, but tastes rather bland. It is used in medicine for its demulcent properties…..a demulcent (derived from the Latin demulcere, “caress”) is an agent that forms a soothing film over a mucous membrane, relieving minor pain and inflammation of the membrane.

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Woman adopts stray cat but then locks her out because of hairballs

A woman, Vivian, living in California, USA, adopted a stray cat about nine months ago. The female cat kept appearing in her backyard and little by little she became her pet at which point she came inside.


Cat hairball
Cat hairball — Photo in public domain

For an unknown reason (and there may be a medical reason in this instance) the female cat started to throw up hairballs to an extent which disturbed her owner. The final straw was when a hairball was vomited up on the woman’s bed at which point she locked her cat outside permanently. She has not let her cat back in the house since then and understandably her cat is meowing outside all the time to be let in. The woman says that she cannot trust her cat and she seeks advice online.

The advice is predictable, namely that she should let her cat back inside and deal with the hairballs. As mentioned there may be a medical reason. Vomiting hairballs is normal for a cat but if it’s happening all the time at a higher than normal frequency there may be something else going on. That needs to be checked out by a veterinarian.

Controlling hairballs

Other things that can be done to control hairballs is to regularly groom your cat which obviously means that the cat does not swallow so much hair.

You can also buy dietary supplements to control hairballs. There are two types; one is a lubricant which allows the hairball to pass through the digestive tract and the other is a fibre which helps to push the hairball along.

There are petroleum-based laxatives which lubricate the hair easing its passage through the intestinal tract. You can put it on a cat’s paws so that she licks it off and ingests it. Care should be taken with these laxatives because they can interfere with fat-soluble vitamins (check with your vet).

There are also hairball-control commercial diets such as Science Diet Hairball Control Diet and Purina Pro Plan Hairball Management Formula.

The best time to groom your cat to prevent hairballs is when they are shedding, which for indoor cats may be throughout the year. i.e. not seasonal. A good home remedy is half a teaspoon of white petroleum jelly. The jelly melts in the stomach and lubricates the hairball allowing it to pass freely. It should be used once or twice a week. You can also add mineral oil to cat food once or twice a week at the dose of 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of bodyweight. It should not be given by mouth. It may decrease the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

The message to Vivian is to continue to love her cat, let her inside and take action to minimise the vomiting of hairballs. It is all possible and far better than adopting and then rejecting her cat.

Example

This is from Suzanne Freeman on FB:

“10 years, not ONE hairball!!! Comb or brush you cat daily, takes only a few minutes!!!!!!♥ This is about half of what I’ve saved it’s even condensed, so this is how much hair they could possibly ingest!”

Suzanne's brushed cat
Suzanne’s brushed and combed longhaired cat who has no hairballs.

Source – except for the info added by me.

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Two inch cat hairball in cat owner’s vagina. How it happened.

Hairball in women's vagina

This is the extraordinary story of how a 2 inch cat hairball developed in a cat owner’s vagina. I know the title is a little bit disturbing. It is not meant to be click bait. I’ll try and keep this as dry and as factual as possible to take some of the heat out of the topic!

Michelle Barrow has two cats. Their names are Cricket and Donut. Her partner is a man. They have sex like any other normal couple and he does not use a condom. She is not very good at making up the bed in the morning.

Her cats like to sleep on the bed where of course they deposit some of their fur. Both Michelle and her partner sleep nude. The theory is that Michelle’s partner picked up cat hair on his penis. When he had sex with Michelle he deposited that hair into her vagina. Over time a hairball formed inside her.

The process was facilitated, it seems, because the hair became entangled in her intrauterine device (IUD coil), which is a contraceptive. It is a small T-shaped plastic and copper device which stops the sperm and egg from surviving in the womb or fallopian tubes.

Strings are attached to the device which allows the woman to check that it is in place. The cat hair got tangled up with the strings.

Gynaecologist

Michelle suffered pains in her abdomen and was checked out by a gynaecologist. Initially the gynaecologist thought that used tampons had become entangled with the strings of the intrauterine device.

