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Hairballs: How Cat Parents Can Bring Relief to Felines 

By Sandy Robins

Because cats shed, they may regurgitate hairballs. However, pet parents can do a lot to ensure it’s not a regular occurrence and further prevent them from becoming a dangerous medical issue.


What is a Hairball 

Cats are very efficient self-groomers. When they lick their fur, they automatically ingest any loose hairs picked up in the process. Small amounts can pass through the digestive system. However, because hair is indigestible, what is not eliminated can mat forming a hairball, that the cat will regurgitate and deposit on your living room rug the same way a cat in the wild will regurgitate fur from a small animal it may have eaten.  

However, the term “hairball” is a misnomer; because hairballs pass through the narrow esophagus, they often appear thin and tube-like, rather than round. 

When cats ingest a lot of fur over time, the size of the impacted fur (called a trichobezoar), becomes so large it can form a blockage in the cat’s intestinal tract. With very dangerous consequences, this results in surgical removal, and it can even cause death. 

On-going gagging and retching are signs that a cat may have a hair problem. Cats with large hairballs often stop eating and get lethargic. They may also suffer from diarrhea or constipation.  


The Shedding Cycle  

Feline shedding is largely influenced by the number of hours a cat is exposed to sunlight in a day (called a photoperiod). Cats that live indoors, especially when they’re in homes with both heat and air conditioning, can be in constant state of shedding because their biological system becomes confused by these temperature controls. Cats that have access to the outdoors typically shed twice a year; once in the spring to lose the heavy winter undercoat and once in the fall to prepare for the “grow-in” of next winter’s undercoat.  


Grooming Assistance 

Consequently, all cats both long- and short-haired need help with their grooming routine. In addition, elderly cats need even more hands-on attention because often they are unable to reach their nether regions to efficiently groom themselves. 

Long-haired cats should be groomed several times a week not only to remove loose hair, but to prevent matted hair. Short-haired cats will benefit from a weekly grooming session. 

It’s worth investing in tools to get the job done efficiently such as a six-inch or eight-inch metal comb with fine-to-medium teeth. This comb will remove dead hair and catch all the tangles and mats. A rubber, curry brush is also great for lifting loose hair, and most felines enjoy the massage this brush offers. Grooming should never be considered a chore. Think of it as special quality time together. 

“If a cat has a history of hairballs, it’s also a good idea to give a regular over-the-counter lubricant,” suggested Brian McLaughlin, DVM, national technical services manager for Vetoquinol USA. “One or two chews given daily as a treat such the chicken-flavored Tomlyn Hairball Remedy can gently lubricate ingested hair to move it through system and help eliminate it.  And, given regularly, it can also help prevent hairballs from forming,” he added. 

For cats that may be fussy about chews, there is also a veterinarian-formulated gel lubricant. The Tomlyn Hairball Remedy Gel is maple-flavored, a taste that cats love. It’s easy to apply to a cat’s paw and leave them to lick it off as part of their self-grooming routine.