The doctor tried to remove the object but struggled to do so and therefore had to cut into it. Eventually a two-inch bundle of fur was dragged out of the woman’s vagina. It was the same colour as the coat of her cat, Donut. As soon as she saw it she realised that it was cat hair.

“Holy shit that is cat hair. There has been a ball of cat hair inside me for a month, that is cat hair and it was in my vagina. A hairball has been causing my discomfort. Holy shit!”

The object was sent to a laboratory for testing and the result came back as a foreign object. Michelle developed her theory about how the hairball formed which is described above.

Disbelief

The story was posted on the Internet and unsurprisingly a lot of people didn’t believe it. But Michelle swears that it is true and she makes the point that she would not have made up a story about something so sensitive.

Since it happened Michelle has become more attentive about cleaning her sheets. It was reported (deccanchronicle.com) that she now “forces” her cat to sleep in the basement. I’m not sure that she forces them to sleep elsewhere. Perhaps she encourages them but it would be a shame if that was the case. Surely there is a better solution but I don’t want to discuss the options 😉 .

After the “event” sex with her partner was “definitely touch-and-go”. Her partner was a little bit turned off at the time but I guess things have settled down now. Michelle wishes that she had taken a photograph of the object! It would have been the most bizarre cat related picture in the history of the Internet!

I would certainly rank this story is the most bizarre cat related story that I have encountered after working on my website for 11 years.

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Raw green beans as a cat hairball remedy

Intro by Michael: this is an article by Jude, a visitor to this site. Thanks Jude, much appreciated. Hairballs are natural for a cat. The issue that humans have is that we want to avoid hairballs being vomited. Cats vomiting hairballs is also normal but humans would rather prevent it. So when we use the word “remedy” I don’t think we are referring to a “cure” for cat hairballs. We are simply managing the natural process of hairball production in a way which assists both cat and caretaker. This is a home treatment.


Previously, I had two cats that loved raw green beans. The spayed smaller girl would eat about 2-3 daily – yes, daily! The larger neutered boy would keep eating as much as I gave him but I’d limit him to 4-6 depending on their size. Neither cat EVER had hairballs. I checked first to make sure green beans were safe for cats and they are. My boy considered them ‘cat candy’ and would root through my grocery shopping when I came home, looking for his presents!

Vomited grass with feline hairball nearby
Photo by Michael (July 2014)

I now have a single spayed girl who’d once been feral but now’s totally tame and gentle. She became an indoor cat only as we had coyotes around. She was used to eating grass outdoors so I’d go out to an unmown part of my backyard to pick her grass almost every day. I picked the newest tender blades only but quite a handful still. She’d eat it all and loved her grass. She became quite excited when I brought it in. The grass she ate was never vomited up. When I cleaned her litter box, I could see hair and grass mixed in her feces.

For the 5 years she lived at that place, she never had a hairball. Now we moved and are living in a condo (for the last 4 1/2 months) with no access to grass. She’s showing signs of developing hairballs (coughing with her neck stretched but no hairball coughed up yet). So today I made my own hairball remedy for her.

I opened one of those tiny tins anchovies come in and took about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of oil from the top and mixed it with a teaspoon of Vaseline (petroleum jelly). Before anyone thinks oil from very salty tinned anchovies is bad, the oil itself is not salty as salt can not dissolve in oil (basic chemistry). Taste it and you’ll see it’s true.

The mix is soft so easy to use. I scooped it on my index finger and gently rubbed it off on the roof of her mouth. When I put her down, her tail was in the air and she happily settled to wash. I hope to see results in the litter box later.

The reason fibres like raw green beans and grass work so well is the longer fibres wrap around loose hair taking it out the nether end before it has a chance to form into a messy mass. Buying cat grass isn’t a solution for my cat now as she’d happily eat the entire thing in a single day. So when spring and warmer weather comes, I’m going to grow LOTS on my deck to have a ready supply for her. And when colder weather sets in and we can’t rely on grass, I’ll go back to my homemade treatment.

Jude

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Cat Hairball Blockage Home Treatment

Miralax hairball treatment for cats is something people suggest but Miralax is a treatment for human constipation and hairballs are not exactly constipation. As we know hairballs are often thrown up after eating grass or they are defecated. Miralax is not recommended by me or as far as I am aware by veterinarians.

It contains a chemical called Polyethylene Glycol 335 and this product works by hydrating, easing and softening so it does not act in the way that a fibre-based treatment would. If a visitor has first hand experience of using Miralax as a cat hairball home treatment please leave a comment if you have time.

Cat Hairball. An Ugly One! Photo by Ruth aka Kattaddorra
Cat Hairball. An Ugly One! Photo by Ruth aka Kattaddorra

The easiest way to control hairballs is to groom your cat often and regularly so that she does not have too swallow too much hair. I think it makes sense to groom your cat daily. Make it a routine and something for both of you to enjoy. I groom my cat with a very fine comb but he has a single coat. It may be sensible to groom a long haired cat twice daily during shedding.

In addition, dietary supplements have also been used to control hairballs.  There are 2 types:

  1. lubricants which help slide the hair along the digestive tract;
  2. fiber which helps push their hair along.

Petroleum-based laxatives lubricate the hair moving it along through the intestinal tract. They’re often flavoured and can be placed onto the cat’s paw to encourage the cat to lick it off. Depending on the cat, she may like to lick the laxative off a cat owner’s fingers. It may be possible to squeeze some of the substance into the mouth of a cat.

Bezo-Pet for hairballs
Bezo-Pet for hairballs and other obstructions (a UK product. Not sure if it is available elsewhere.

However, petroleum-based laxatives can interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins;  vitamins A, D, E and K. There are a number of commercial products which deal with cat hairballs such as Laxatone or Johnsons Hairball Remedy and Katalax for Cats. Laxatone contains vitamins for the reasons stated above.  Apparently, it is also a good idea not to give your cat these products one hour before or after feeding your cat. Amazon have many of these products.

Hairball Remedies For Cats 

An alternative is to provide high-fiber bulk additives which help move the hair through the intestines. There are also special hairball control diet such as Science Diet Hairball Control Diet and Purina Pro Plan Hairball Management Formula. In addition there are tablets, powders and treats such as Lax-eze.

Prevention

Brushing your cat more often will help prevent hairballs especially at shedding time.  Cats shed when the ambient light improves.  Full-time indoor cats, however, shed fur year-round to the same degree.

Hairball awareness day

Home Remedy

A home remedy which is both safe and effective for hairballs is white petroleum jelly.  It can be used once or twice a week, using about half a teaspoon. The petroleum jelly melts inside the cat’s stomach and lubricate the hairball allowing it to pass through intestines more easily.

Mineral oil is also effective, apparently.  It can be added to the cat’s food once or twice a week.  The dose is 1 teaspoon which is 5 mL per 5lbs of body weight. The average cat weighs about 10lbs.  Five pounds is 2.3 kg. It should not be given by mouth because the cat may inhale it, meaning that it might go into the cat’s lungs. Mineral oil and petroleum jelly may sometimes decrease the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins as mentioned above.  This may occur if the cat is given large doses over a long period of time.

Suggestions

If you have tips and tricks I’d love for you to share them.

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April 25 is Hairball Awareness Day: Let’s Unravel the Hairball Mystery

Did you know that today is Hairball Awareness Day? This year, on Friday, April 25, cat lovers around the world will celebrate this annual event.

Hairball awareness day

While some folks may think that setting aside a special day devoted to hairballs (otherwise known more scientifically as trichobezoars) is amusing, there is nothing funny about hairballs. If hairballs cannot be expelled easily either by upchucking them or eliminating them out the other end, these tightly packed clumps of hair actually have the potential for creating a serious health risk to our cats.

Although most of the time the ingested hair passes harmlessly out the other end, if an excessive amount of hair builds up inside the cat’s stomach, cats will generally cough up the offending material. While the feline digestive system is beautifully designed to handle its own hair and the hair of prey animals, if the digestive system becomes overloaded with hair, the intestinal lining becomes irritated.

According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, if a cat ingests a large clump of hair and cannot regurgitate it, an excessive amount of this hair can block the cat’s intestinal tract which can potentially cause an intestinal blockage; an oftentimes life-threatening situation.

While it’s perfectly normal for kitties to occasionally hack up a hairball one to four times a month, if cats vomit repeatedly, this can portend a serious underlying medical condition. Therefore if you observe your kitty vomiting more frequently than what is considered normal, it’s extremely important to make an appointment with your vet as quickly as possible.

Every cat guardian who is attuned to the species will no doubt immediately recognize the sound a cat makes while trying to rid itself of a hairball. This sound can hardly be mistaken for something else; although it may be possible that this hacking sound may also be symptomatic of feline asthma¹ or other respiratory diseases.

All seasoned kitty guardians generally will instantly identify an upchucked trichobezoar and understand how they are made; for folks who may be relatively new in their career as a kitty servant, hairballs are formed as the cat grooms itself thereby ingesting its hair. A cat’s tongue is exceptionally rough making it a wondrous tool for grooming. However, once it’s in their mouth they are unable to spit it out so are forced to swallow the hair.

While these clumps of undigested hair are known as hairballs, they rarely resemble a ball. The majority of hairballs are sausage shaped and can often be mistaken for a piece of stool. As a result folks new to cats may be concerned that their cat may have just had an “accident”.

It is possible to help prevent large clumps of hairs from becoming hairballs through regular grooming, bumping up the amount of fiber in the cat’s diet with additives such as small amounts of benefiber or canned unsweetened pumpkin to their food.

If your cat is having difficulty regurgitating hairballs, your veterinarian can prescribe medications designed to keep the cat’s digestive system working more efficiently.

While some kitty guardians give their cats butter thinking it will help lubricate the digestive system, butter is digestible, therefore it’s ineffective. Prudent use of petroleum based hairball remedy, when necessary can works wonders. Home remedies for cat hairballs.

How do you handle your cat’s hairballs? Tell us in a comment.

Jo


Sources:

  1. felineasthma.org/.
  2. Photo credits: Flickr Users from left: Taekwonweirdo, Malingering and John Bullas

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Home Remedies for Hairballs in Cats

Home remedies for hairballs in cats are rarely needed, in my opinion, because cats have a well developed way of removing them either by defecation or throwing up.  The difficulty as I see it is knowing when there is a hairball problem that can and could be treated with a home remedy. Anyway, below is a slightly chaotic video presenting information about home remedies for hairballs in cats. Below it are some keywords on the subject.

  1. The scientific name for cat hairballs is: trichobezoars.
  2. Regularly groom your cat particularly long haired cats and during the shedding season – the summer – because there is more light. This is a preventative measure.
  3. There are two dietary supplements used to control hairballs:
    1. lubricants help to slide the hairball out and
    2. fiber (fibre) which helps to push the hair along the digestive tract.
  4. In category A we have petroleum based-based laxatives. In category B we have high-fiber bulk additives such as Lax-ese. I’d ask your vet about these. They probably sell them or you cat get them online.
  5. There are cat foods designed for hairball control such as Hills Science Diet Hairball Control and Purina ONE® Advanced Nutrition Hairball Formula.
  6. A safe and effective home remedy is (a) white petroleum jelly. Half a teaspoon once or twice a week or (b) mineral oil added to cat food once or twice a week at a dose of 1 teaspoon per 5 pounds of body weight. Not to be given by mouth. Both petroleum jelly and mineral oil decrease absorption of fat-soluble vitamins if given in large quantities over a long time, so beware.
  • Note: the reason for the video is simply to present information in a different and hopeful more relaxing way. Also it amuses me a bit. If it is disastrous, please tell me in a polite comment!
  • Search results for cat hairballs on PoC.
  • The book referred to is Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.

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